Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
3Easter, Year B, 2015
“We are hands and feet”
One of the things I’ve admired for years about Church of the Resurrection is that we claim to be body parts. Not brains or lips, mind you, not the commanding and directing body parts that tell other people what to do, but hands and feet—the doing parts. Our mission statement proclaims:
We are the hands of the Lord in this place,
reaching out to our community and the world
Actually, the original iteration of our mission statement, made in 1995 during our first interim period, was just the first part: “We are the hands of the Lord in this place.” The second part, “reaching out to our community and the world” came in 1996, after our second rector arrived.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, the only Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation in the City of Alexandria, has a similar mission statement as ours, but shorter and pithier: “God’s work. Our hands.”
Neither the Lutherans nor we mention “feet,” specifically. But we KNOW that just standing here and reaching out with our arms won’t get us very far in doing the Lord’s work. Notice, though, that we are do-ers but not just hands and feet that are busy for our own sake. We are the hands and feet of the Lord.
Maybe you know who first thought of this idea of we Christians being Jesus’ hands and feet here in our world. The 16th Century mystic, Teresa of Avila, said this about Jesus’ hands and feet:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
I don’t know where Teresa got this notion (maybe from Saint Paul?), that we are Jesus’ hands and feet. But I wonder if today’s gospel lesson might have played a part in her inspiration. Our gospel lesson tells us that “Jesus came among them” and started by talking about his hands and feet. Then he revealed all of scripture to them.
Where were they? Jesus “came among” a passel of his disciples who were hiding out in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening. They were discussing what had happened to Jesus’ body. They had a lot to discuss:
- An empty tomb
- Mysterious beings
- A foot race to the tomb, which had turned up empty
- Jesus appearance to Cleopas and companion on the way to and in Emmaus
This conversation was underway when Jesus brought HIS hands and feet to the room. Can you imagine the scene? I imagine that there was pronouncing, speculating, opinionating, debating, fearing, disbelieving, hoping, and maybe even shouting.
And suddenly, “Jesus came among them” our text says, not just in Spirit, but with his hands and feet. Our lesson says that they were all amazed and terrified; they thought he was a ghost. They didn’t seem to recognize Jesus; they didn’t seem to comprehend at first that Jesus was alive again.
This is ironic. Because just a bit earlier in this same chapter of Luke, we read that two of the people in the room were Cleopas and his companion, who had run all nine miles back to the Upper Room from Emmaus to tell of getting a scripture lesson from a stranger who had turned out to be the risen Lord. These two had just had dinner with Jesus, and yet those who had heard the Emmaus testimony (and the testimony of Mary Magdalene, and the angels, and Peter, and the disciple who could run faster than Peter) they who heard all this testimony were unable to comprehend Jesus’ full identity. Just like during Jesus’ earthly life, when they just didn’t understand exactly who Jesus was.
Jesus had a fool-proof way of identifying himself, though, even to the disbelievers among them: Jesus told them to look at his hands and his feet. Apparently the risen Jesus still bore the marks of his crucifixion on his body.
Doesn’t this seem curious to you that Christ Jesus could be alive again—resurrected—and yet his hands and feet still bore the wounds of his crucifixion? Surely if someone could come back to life after being three-days dead, then that someone could come back to life totally healed, couldn’t he? But this was NOT the case: Christ Jesus still bore the wounds that he had suffered.
From the earliest days of the church, the widespread understanding was that these wounds—more than Jesus’ physical appearance—identified him to his closest friends, right then and there in the Upper Room. But if we think about Jesus’ wounded hands and feet a bit more, we can see that Jesus’ wounds and scars clearly identifies this risen person to US, as well, his new closest friends. If Jesus had been only divine, for example, he would presumably have been resurrected totally and perfectly healed. If Jesus had been only human, he presumably wouldn’t have been resurrected at all. Yes, Christ Jesus’s wounded hands and feet clearly identify him throughout the ages.
I take great comfort in Jesus’ solidarity with humanity, with you and with me, that he still bore the wounds of the cross. I think that when each finally get to meet Jesus face-to-face, in heaven, he will show US his wounded hands and feet. By those wounds, and by his love, we will know him.
By the way, did you notice that Jesus showed everyone his wounds, let them touch his wounds? Isn’t that just like Jesus? WE tend to hide OUR wounds, even our scars. Jesus revealed his for all the world, and for all time, for us to see and examine.
What Jesus did by showing his wounds to his disciples was counter to OUR instincts. Don’t we usually hide OUR wounds and scars, physical or spiritual or emotional? Don’t we hope that no one notices just how perfect we are NOT?
Christ Jesus showing his hands and feet to those in the Upper Room shows US how to be HIS hands and feet in our world. Don’t we come here because we find Church of the Resurrection a safe place—like the Upper Room—to bare our wounds to each other? Here is where we practice being authentic Christians so that we can share our story with the world bear (take) our wounds out into the world.
I say this because Jesus told his disciples that we can’t stay in our Upper Room. We have to leave this place and be Jesus’ hands and feet elsewhere. Jesus has commissioned us to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name, from this place into our community and into our world.