Third Sunday of Easter
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 April 2021
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to his followers three times before his ascension to heaven. First, he appears to Cleopas and another follower, who are traveling after the crucifixion from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. Jesus joins them on the road, but they do not recognize him. Only after he spends time with them talking and sharing a meal are their eyes opened (Luke 24:13-33). The second appearance is to Peter, but the Gospel only mentions the fact in passing and provides no description (Luke 24:34).
Today’s reading is the third and final post-resurrection appearance. The disciples have gathered and are excitedly talking about the news of Jesus’ appearances when he suddenly comes to them. We can only imagine the shock and disbelief. In fact, the disciples can’t believe what they’re seeing. They think he may be a ghost, so Jesus shows them his hands and feet to prove otherwise.
And then what follows is rather strange. The disciples are beside themselves with wonder and joy. They’re left speechless by what they are witnessing. Their master is not dead. He is alive. But what does Jesus have to say in the midst of this remarkable moment: “Have you anything here to eat?” I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as odd. He has just conquered death and come back from the grave. And in this extraordinary reunion with his disciples, he is looking for food. It seems so mundane and even silly considering the situation. Shouldn’t Jesus be responding with some grand gesture or profound saying?
As strange as this scene may be, it has deep theological significance. In the context of the story, his eating the piece of broiled fish proves that he is not some disembodied spirit. He is flesh and blood. He has a body. He eats. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a physical reality.
The scene of Jesus eating is repeated in other accounts of his post-resurrection appearances. On the road to Emmaus, the first recorded appearance in Luke, he joins the two followers for an evening meal. It is when he takes the bread, blesses and breaks it that the two men recognize Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the disciples as they’re fishing, and he cooks the fish over a charcoal fire for them early in the morning (John 21:1-14). They have breakfast together. What is it about Jesus eating with his followers after the resurrection? It couldn’t have been just to satisfy his hunger after being dead for three days.
Sharing a meal was a key part of Jesus’ ministry while he was alive. The Gospels are filled with stories of his eating and drinking. In fact, his ministry can be seen as beginning and ending with a meal. It began with the first miracle at Cana, where he turned the water into wine at a wedding feast and ended with the Last Supper. Jesus loved to gather at the table to share food, drink, and conversation. In theological language, he engaged in what we call “table fellowship.” And he practiced table fellowship not only with his family, friends, and followers but with perfect strangers. This scandalized proper Jewish society, which had strict rules concerning with whom one would eat and socialize. Sharing a meal with someone is an intimate act. Even today, we tend to eat with people with whom we are close or familiar – with those who are like us, family and friends. Think of the complicated politics of the high school cafeteria of who sits with whom. In ancient Jewish society, there were strict prohibitions against eating with certain groups, like the prostitutes and tax collectors. But Jesus flouted these exclusive norms and restrictions and practiced open table fellowship, welcoming all to his table.
The table fellowship that Jesus established continues after the crucifixion and resurrection. But now the table fellowship is no longer just sharing a meal. The table fellowship becomes a Eucharistic event, an opportunity to experience the risen Christ in the flesh. It is no accident that in the post-resurrection appearances that he shares a meal with his followers. The meals are the contexts in which the disciples witness and experience the risen Christ.
The post-resurrection table fellowship of Jesus and his followers is a Eucharistic event. And it also points to what will come in the future – the Heavenly Banquet. One of the most interesting images of heaven in the Bible is that of the feast or banquet – a party. The book of Isaiah has this vision: “[T]he Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Isaiah 25:6). And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints this portrait of heaven: “[M]any will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Many people think of heaven as a hazy, quiet place with disembodied spirits aimlessly floating around, but we have this concrete, embodied image of heaven as a banquet, a feast. Whatever heaven might be, it looks like there will be banquets, where we will eat and drink, just as Jesus does after the resurrection. But it makes sense. In the kingdom of heaven, we will be unable to contain the joy of seeing God face to face. And think of all the happy reunions with our loved ones. How can we not rejoice and celebrate?
The early Christians liked the idea of the Heavenly Banquet so much that they decorated their tombs with it. If I can direct your attention to the service leaflet, this is a wall mural from the Catacombs of Domitilla in Rome. These catacombs contain thousands of underground graves of the early Christians. It may look, at first glance, like the Last Supper, but there are many more figures here than Jesus and his disciples – a couple of women, as well as some people waiting on the guests. It is a scene of the Heavenly Banquet. The Catacombs of Domitilla even has a large chamber at the entrance that served as a banquet hall, where families would gather to have a feast on the death anniversaries of their loved ones. The early Christians were a happy bunch!
As the heirs of these early Christians, we, too, can also find hope beyond the grave when we will feast at the Heavenly Banquet. We will rejoice in the presence of Jesus, the host of the banquet, and we will be joined by all the saints who have come before us. But, in the meantime, we have a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet in the Holy Eucharist. In our Book of Common Prayer, we have this prayer for Holy Eucharist during a funeral:
Almighty God, we thank you that in your great love you have fed us with the spiritual food and drink of the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ, and have given us a foretaste of your heavenly banquet. Grant that this Sacrament may be to us a comfort in affliction, and a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all your saints; through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Dear friends, Jesus Christ invites all of us to his table fellowship, here and now, in the Holy Eucharist, and in the life to come, in the Heavenly Banquet. Let us come to his table and rejoice in our risen Lord. Amen.
 The Book of Acts, also believed to have been authored by Luke, suggests that Jesus appeared other times with “many convincing proofs” during the forty days before his ascension (Acts 1:3).
 Gerald O’Collins, “Did Jesus Eat the Fish (Luke 24: 42-43)?” Gregorianum, vol. 69, no.1 (1988), pp.65-76.
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 498.
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