Some of you might remember the wonderful comedy with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep that came out back in the 1990s called Defending Your Life. In the story, Albert Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. Each day he goes to a room, much like a courtroom, where they show scenes from his life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and he has to defend his decisions in each of those moments. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. In Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.
Easter is of course a time of year when we focus on the afterlife. We celebrate the incredible event of the resurrection and we immerse ourselves in these remarkable post-resurrection accounts in Scripture. We have the holy women who are the first to discover the empty tomb, disciples racing to see if it could all be true. We have the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. As he speaks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and that wonderful statement, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us?” And how they came to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. He appears again to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. They make a miraculous catch at His command and he sits down with them and prepares a breakfast. As we heard last Sunday, He appeared again to the disciples who were locked in the upper room in fear. Thomas puts his finger in the wounds in Jesus and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”
And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again. And, Jesus asks a very important question of those gathered there. Maybe you heard it. He said, “Have you anything to eat?” Now, I don’t know if you are picking up on the theme here, but after He has risen from the dead, Jesus seems to keep asking this same question, “Got anything to eat?” Road to Emmaus – they sit down and eat. Sea of Tiberius – He makes them breakfast. In the room where they are gathered today, Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!
Of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, they are there for an equally important reason. These stories don’t want only to recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something key – the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Christ is a flesh and blood, breathing and yes eating human being. This is not a ghost or a spirit. This is why we profess in the Creed each week that we believe in the resurrection OF THE BODY. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as he was before.
There is a tremendous intimacy that Jesus invites us into through resurrection. In a simple way, it is all about the body. Not only the Body of Christ raised from the dead 2,000 years ago. But, the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at each and every Mass; taken into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion each week. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The resurrected Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity. Easter is not only His; Easter is ours too!
Archbishop Tom Murphy was the much beloved Archbishop of Seattle through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. He was a true shepherd who loved his flock and was always very present to the people. He had a particularly close relationship with the teens at one of his Catholic high schools where he essentially acted as their chaplain. Despite his busy schedule, he was always available whenever the sacraments needed to be celebrated for the students. They were his kids and he was their Archbishop.
In 1996, he was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia. For the last year of his life, he underwent chemotherapy and other treatments trying to fight the cancer and these left him in need of regular blood transfusions to keep up his strength. His kids saw this as their opportunity to reach out to this holy man who had done so much for them and so they organized blood drives so that their Archbishop would have the blood needed for his transfusions.
At his last Mass with the teens he said to them, “Since I was a little boy, I have always loved the Mass and in particular loved the Eucharist. As a young boy, I would serve at daily Mass and was always in awe of what took place on the altar. But, I don’t know that I ever fully understood it until now. Today, as I stand here, I’ve got your blood in me and I’m standing here alive today because of your blood in me. Now I get it.” He died six days later as surely received his heavenly reward.
My brothers and sisters, this is what Easter is all about. Do we get it? It is not only about one resurrected body 2,000 years ago. It is about that same resurrected body appearing on our altar each day with an invitation: Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; eternal life.
My friends, at each Eucharist, we have got the Body and Blood of Jesus coursing through our veins and uniting with our cells. Each time we gather here, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We stand here alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins.
Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe the resurrection of the Body and life everlasting. Amen.
May God give you peace.