Thursday, April 16, #5: Luke 24:36-49 (We recommend you read this passage in full before reading the devotion.)
Written by Rev. Abi Foerster, Pastor of St. Thomas United Methodist Church in Manassas
Luke 24:41 – 43 (CEB) — Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them.
In his third post-resurrection appearance, Jesus shows up again unannounced and the disciples are caught off guard, surprised by his presence among them. They believe they have seen a ghost! At first, he tries the same tactic he used while in Emmaus and with Thomas and the others behind locked doors in Jerusalem, encouraging them to look at his hands and feet. But this does not assuage their doubt. He even scolds them a bit, reminding them that a ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone.
So, he does what any sensible person would do when trying to convince others that you’re not a ghost, and that instead, you’re part of the living community who must do what humans do – namely, EAT! So, they give him a piece of leftover fish – some say broiled, others baked. Regardless, it’s what’s in reach. He eats right before their very eyes. Proof to them that his resurrection is real.
The Greek word for ghost is pneuma – meaning literally, breath, and metaphorically, ghost. As in Holy Ghost – the same, exact word. Today, we mostly use the word Spirit. But, Jesus is no ghost. He is as real as you and me, skin and bones and guts. Did I mention, he’s eating a fish? For now, he reminds them that the Spirit will come soon to empower them to preach to the nations as witnesses of his life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.
Can you imagine if our communion liturgy included smoked salmon or herring fish at the table of grace along with the bread and the cup? Perhaps it once did. It seems to me that a meal of bread and wine is so civilized and clean, a few crumbs perhaps or a spilled spot of grape juice remaining on the carpet after all is said and done. Some even serve pre-cut cubes or bite-sized wafers and individual shot glasses of juice to mitigate the impact of the cold and flu season. We can be so sanitary, can’t we?
But eating fish, that’s a different story. Fish come with scales and gills and little pieces of bones that make their way into your mouth when eaten, and perhaps even a set of eyes looking back at you. Fish can be fishy smelling, an odor remaining long after a meal is over. But this is what Jesus consumes at this meal with his disciples. As he does, he reminds us of the sea teeming with fish at creation (Gen. 1), God’s rescue from slavery in Egypt and turning water into blood at the Nile (Ex. 7), Jonah’s 3-day journey in the belly of a fish (Jonah), the calling of the first disciples who were mostly fishermen (Matthew, Mark, & Luke), his teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven being like an over-flowing net of diverse fish (Matthew 13), and the miracle of the fish and loaves (John 6). Indeed, we remember through simple acts done together in community.
Christians have been struggling with the messiness of the incarnation for centuries. The Word-made-flesh in Jesus. Does God roll up his sleeves and really eat fish? Apparently, yes. Two truths that the resurrection invites us to lean into: life is messy and Jesus is not a ghost – not a disembodied spirit hovering over the messiness of life, but a person with a body on the other side of death, who is fully engaged in our mess. This is the good news in a nutshell.
Maybe Jesus was just hungry. Maybe he’s stress-eating after the ordeal of the crucifixion, or maybe just maybe he’s using the simple tools at his disposal at that moment to teach us something about the nature of God’s reign both then and now. Praise be to God.
If you’ve missed any of our previous daily readings, you can find them all archived here. We hope these readings are helping you encounter God this season!