Suddenly the risen Jesus comes and stands among them. The physical reality of his presence breathes warmth and hope and new life into their very bones. His resurrection enables theirs. There is no question as to the physicality of the experience. We know that his risen body was not like his earthly one - which is why Mary Magdalene did not at first recognise him. As Paul perceived long before John wrote his Gospel " the body that is sown is perishable, it is is raised imperishable.' Nevertheless the body of the risen Jesus is experienced in a physical way, and his presence can be touched. The experience is not of a disembodied spirit, but of a physical encounter. This is part of what makes bodily experience so important to us as Christians. Ours is a faith that takes the material seriously, and expects that the spiritual is to be experienced in and through it.
I wonder how you experience the presence of Christ with you? If you had to describe that sense of being accompanied, embraced, guided upon your life's journey, what language would you borrow? For of course you would be attempting to describe the indescribable. Yet I suspect that each of us, in describing that pervasive reality of a sense of divine presence would use some common words that derive from our human experiences of being loved and held. We might use words like warmth, touch, love and peace. This is what connects our experience to that of the first disciples. We have not seen, but are blessed as Jesus says because without seeing we believe on the basis of our experience of presence alone. And that experience is an embodied and physical one, for we encounter God through our physical being, our sight, touch, hearing, breathing and so on.
Often that experience of presence comes to us in the form of a deep sense of peace. This is not surprising when we consider that the first thing the risen Christ does is to say to the disciples, twice, 'Peace be with you', and to breathe into them the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose fruit includes peace. What could be more physical than breath, the essence of physical life. Behind the greeting 'Peace' lies the Hebrew word 'shalom', which means far more than peace as we understand it. It includes the broader ideas of helping and wholeness, of salvation and restoration. So from the very beginning the Christian church has associated resurrection with these wider notions of well being, both physical and spiritual. And of course it is when we feel ourselves in the presence of Christ that we most deeply experience ourselves as made whole and at peace with God and all that God has made.
The risen Jesus tells his disciples, 'as the Father sent me, so I send you'. He makes no distinction between his own mission in the world and ours. So now if these gifts of the peace and presence of God are to be received afresh in the world it is through us. I am sure you have had the experience of being in the presence of those whose deep love for Christ flows out to all those around them, bringing with it a sense of peace. This is our calling too, to be the agents of God's peace, God's shalom in the world. And we enact that calling through our own physical bodies, just as Jesus did in his earthly life. Now it is our hands, our feet, our minds, our breath that is put to the service of transforming the world, fragile and vulnerable though they are.
For the resurrection represents a defining moment of transformation in the relationship of God and humanity. It opens up a whole world of possibility that did not exist before. This is why the story takes place on the first day of the week - the day of new creation. In the resurrection God does something wholly new. And that new thing enables possibility - the possibility of hope, of change and of new beginning even in the face of the worst that we humans can do to one another - and we know that what we can do to one another is terrible. Yet Jesus says that the sins we release are released. In other words all the obstacles that come between us and God can be removed if we are willing - if we are not willing they are retained. So we have the responsibility and the possibility of choosing redemption for ourselves, others and the whole creation. And we do that also in a bodily way. For we know now that the psychological wounds that we carry with us affect our bodies deeply, at the level of cell and bone. When through forgiveness we release the pain done to us, new creation becomes possible within us. That new creation brings us to an ever deeper and more complete place of wholeness, of shalom, of the very peace that the risen Christ breathed into his disciples. For this beyond our own effort is the the work of the Holy Spirit.
So today rejoice in the possibility opened up by the resurrection, and as you rest in Christ's presence allow the peace of the Spirit to flood your whole physical being, bringing healing and hope. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for Easter 2 Year C, 3 April 2016