Year B Easter 3, 18 April 2021
Video Service from St James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 John 3:1-7
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He 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 me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 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.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
So Jesus stood in their midst, and declared that he was flesh and blood. No ghost, no spirit, no phantasm. He showed his hands and feet. He even ate a piece of broiled fish so that it was clear. Jesus was resurrected, in the flesh. There was no doubt.
We touch things to make them more real. Toes on a blessed statue worn down by touching. Steps in a cathedral worn down by a millennia of pilgrims’ feet. A friend while we are talking reaches out to let us know how much they mean what they are saying, and how much they care. Touch makes things real.
Jesus came I truly believe to touch humanity. To make the laws and the prophecies come alive in flesh and blood, his flesh and blood. Jesus came to touch us so that we might know that God’s love is real.
One of the great needs in our society which was already so heavily isolated is touch, something as simple as contact. For so many, during this last year, people have gone without any human contact, not virtual, but real flesh and blood contact. Even those of us blessed with family in our house are severely cut back in our touches.
I am not speaking of anything intimate or sexual here. A pat on the back. A handshake. A hug. A simple hug. Think on it: will we ever go back to having handshakes and hugs again, or anytime soon, anyway?
When Stephanie [my wife] and I were in graduate school way back in 2001 we were warned, the more hi-tech we become, the more hi-touch we need to be. This last year we have been required to be hi-tech, to many people’s dismay and displeasure. Some have just opted to check out, to pause and step back from everything waiting for this to be over. Some others have decided to race into the storm and do as much as we can as best we can. That has been my option, but it comes back to personal comfort, ability, and choice. But whichever response we have, the more personal contact we require.
Virtual is not yet an equal replacement for the simple human need of interaction, the little things. The calming response to someone reminding us that we wear a flesh suit that encapsulates this brain where our thoughts reside. We are spiritual creatures having a physical experience, or so I think. We are spirits incarnated. We are souls con carne.
I have the habit of being too interior, too much caught in my head. One of the great grounders for me every week was the reception line after church. That handshake, or a double handshake, even. An occasional hug. Or a kiss on my cheek from my mother-in-law or wife. But in all of these, I know that for me this moment was one of the times when I felt (notice the verb there) I was your pastor and priest. The other, happened just before, when I touched each of you sharing the bread, the body of Christ, pressing it firmly in your hand reminding you of how the love of God became flesh and dwelt among us, as John 1 speaks about.
I have so desperately missed these moments. I did not realize how much these simple interactions meant until they were gone. In our virtual services, done days before it is even more detached and isolating, though it was the best that we could do. In our outdoor services, the cups of wafers and having to police masks and distancing makes it even more lonely instead of comforting. We see each other, but from afar. Better than nothing, but it is not the same. Yes, I too, miss being touched.
When Jesus spoke to Thomas, his first invitation was to touch his hands, his side. When Jesus healed, how often was touch involved? From putting spittle and mud on the blind man’s eyes, to the hemorrhaging woman who touched the hem of his garment. Touch, touch, touch. Repeatedly, in the Gospels, the ministry of Christ was the touch of Christ. This is the miracles, but also so many other things. The Last Supper, just got on his knees and bathed the apostles’ feet. He touched them. He got the dirt from between their toes. They felt his hands, the care, the concern, the love. It came through the hands of Jesus.
Touch is so important. We need to make a habit of touch, safely, encouragingly, and by permission only. I loved how they described it to the counselors in training for the camps at Shrine Mont. It is usually okay to touch the bony parts, shoulders, elbows, knees. Not stroking or caressing, a pat, a squeeze, a friendly pinch. But let people know that you are there, you are connected to them, you are in touch. Literally and figuratively. Once it is safe after Coronatide, of course.
But also remember, that not all are open to this. Some have been traumatized in ways you do not know about, or just not as comfortable with touch except with or from certain people. Listen, ask, and never assume. This is especially true with children. We need to instruct our kids to speak up and say this is not comfortable to them. Even small children, ESPECIALLY small children, need the right to say NO, and that they are uncomfortable when they are. This is not diminishing our need for contact, but actually emphasizes all the more how important and needed touch is for all of us. We all need it. We are social creatures in need of interaction and contact. Especially after the last year. Elbow bumps are a good first step until we can get back to some of what was.
And friends, that is what the world needs of us. They need us to incarnate the message, to give it flesh and bones, to give it hands and feet. We do this because Jesus did it first. The Message is the Mission, and the Mission is the Message. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is touching a hurting world with the hands of Christ. We are his hands. James phrased it this way, “Faith without works is dead.” [James 2:17] Our faith needs to be alive and breathing. Our faith needs to be flesh and blood. Our faith needs to be touched and touchable. St. Teresa of Avila told us long ago...
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. — St. Teresa of Ávila (attributed)
Friends, as we are in this emerging world that is our charge. Picture your hands, look at them now, picture your hands as the hands of Christ. Picture how he would touch. Picture how he would heal. Picture you being like Jesus for those who you meet each and every day. We need to keep being his flesh and blood for a touch-starved world. Amen