"Prove it!"

3 Easter.B.24(06)
Luke 24:36b-48
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Hearkening back to childhood, I recall a host of occasions when a particularly outlandish tale or thoroughly improbable achievement was claimed by a member of my age group. Those of us giving our attention to the teller of the story would listen raptly, and then, almost in a chorus reply: “Prove it!” For anything from the claim of being able to ride a bike with no hands to having aced the history test the rest of us failed, we would demand proof of the teller’s claims. We wanted evidence. No proof, meant that the claim, at best, was unjustified—at worst, an outright lie. Fact is, we haven’t changed much with time. We still demand proof—and, as we will see in the following story, sometimes we get it.

Erik Weihenmayer, a blind mountaineer, who successfully scaled Mount Everest wrote about his experience in Outside magazine: “A few days after I arrived in the Khumbu Valley for the Mount Everest climb, a rumor began circulating. Because I wasn’t flopping on my face every few minutes, the Sherpas (native guides) thought I was lying about my blindness. Women would approach me in the alleys of Mache Bazaar and wave their hands in front of my face. I’d feel the wind and flinch, which only confirmed their suspicions.

Finally, I resorted to drastic measures. I asked Kami Tenzing, our climbing sirdar, into the kitchen tent. “Kami,” I said, “I want to give you a message to take back to the Sherpas.” I pulled down my left lower eyelid, leaned my head forward, and my prosthetic eye plopped into my palm. “I can take the other out if you want,” I said. “No!” he said firmly. “Not necessary.”

The Gospel lesson for today tells of one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Luke writes: “While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see…Finally he says: “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

Here's what we learn from Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance before the disciples: That Jesus is raised up, not as a phantom (or ghost), but in a wholly new, unparalleled mode of existence—a spiritual body that can at once appear out of nowhere, yet still bears the scars of his crucifixion. This is a body that has flesh and bones, and that can consume broiled fish. The resurrected Jesus is real—not a phantom, or a hallucination but flesh and blood—and more.

In her book, The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle writes about the differences in the various accounts of the resurrection. “So astonishing was (the Easter event) that each Evangelist had a difficult time describing what exactly happened. In one place Jesus is said to be almost like a ghost; in another he is clearly corporeal. In one place he is immediately recognizable; in another he is mistaken for a gardener. It is as if words cannot adequately explain, cannot adequately contain, what the disciples experienced: the mystery of the Resurrection. But it is clear that something happened—something wonderful, something beyond words.”

Place testimony such as this in a courtroom, and one might conclude that the discrepancies found within the Gospel accounts can only mean that no firm conclusions can be drawn. Indeed, our modern-day presumptions about proof would demand not only corroborating accounts, but DNA evidence, surveillance tapes, possible witness protection and an unbiased jury. It’s a tricky business—and I suggest that even if this were the case we’d probably find ourselves disappointed in the end.

What, then, are we to make of Christian claims about the resurrection which simply will not submit to modern-day demands of proof? Diane Berant, writing in the publication America, has perhaps, the best response I have seen. She writes: “Another place to look for evidence of the Resurrection is the least concrete, but probably the most reliable. It is the quality of the lives of those who live out their faith in the Resurrection. We see it clearly in the transformation of Peter, who went from misunderstanding the Scriptures to interpreting them through the lens of the Resurrection. We see it in Paul who had set out to put Christians to death, only to become the champion of “dying and rising with Christ.”

‘We see “what happened” in the lives of countless (people) today who are examples of extraordinary integrity in the midst of deceit, of dedicated service in a world of selfishness, of patience and understanding in the face of violence, of forgiveness and reconciliation where there has been personal violation. Such lives are evidence that Jesus has risen from the dead and is alive in the world today.”

This radical change, not only in the lives of the disciples, but in countless people, throughout the centuries, and the world over, who have encountered Christ, is not provable by any courtroom standards. In the end, it relies upon faith—it asks for our hearts and minds to reach beyond the rational and embrace the infinite.

The true hope of the Gospels, as relates to proof of the resurrection, lies in its consistent insistence that God will, indeed, reveal himself to those who seek him. I close today with the beautiful words to Henry Alford’s hymn:

We walk by faith, and not by sight; no gracious words we hear/from him who spoke as none e’er spoke; but we believe him near.

We may not touch his hands and side/nor follow where he trod;/ but in his promises we rejoice/and cry, “My Lord and God!”

Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; and may our faith abound/to call on you when you are near,/and seek where you are found.

That when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light/we may behold you are you are, with full and endless sight.

In the name of the resurrected Christ. Alleluia. Amen.