Text: Luke 24:36-48
The Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which killed 16 people and injured 13, affects so many people across Canada. We join the families and communities of the victims in grieving the unimaginable losses. We think about the unfulfilled dreams of those promising young hockey players, all the life events that they are not going to be able to experience as they have now died. Our hearts are broken, and our souls cry out in shock and grief. Words fail us in a time like this. Once again we find ourselves vulnerable, weak and powerless. We are reminded of the vanity and fragility of human life – how our lives can turn upside down in an instant. We find ourselves in the place of the unknown or unknowable, the mystery of life and death. Once again we are questioning about the meaning and the purpose of life.
Yet, our faith tells us that’s where God finds us. God searches the broken hearts. The place of confusion is not to be avoided but to be embraced. We hear the Spirit whispers “Stay there long enough. Hang in there.” We are reminded of Mary Magdalene, how she stayed by the empty tomb long enough to experience the resurrection. When the male disciples returned to their homes, after checking that Jesus’ body was gone, Mary was still searching for the body, demanding an answer, and engaging in a conversation with a stranger. She was not afraid of expressing her emotions – sadness, upset and despair. Not despite of but because of her emotional expressions, Mary was the first who encountered the risen Christ according to the Gospel of John.
In fact, all the Easter narratives in the four gospels openly tell us the emotional states of the disciples. They were fearful, frightened, terrified and depressed after they lost their beloved teacher in the most shameful way, the crucifixion. After they heard a report from female disciples saying Jesus was alive, they were astounded, perplexed, anxious, and doubtful. Hardly had they expressed pure joy, satisfaction, relief or peace of mind even after seeing the risen Christ. Their Easter experiences were rather mixed feelings – joyful yet uncertain, happy yet frightened, transformative yet still disbelieving. This ambivalence is at the core of the Easter experiences.
Notice how they reacted to the risen Christ who stood among them saying “Peace be with you.” It’s far from a happy reunion. The Bible says in Luke 24:37, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Noticing their unwillingness to accept, Jesus said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch and see.” And he showed them his hands and his feet. Could anyone dare to touch any part of his body? Even in the Gospel of John, when Jesus invited Thomas to put his finger here and there, there is no reference as to whether he actually reached out and touched. And the following is my favorite part of the resurrection stories. The Bible says in Luke 24:41-43, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”
This image of the risen Christ who is eating is a profound one. Imagine the room where they gathered, the atmosphere, their facial expressions and body language. They were so happy to see Jesus again yet still were not sure if this was real. Imagine their reactions while Jesus was eating the food. Could anyone dare to talk while he was eating? Imagine the smell of the fish, and the sound of chewing or slurping water or wine filled in the air. The silence in the room must have been deafening. All they could do was to watch what was happening in front of them. They were invited to pay attention to this significant moment when the ordinary thing, food became extraordinary, when the mundane activity, eating became sacred. The boundary between what’s materialistic and what’s spiritual was dissolved. This was the Easter moment – not so much what happened to the corpse of Jesus as what happened to the hearts and minds of the followers. Through this most unashamedly materialistic way, eating food, they saw God at work. Their fear was real and so was their awakening.
Last week, I received a note from Nora Sanders, General Secretary of the United Church. In her email, she introduced Brody Hinz, one of the teenagers who died, and Brenda Curtis, minster of Westminster United in Humboldt where Brody was an active member. A huge sports fan, Brody was delighted when he was chosen to be the Broncos’ team statistician. As Brenda was preparing for his funeral, she told Nora that the notes, cards, Facebook postings, emails, and texts (more than she could personally respond to) that arrived over the past few days, were “a literal outpouring of love from our United Church right across Canada … and giving us strength here at Westminster United to keep going… to keep ‘being the church’ in our community and for our grieving families.”
Brenda was one of the clergy who led the vigil on Sunday night that was held in the Humboldt community arena. She invited everyone present to reach out and take the hand of someone next to them, explaining, “in a few minutes, when we go our separate ways, I want you to recall the touch, warmth, blessing of that hand, to remind you that you are not alone, that we are not alone…”
In times of tragedy when we see no way through the pain, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our emotions. They are not to be avoided but to be embraced. Our fear is real and so is our awakening, to be able to see God at work even in the most painful places – as real as eating food, and as real as holding hands.