I am one of the disciples who doubted in the gospel of Matthew, or Thomas who had to physically touch Jesus’ wounds in the gospel of John. More often than not I probably disbelieve the doctrine of resurrection. I mean think about the absurdity of this claim for a minute: a messiah living within the bounds of humanity, transcending those bounds and returning from the grave. Are we sure the disciples weren’t just trying to concoct a better ending to the story of their leader? The gospel of Mark in its original form, from which scholar’s speculate Matthew and Luke were composed, ends directly after Jesus’ death. There is no mention of resurrection. Matthew offers a brief account of Jesus appearing to Mary and the disciples and sending them out into the world, but omits any mention of Jesus ascending into heaven. In the gospel of Luke, the disciples meet Jesus a second time as a stranger at Emmaus whom they do not recognize as Jesus until he breaks bread with them.
My favorite resurrection story is in John, where Jesus invites his disciples to breakfast on the beach after they come in from fishing. He has already prepared a charcoal fire where he is cooking fish and bread. The disciples suspected from the boat when he guided them to an abundant catch of fish that this man might be Jesus, but are sure beyond a doubt when he invites them to share a meal. Resurrection is an unlikely reunion of friends around a campfire. Jesus appears not to crowds and strangers, but to his closest friends in rather intimate encounters such as this.
In both John and Luke it seems that the disciples have difficulty recognizing the physical appearance of the risen Jesus, but recognize him rather from his behavior. This extends the invitation to us as a reminder that Jesus is still risen and among us, though often our eyes do not recognize his likeness. When we recognize the living Christ it is through practices and behaviors that trigger our memory, the ritual breaking of bread, an abundant provision, suffering love, and thus what is in the past remakes the present into a sweet song of resurrection. The resurrection meal is a time of remembering, reassembling the scattered members, the wandering parts, incomplete outside of the whole.
I remember Baw Baw invited Trevor and I to breakfast one morning in the middle of the week shortly before her family left Jubilee for Clarkston. It was an unusual invitation that we could not refuse. We went the next morning at eight o’clock, just before work. Baw Baw offered us bowl after bowl of food, having doubtlessly started the preparations in the wee hours of the morning. Aw gabweh gabweh, she says—Eat slowly, while clumping rice and broth together in her hand and stuffing it in the mouths of her three younger children. The rice, eggs, pounded chilies, spicy pork, and dried venison displaced the haunting thoughts of my life no longer being worth living, the smiling faces of Mama-scented children, the horrific glimmer of the kitchen knife in the drying rack in my room.
Henri Nouwen writes: “Not seldom, self-rejection is simply seen as the neurotic expression of an insecure person. But neurosis is often the psychic manifestation of a much deeper human darkness: the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’”
At Baw Baw’s house that cold Fall morning, I felt welcome in human existence. This is the simple affirmation offered in the resurrection meal. The resurrection grants us permission to greet each morning with an awkward human embrace. And more than allowing our humanity, the resurrection tells us that our humanity is in fact what makes us beloved, what drives us toward oneness. Mortality is the only way to eternal life. We no longer have to fool ourselves. We can now entertain the absurd thought that we do not have to pretend to be gods. We can accept the fact that we will always be hypocrites, actors, and playfully enact the divine drama, the story that consumes reality itself. “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written,” John writes in the final line of his gospel. The mystery of resurrection animates the entire universe.
So the resurrection will come like MSG in the morning, lifting me out of despair. I cannot tell you with theological certainty what happened in Palestine two millennia ago, but I can tell you that I will accept the invitation to breakfast.