New Thoughts on Resurrection: Why’d Jesus eat the Broiled Fish!?
April 15, 2018

New Thoughts on Resurrection: Why’d Jesus eat the Broiled Fish!?

Passage: Luke 24:36b-48

I’ve got to confess – I’m often frustrated by the Bible stories of Jesus’ resurrection – not that he was resurrected, mind you! – but how weird his behavior was after he came out of the tomb. He just kind of pops in and out of the story, somewhat randomly.

Disciples are walking on the road, he catches up with them, talks for a long time, has dinner with them, but as soon as they recognize who he is, he vanishes from their sight.

The apostles are in an upstairs room, behind a locked door, and – ta-da! – there he is again. And then he’s not.

It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand why, once Jesus has conquered death and fulfilled his mission, he seems less available than he was before. After all, if in rising from the dead he is further along in this redemptive story, why isn’t there more clarity? more union, more “Ain’t nothin’ gonna separate us from one another again, Jesus”?

Now, to his credit, and to the credit of those who wrote the gospels, two things are very clear about these periodic reunions: at each of them Jesus is saying, “I really am risen from the dead,” and what he really wants to talk with them about is how his death and resurrection had truly been anticipated throughout the Old Testament.  Everyone might have missed it before, but without a doubt, God had intended this story from the beginning.

In today’s reading it says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). In the story of the road to Emmaus it says that, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Now, it’s a little frustrating that Luke just glosses over those details. I actually think it would have been helpful to hear Jesus’ interpretation of the whole Old Testament. But nonetheless, what is clear to us inheritors of the scriptures, is that the resurrected Jesus clearly understands himself and his experience to be part of God’s master plan for this world.

But there’s a little detail in today’s story that confuses me – that bit about the broiled fish. Did you catch that? Jesus shows up in the room, announces himself, freaks them out ‘cause they thinks he’s a ghost, and he says, “No, really, it’s just me. C’mon; you know me. Touch me. Real flesh and bones here guys.” And then, just to make it truly convincing, he says, “Have you got anything to eat?” And they give him a broiled fish, which he eats. The obvious reason being that ghosts don’t eat food.

That much is clear.

But this is the part that I find confusing: I thought that the resurrected Jesus was ushering in a future world that was beyond death because death had been conquered. I thought the resurrected Jesus was inaugurating the Peaceable Kingdom, “where the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and a child shall play over the hole of the asp” (Isaiah 11), a future reality that no longer included death of any kind, that no longer required one creature to give up its life so that another creature may keep living.

So what was Jesus doing by eating that broiled fish? Surely that little fish was flipping and flopping in the net when it was caught, frantic to escape. But instead it was caught, was killed, and gutted, and cooked over the coals, and fed to the resurrected Jesus.

And please hear me, I’m not being cynical. And I’m not picking at a little scab just for the pleasure of it. It really is a significant question for me, because I really do hope for a future reality in which death is no more. And you might say, “Eric, it’s just a fish. Get over it!” And I get that. But in the big, cosmic picture, I don’t believe that God has a preferential love for one link of the food chain over another. All of God’s creation comes from God and is beloved of God, and nothing is left out. And if God is luring us with a vision of the Peaceable Kingdom, where animals no longer hunt and consume one another, why include this tiny part of the story? Why not just leave it out and let us continue to hope that the resurrection of the dead will truly be the end of all death? Why not let us hear in Christ’s “Peace be with you” the hope of a pervasive peace where nothing need fear its life ever again?

And let me just throw in now, this isn’t a sermon with a tidy conclusion. I don’t have this one all wrapped up! All I’ve got are my theological musing at this stage in the game. And this is as much as I think I’ve figured out so far:

Through both Holy Scripture and creation itself, one thing is very clear: there is nothing static in this life. Everything in existence is in an active process of being birthed and living and growing and declining and dying. And that which dies becomes the source by which new life is born. This is the way God made this world to exist, where energy are matter are continuously being recreated in new and wonderful forms of life.

And yet we often envision a heaven where this reality stops, where we are resurrected from the dead and ushered in to an eternity of inertia (you might say), where all the dynamism and creativity of life is suspended forever. That’s why you’ll hear people say, “I wonder what age I’ll be in heaven,” because in our perception of heaven aging must cease lest we end up as perpetually aging people who are quickly wrinkled beyond all recognition! And so we imagine that children who die become children forever, and that old people who die revert to, what?  mid-twenties forever? whenever it was we felt we were at the apex of strength and vitality.

And if you think about it, that’s also the basis of why the critics of our faith complain that heaven seems awfully boring. It’s this same recognition that a life without change would soon become very dull. And of course we get all defensive for God and insist that, No no no, it will be pure bliss because we are with God and that God’s presence will truly be satisfying forever. I’ve made this same defense many times. And, at its core, I still think it’s true.

But I’m beginning to wonder if our perception of heaven and eternity isn’t a bit skewed. What will it be exactly? Well how on earth could I possibly know!? But I suspect that the heaven of “suspended aging,” the heaven of “perpetual youth and beauty” might be a rather misdirected hope.

For when God first made creation it was already a creation of perpetual becoming. Long before there was ever such a thing as “sin,” God already created a world in which the crust of the earth was shifting and moving, of rocks melting and becoming the lava that became the new rocks on which soil would settle and seeds would burst into life; where plants were already shedding their leaves to become the soil for next year’s spring; where trees were already creating fruit that animals would consume and by so doing, spread their seeds far and wide. And with each act of creation God says, “It is good. It is good.”

And I believe that this entire reality – both the substance and the process – is filled with God. And Jesus, God incarnate, became participant in this drama. He entered into the glory of God’s handiwork, becoming both creator and creation: Jesus became the embryo that became the baby and the growing adolescent; and he became the dying one and the buried one; and then Jesus also became the risen one.

But what is distinctive in Jesus, and what becomes the hope of all life, is that in his resurrection he continued to be “the recognizable one.” He retained his unique particularity. He was, in a word, still Jesus. “See that it is I myself,” he says. “Touch me and see; for I am no ghost.”

And so the great miracle of Easter is that – beginning with Jesus – resurrection in the Kingdom of God is both the literal raising of the dead where we see and touch and greet the risen Christ, and Jesus’ resurrection still contains the cycle of life we have always known because the resurrected Jesus is eating that broiled fish who gave up its life!

Do you see what I mean? Jesus escaped the cycle of life by retaining his recognizable form and he still participates in and endorses the cycle of life when he consumes the fish.

How do these two realities merge? I have no idea at all.

But this is my hope: that the resurrection that God has begun through Christ is such that – nothing is lost. And I mean nothing. Jesus has begun a new reality with us where the life cycle continues and where life remains eternally recognizable and beloved.

And so my hope in this new Easter reality is that I shall be distinctly in God forever, such that my “Ericness” will never be lost, that I shall greet in Paradise all those who have gone before me. And in my being I shall continue to participate in the dynamic reality where my life is continually being given away so that something else may be made new of me. For isn’t that how Jesus has lived and loved with us?

Just as Jesus joined us in this life of ours, so we are being joined to the divine life of God in Christ.

See what love the Father has given us, (writes John) that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are… 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 (1 John 3:1-2).

So we shall be in God, and God shall be in us, and life shall continue its glorious journey of being and becoming life anew, world without end. Amen.

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