"True Confessions, Real Forgiveness" – Luke 24:36b-48
Jesus himself came and stood among them 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 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.”
Since Jesus brought up the notion of repentance and forgiveness…I have a confession to make: I have yelled at my kids.
I know none of the rest of you have done this, so I hope you won’t hold it against me. And sometimes, I yell louder than at other times. (My wife, Christa was out of town for a few days and there’s even more yelling, I have to say, when she’s not around.) Again, I know this probably hasn’t happened with most of you – and maybe it’s hard to imagine, coming from your Pastor – but it’s a true story. And sometimes, what comes out of my mouth – the volume, not the words – in moments of utter frustration and anger, surprises even me. And it can be sad and embarrassing and regrettable. And it’s always something I wish I could undo, just as soon as it’s been done.
And it happened earlier this week – Monday, to be exact – in particularly rare form, hence the confession. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it started as an argument over homework, just before bedtime, that escalated to that boiling point when I let all sorts of frustration and anger and rage, even, get the best of me. Again, there was nothing wrong with the words that I said – I’ve, so far, managed control over that – but it was the sheer volume that surprised me and that genuinely scared Max, my 7-year-old, in a way I hadn’t done before. Again, it was sad, embarrassing, regrettable – shameful, even, to be honest. When I saw the look on his face as I yelled, I immediately wondered how, when, or if, I could repent or repair or convince him to forgive me anytime soon.
Things eventually calmed down and everyone went to bed, peaceably enough. I made my apology. We said “good night” and “I love you,” even, but I couldn’t help wonder, still, if I’d gone too far. Of course, there’s more to this story, and I’ll get back to it in a minute.
First, though, I want to remember this post-resurrection Jesus-sighting we heard about from Luke’s Gospel. Before the part of the story we just heard, Jesus had appeared and walked with a couple of his followers on the road to Emmaus. Once they realized who he was and that he was alive, they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the crew. And it’s in the midst of whatever confusion and surprise came along with their story, that Jesus showed up, again, to the rest of the group, saying simply, “Peace be with you.”
And even though he’s standing right there in the room, apparently interrupting a fish dinner, they’re filled with fear and trembling and joy, but still disbelieving and still wondering what in the world their eyes were telling them.
So Jesus does just what we heard he did last week for “Doubting Thomas.” He shows them his hands and his feet – revealing the wounds he suffered from his crucifixion. And then he invites them to touch him, to put their hands onto his flesh so they could be sure he was no ghost. And then, for the icing on the cake, he asks for a piece of fish to eat. “A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you see that I have,” he says. And presumably, a ghost wouldn’t need or be able to take and eat, chew and swallow a piece of fish from the dining room table. So Jesus has made his case. He’s proven his point. He has made it up from the dead and out of the tomb. Alleluia!
Now, and here’s my point for today, I don’t think it’s a small thing that all of this touching and seeing and eating between Jesus and his disciples, after his resurrection, happened alongside the rest of their conversation about repentance and forgiveness of sins being proclaimed in his name. I think one informs the other in meaningful, holy ways.
See, the disciples needed to know that Jesus was raised…for real. They needed to see that he was living, moving, breathing and eating…for real. They needed to be sure this was not just some ghost or vision or hallucination they were having after eating some bad fish. So Jesus gives them what they need, not just with words, not even just by showing up and eating in their presence. Jesus gives them what they need by letting them reach out and touch what was so hard for their hearts and minds to grasp.
And I think Jesus does that because he knows that’s what the world needs, too. And I think Jesus does all of this and then talks about the disciples being witnesses to the repentance and forgiveness of sins, because Jesus wanted them – and God wants us, still – to be that kind of witness: flesh and blood witnesses to repentance and forgiveness for the sake of the world.
Have you ever needed or offered that kind of proof? Have you ever offered or received forgiveness and then sealed the deal with a hug or a kiss or a handshake – hand to hand, flesh to flesh, heart to heart? That kind of forgiveness matters more than words, doesn’t it? When it’s sealed with a handshake? A hug? A kiss, even?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed that kind of forgiveness Monday night, after all of my guilt over yelling like I did before bedtime. No matter how peaceably we left things before we said “good night”; no matter even that I had apologized and Max had told me he understood; I was left “disbelieving and still wondering” – just like Jesus’ disciples – how/if he could mean it. And I didn’t know it – I didn’t believe it – until very early the next morning, long before my alarm was set to go off; long before the sun was up; when I heard Max’s little footsteps in my room and when I felt the mattress move beneath me and when I felt his little body curled up against mine.
That was forgiveness I could touch. That was forgiveness I could feel. That was an unmistakable peace offering that said more than words could describe – no matter if my son was 7 or 70 years old.
Sometimes what we can say with words or see with our eyes, even – like we talked last week – just doesn’t cut the mustard. Sometimes we need to touch and feel and experience the presence of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness and grace – with our hands, bodily – in order to feel it with our hearts or to believe it with our minds.
That’s what I think Jesus was up to when he showed up to his disciples and when he invited them to touch and to feel their forgiveness, in the flesh. It’s what God is up to every time we eat and drink the flesh and blood presence of our forgiveness in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. And I believe it’s what he calls us to, still, as witnesses to his grace. We are to share... We are to reveal… We are to be the kind of forgiveness we can’t always describe with words, but that can only be shared in the flesh, for the sake of the world.