I told a story recently that I’ve told frequently at Easter time, about a young person who once asked me if Jesus was a zombie. True story. And practically biblical. The disciples may not have been familiar with zombies, but they sure knew a ghost when they saw one and, according to Luke, Jesus had to convince them he wasn’t one (Luke 24:37).
As I confessed when I recounted the zombie story, I don’t have an answer to the question “how, then, is Jesus alive?” I mean, if you’re looking for a physiological one, I don’t have one. It’s a miracle. I’ll come back to that, but where I was going at the time was, of course, how Jesus is alive in each of us today. For all the moments of grief and brokenness, all the crucifixions large and small, all the moments of loneliness and heartache, there is always an Easter. The story is about the promise of new life, the hope of a new dawn.
Yes, that’s lovely and warm. And true. I still think it’s the main take away, the big picture of the story. But why, then, doesn’t Jesus just appear as a spiritual manifestation – a ghost, if you like – or a bright light and a voice, like Paul experiences Jesus? Why do each of the post-Easter stories of Jesus emphasize the disciples seeing and touching Jesus? In that passage from Luke where Jesus has to convince them he’s not a ghost, he tells them to touch the wounds and even asks for food. Everyone knows ghosts don’t eat. Only a human being would. Why is it so important that they see his face, touch his body, hold him close and share a meal with him? Why did they have to see him whole again?
Well, that’s the first thing. He wasn’t whole. He was wounded. He carries the marks of what he experienced. We all do. And he’s changed by it, as we all are.
And that’s another thing. The physicality of the resurrection reconnects us to the physicality of Jesus birth – the story of the incarnation, “the Word made flesh,” Emmanuel which means God-with-us. Jesus is one of us. And that’s crucial to understanding how Jesus is alive in us today because Jesus shows us how to be fully alive. When we hear Jesus say “love one another as I have loved you,” it’s not an impossible task or a bar set too high, it’s the fulfilment of what’s already in us. We also are created both in God’s image and of the earth, divine and human. We are meant to embrace Jesus and hold him close for that very reason, wounds and all, not put him on a pedestal to be worshipped at a distance as something unattainable.
Everyone who meets Jesus after the resurrection seems to need this physical contact. It’s not just Thomas who doubts, all do. And they wonder and are amazed and still cannot explain it. But wonder and doubt are part of the journey of faith. Which is why it is so important for us to hear this story, so far removed from it. To see Jesus, to know Jesus, to experience Jesus, to share Jesus, we need to look to ourselves and each other. That’s where the love is, waiting to be brought back into life, waiting to be shared, waiting to bring new life to all of us. That’s the miracle part. I don’t know exactly how it works, but it does. Love is not ended by death. It simply brings new life.