The sound of a gunshot broke the near perfect silence of the hushed forest on either side of the cabin where we were sleeping. It came from very nearby. And then we heard voices, men, coming from the beach. Did they know we were here, tucked into our sleeping bags, only feet away. A close friend and I were showing an out of town guest the real Alaskan wild, staying in an off grid Forest Service cabin on an outlying island, roughly an hour by boat from our hometown when we were woken by those gunshots. We left the cabin, making loud noises to alert the interlopers that people were in the vicinity, and discovered a boat full of men searching the beach for a deer they’d only just seen and fired upon from their craft. When they discovered our guest was a lawyer, and recognizing they’d been illegally hunting from the water, and that they’d fired a gun more or less in the direction of three people hidden from view in a structure they’d been unaware was tucked back in the woods, they offered us a salmon from their morning’s catch and beat a hasty retreat.

I can still remember the breakfast that morning, the delicious taste of coho salmon, grilled and salty, broiled over the coals, scented with cedar smoke. And I remember the feeling of relief and joy as we recounted the disturbing experience of that morning, of our brush with danger and even death, and as we relished the reality that we were safe and alive, that our hearts still pumped and our mouths still tasted.

I remember many many meals of grilled fish, eaten out of doors and near the water. My wife Erin says that remembering meals is one of my super powers. I can recall with great clarity the people with whom I ate, usually the dearest of friends or family, the wine, the sides, even the weather. There was the grilled whole fish at a beachside restaurant in Phuket, doused in luxurious green curry and buried under a mountain of herbs, cilantro and basil, eaten with my bride, only four years into our marriage, backpacking across Thailand. There were the mesquite grilled camarones cooked at the surf shack of a dear friend and mentor at sunset in Baja, Mexico with the sound of the surf pounding hundreds of yards away. There was that thick halibut steak cooked in a firepit in West Seattle on the beach overlooking Puget Sound with lifelong friends, not long after college and before any of us had children. I can remember with great precision the light of sunset, the buzz of insects, the laughter of friends, and the smell of smoke from the fire in each instance. I can still taste the food.

In today’s gospel, Luke presents us with a snapshot, a memory of a resurrection appearance in a sequence of appearances, on the road to Emmaus. As in the whole gospel, today’s story includes food. If you recall the whole Emmaus road story, Jesus has just appeared to some disciples walking on the road, they do not recognize him until he breaks bread with them at table. And, then he disappears from sight. In the next breath, we hear this morning’s gospel. Filled with delight and joy, they rush back to Jerusalem, and while they are talking about the experience, again, Jesus appears in their midst. He shows them his body, his hands and feet, presumably as with Thomas, to allow them to see his wounds, to trust that he is not a ghost. And they give him a piece of grilled fish and he eats it. The gospel of Luke bounces from table to table, meal to meal, and while the details are omitted, I cannot help filling them in with my imagination. Were they finished eating, still reclining at table, telling stories, reliving the experience of the road to Emmaus? Or was the meal in full swing? You can smell the smoke from the fish. Candlelight reflects off the slick oil in a bowl on the table. Bread is broken. There is wine in cups. The sounds of the city drift through an open window. 

Why did Luke take such pains to include food at every turn in his gospel? Or, more to the point, why did Jesus’ ministry so often center on meals? Clearly hospitality, tending to the physical needs of others, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, all were centerpieces of the faith of his people, and the work he was calling others to continue. Yes, to all of these. But, these resurrection appearances seem less about hospitality or compassion, and more about the mere physical act of eating. Luke wants us to know that this Jesus is the same Jesus who died, who was buried for three days, who has returned to his beloved community, changed yes, but still the same, wounded, hungry, and yearning to be with his people. 

There is a profound and simple truth here that runs against the grain of so much religiosity in our world, that Jesus, the incarnate God, living among us, dying, and being raised back to life in his body, grounds the actions of God, centers them, in this world, in the creation, in the physical and sensual reality of life in the flesh.

In our faith forums this Eastertide, Dr. Mark Mcinroy has been asking us to consider the idea of salvation. If Jesus lived and died and was raised for our salvation, what does that mean, and for what are we being saved? The great Jesuit theologian and perhaps one of the most influential theological voices of the 20th century, Karl Rahner once wrote:

Caro cardo salutis, said one of the ancient fathers of the church with an untranslatable play on words: the flesh is the hinge of salvation. The reality beyond all the distress of sin and death is not up yonder; it has come down and dwells in the innermost reality of our flesh.”

He was raised, not out of this world, but back to it, to center the location of God’s saving work, not out there, in some ethereal beyond, but in the here and now, in our bodies and in the material world we can see and touch and taste. The saving work of Jesus, the resurrection of the body, reinscribes meaning, purpose, and intention to the created order, as the site and location of God’s most important action. This life we live matters above and beyond all else. What seems to be a hidden spiritual reality is made plain in the resurrection, that this world, this life, these relationships, the food we share, the memories we make, the stories we create, the love and hospitality that we make manifest in the world, shimmers with all the presence of God, and is divine.

It is the deep divide we have placed, particularly in the church, between the body and spiritual realities, that has done the most damage to the world we’ve been called to serve and which, by his Resurrection, Jesus came to save. In her magnificent book, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us, Cole Arthur Riley describes how this disconnect is the root of racism and so much pain in the world. She writes:

“Our tales of Christian escapism lead us to the place where the physical is damned and the immaterial is gloried. Where the only holy things are invisible. How could you expect me to believe this when I’ve met a God who drank from the breast of his creation?”

We were called to follow a God whose body, like ours wept and ached and shivered and broke, but also that delighted in the joys of a friends embrace, whose head swam and eyes watered and cheeks flushed after that first swallow of wine, who savored the taste of grilled fish and laughed from his belly at Simon Peter’s bad puns. We ignore this reality at our peril. Holding these things to be not only true, but of the utmost importance helps us see the world through the eyes of a God who loved us so much that he came to be with us, who understood that spiritual realities are so deeply entwined with the physical, that we cannot disentangle them. We must seek the spiritual in and through the physical, at table together, as we march together, as we welcome strangers, as we feed the hungry, as we push back against hatred and bigotry in all its forms. 

It is no mistake that our faith centers a meal as the act through which we see and experience and make real over and over again the presence of God and God’s saving work in the world. Here we share bread and wine and recall Jesus’ body and blood. And, in this act we recall every other meal, every other table, or fire, or grill, over which food has been cooked and shared and savored. This bread which we break is food for the soul, but let us not forget that it is also food, which nourishes our bodies.

As Riley concludes, I’ve heard much of bodily sacrifice, of taking up a cross, of dying and dying again. But, I need to hear of resurrection – of the bodily love of receiving the Eucharist. You want to tell me to love God? Ask me when I’ve eaten. Come now, you want to tell you a prayer? You’ll find it in the blood beating from heart to head to toe and home again.”

Friends, this morning we are invited again to the table. Come, eat, taste again your salvation and that for which you’ve been saved. Amen!

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