Easter 3B Luke 24:36b-48
Sometimes the most ordinary things can seem so magical.
Last weekend I took a class at the Green Energy Park in Dillsboro and for part of that, I got to see a blacksmithing demonstration up close. For centuries, blacksmiths have manufactured useful but quite ordinary tools. They made horseshoes, which are about as glamorous and magical as the tires on your car. But watching the creation of something out of iron was amazing!
The blacksmith took a long iron rod out of a pile of other spectacularly ordinary looking sticks of metal and placed it into the hot foundry. Over and over he would pull it out, take it to the anvil, hammer the soft, clay-like glowing end, small sparks flying off each hammer fall, and return it to the fire as it cooled. He hammered, twisted and turned the glowing orange-red iron and finally dunked it into a huge bucket of cold water sending steam into the air around us. As I stood, washed over in the almost unbearable heat rolling out of the foundry, the blacksmith immediately placed the twisted iron rod in my hand. It was cold as ice.
Just like magic.
Even more so is this magical when you discover that the foundry and the furnace for the glass blowing studio next door are both run on trash. The fires to melt iron and glass are fed by the methane gas produced from the decaying landfill beneath. Magic!
The church word for magic is mystical. We tend to see something as magical or mystical not so much because we don’t understand how it happens but when we see something transformed. It was one thing and now it’s another; a new thing altogether. What once was a stick of metal has been transformed into something beautiful. It can be transformed into something useful. What was once garbage—decaying waste from our homes—has become a powerful vehicle for creativity, beauty, and change.
Our gospel lesson for today has something magical and mystical in it. Something as ordinary and functional as horses’ shoes or tires is the hallmark of a great mystical truth in the resurrection story of Jesus.
Jesus appears to his disciples shortly after his resurrection. Actually, that means shortly after his death. He was executed on the cross a few days before, placed in the tomb for three days. Well and truly dead. Dead as cold iron. And now he stands before them well and truly alive!
Or is he? What would you and I think if we saw such a thing as this? Is it a ghost? A mass hallucination? Is it what many people have suggested over the years; simply the deep, emotional wishes of Jesus’ closest friends? Is it some sort of ethereal spirit? Is it Jesus’ soul, made of some sort of vapor, come to bid them farewell before floating off or fading away?
Not surprisingly, Jesus knows that his followers are just like us. They need some sort of proof. Proof that they can believe what they see. And he gives it to them by, of all things, eating a piece of fish.
Of all the many people he has healed, of all the miraculous things he has done; the walking on water, the calming the sea in a huge storm; of all the amazing and nearly unbelievable things he did in his earthly ministry, he now provides them with simple proof. Simple, ordinary, plain and straight forward proof of who he is. He is not a ghost or spirit or vapor. He is not a hallucination fueled by grief. He is real, alive and at large in the world. His body is real. He is real. He is really alive.
“Peace be with you,” he tells them. They are startled and terrified! Here he is popping up again right in the middle of everything, like some kind of ghost! “Why are you frightened?” he asks them, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” He shows them his hands and feet. ‘Look at them,’ he tells them, ‘see, it’s me! It’s me! Touch me and see! I’m really me!’
Even with this, even though they are joyful, they still aren’t sure. Can they believe their eyes? He was dead and gone. Now he has been transformed into something new. Can it really be true? They still wonder. Jesus then asks for something so simple and ordinary. ‘Got anything to eat around here?’
Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry he spends a good deal of time at meals. He eats and drinks with prostitutes, tax collectors and social outcasts. He attends wedding banquets with rough fishermen, transforming water into fine wine. He dines at the homes of respected members of the religious leadership, reminding them of what true faithfulness looks like. He blesses a tiny portion of food that had to feed thousands of people and in the end, it miraculously did. But here, it’s just plain old fish dinner with friends. Nothing controversial or flashy.
But here’s the thing: ghosts don’t eat. Apparitions don’t eat. Hallucinations don’t eat. Spirits on their way to heaven don’t stop by the house for a snack before they get on the road. Living things eat. Real, live human beings eat.
And that’s the magic. Jesus was well and truly dead in the tomb, they all knew that, but now he—the real and very much live Jesus—is right there eating fish dinner with his friends as only a real human being can do. He has been transformed from death to life. Eating that little bit of fish is like the blacksmith putting the reformed and transformed iron rod in my hands. It’s proof that this magical, mysterious truth is real.
In our baptism we are transformed into something new and beautiful as well. Like an iron rod thrust into the furnace and formed into something new by the blacksmith, we are formed by God’s action in the waters and made a new creation. Something so simple as water and yet we are fundamentally different afterward. On Easter Sunday we witnessed the transformation of Madison, Jim and Rebecca’s granddaughter. We’ve witnessed the same thing in the past with two of Lee and Mary Ann’s grandchildren and with Michelle and Joey’s son, Mikey. When we witness any baptism, a transformation is what we see. One minute they are our precious children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The next, they are children of God. Still what they were before but now something new. Like the iron rod before and after the blacksmith’s work which is definitely still iron, we may appear to be made of the same thing but we are quite different than we ever were before.
One of the really amazing things about Jesus’ appearance to his disciples is that he shows up right in the middle of their anxiety, fear and doubt. Jesus does not need them to understand the mystery of his resurrection for it to be true. He doesn’t need them to believe it is him before he shows up. Right in the middle of the chaos of their lives—the chaos that might have been nearly overwhelming after his crucifixion and the danger to their own lives, the reports of his resurrection and what that could possibly mean—that’s where he decided to show up. He comes to them to give them something to believe in; a reason to believe. Unlike the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, you don’t have to believe in the magic for it to work. The magic…the true mystery of Jesus’ resurrection is real.
Unlike fairy tales, Jesus does not wait for his disciples or for us to wish or believe really hard before he shows up in our lives. Instead, he comes to us so that we can believe. He comes to us in our baptism, in our prayers, in Holy Communion and in the hands and feet of others. He comes to us in our everyday lives, in the middle of our own chaos, fear and anxiety. He even comes to us when we wonder or doubt not because we believe in him but so that we can believe in him.
Now that’s real magic.