Touch me and see: Easter 3

Touch me and see: Easter 3

Third Sunday In Easter,   April 15, 2018

3 Easter, Year B: Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

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Here we are in the third week of Easter and Jesus is showing himself to the disciples to be very real, to be the risen, embodied Christ. “Touch me and see”, says Christ. It’s almost as if it’s a direct response to Thomas’ request in last week’s gospel to be able to touch and see Christ so he could believe.

“Touch me and see”. Christ is telling his disciples that he is real, that he is there in flesh and blood.

When you consider our readings from today, they really are the sum of Easter – Christ’s death and resurrection – and the anticipation of Pentecost in the commission of the gospel to all nations.[1]

Jesus’ visit has a twofold agenda: to enlighten the disciples about his resurrection and to commission them for the preaching of the gospel.

Think about the encounter that the disciples had with this risen Christ who had to declare not only “peace be with you”[2], but also that he was not a ghost.

Think about what this experience means in a Christian context. It is not just an old story of two thousand years ago, but it is the story of our experience with the Author of life, the Risen Christ.

Think about how when we fail to “touch and see” the harm that is done to our brothers and sisters.

Over the past several years, there have been repeated instances of the shooting unarmed, African-American teenagers. In one situation, when a police officer was telling his side of the story, he said this: “The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon.” Not he. It. “It looks like a demon.”

He continued, “I shot a series of shots. I don’t know how many I shot. I just know I shot it.”

There it is again, that impersonal pronoun. “I shot it.”

When we can “impersonalize,” de-personalize, make someone an “it” rather than a “he,” then we must face the reality that perhaps we can shoot with impunity. It’s akin to “this is not a person we would touch, or shake hands with, or look in the eye, or hug.

Any more than the disciples would have hugged a ghostly Jesus.

Look at my hands and my feet,” he has to urge them. “See that it is I myself.”

He is desperate for their acknowledgment, their acceptance, their love.

We humans are made to touch. We know that touching is necessary for us to be human. It’s the first experience that newborn babies need. In neo-natal ICU’s if parents are unable to hold their children, there are volunteers who sit and cuddle and provide the human contact that is so very necessary for growth and development. Nurses knew this. To all you nurses out there, thank you because you might know that some of the very early research on the need for babies and human contact to grow was done by nurses at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

India historically had a rigid caste system. Birth was a strong indicator of where you could go, or not, in life. Even though their constitution and laws changed during the 20th century to prevent some of the worst discrimination, it still happens that people are considered less than.

A 2003 story in National Geographic listed all sorts of human rights abuses by upper caste Hindus: The Dalits, formerly called Untouchables, are not allowed to drink from the same wells as the upper castes, attend the same temples, even wear shoes in their presence. They are assaulted with impunity. They are forced to parade naked through villages. They are relegated to the lowest jobs.

An online Time magazine story in 2014 told how the Untouchables were stilling being forced to remove human excrement from homes and latrines, despite laws against it. So though “untouchability” was officially banned in 1950, it still goes to the heart of how they are forced to live. They are deemed so low, so worthless, so unclean, that no one from an upper caste would dare touch them.

The fear is that touching them might transmit their inferiority, their uncleanliness. That’s hard for us to believe. But then again, so is the shooting of unarmed black men fifty years after the Civil Rights movement.

At the close of today’s passage, Jesus tells the disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

All nations. That includes the Untouchables of India. That includes the people of Africa and America. That includes the people of Mexico and Central America.

All nations. All colors.

“Touch me and see,” invites Jesus. Yet, we are going to have to accept the gospel without benefit of touching the historical Jesus. Without benefit of touching the resurrected Jesus.

So what’s the next best thing? What is the way we can respond to Jesus’ invitation to “touch me and see”?

To see Jesus in the other. To be an “Easter” church, a church that lives and breathes the resurrection and the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. A church that looks like the ministry of Jesus. A church where there’s healing and there’s proclamation and sometimes there’s even confrontation. But what there is mostly is witness to the loving, reconciling actions of Jesus in our world.

In one way or another, all of our lessons remind us of our call to be “witnesses,” to tell to others what we have seen and heard of the mighty deeds of God acting in Christ.  In Acts, we read, “. . . whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”[3] In First John, the writer gives his witness, carefully differentiating between what he doesn’t know; “what we will be has not been revealed” and what he does “What we do know is this, when he is revealed, we will be like him . . .”[4]

And in the Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds the disciples of why he came, ‘to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,[5] what must be done, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name to all nations,”[6] and what their roles is to be, “You are witnesses of these things.”[7]

For us to be a witness and to preach repentance and forgiveness requires very simply that we be willing to tell the world about our encounters with Jesus Christ and the word of God.

I saw that witness and those encounters in Beckford Parish on Wednesday evening. I heard and saw witness from a person whose recovery from a devastating and massive stroke is ongoing and I saw a loving, grace-filled and compassionate response very much in evidence.

We saw and we were touched both metaphorically and physically. In that touching and seeing, we were called to see and recognize Christ, and to discover new life. And I believe we did that.

We were called that night, and we are called every day, to be authentic disciples, to become part of the resurrected life of Christ.

“Touch me and see”.

We are challenged today. Whom in our communities needs the presence and witness of the risen Christ? What kinds of experiences and understandings do we need so that we can be credible witnesses to God’s aims in the world?

What I pray for is that each of us hears the gospel, each and every Sunday, for better or worse. That we sit with it. Pray with it. Wrestle with it. And find a glimpse of the risen Christ and your own resurrection. “You are witnesses of these things,” he says to us.

Touching and seeing is about caring for our neighbors, forgiving our friends, our enemies and even our families, and accepting God’s forgiveness of them and us. It’s about touching and seeing. Why do these things? Because we are called and commissioned by Jesus Christ to witness and share the resurrected life.

[1] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 14914-14920). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[2] Luke 24:36b

[3] Acts 3:15

[4] 1 John 3:2

[5] Luke 24:46

[6] Luke 24:47

[7] Luke 24:48

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