Holy Mackerel: Easter Thursday
I’m away on a retreat to recharge after the busy-ness of the last month. There was a lot of stress involved in trying to manage in person and simultaneously broadcast worship for the first time in a year. That’s why I have some sympathy for the disciples and their jumpiness when I read the gospel reading for Easter Thursday from Luke 24. It depicts Jesus suddenly popping up among the disciples like a jack-in-the-box in one of his post-resurrection appearances. And of course, they react with fear and trembling. They think they are seeing a ghost.
Let’s face it: “ghost” or “hallucination” or maybe “dream”—those would probably be the go-tos for most of us if we suddenly saw someone beloved to us appear after we were certain had died, depending upon how skeptical one is. Jesus speaks to them in that beloved, remembered voice. He offers his hands and feet for seeing and touching.
To prove he is a real person, he asks them for something to eat, and they offer him a piece of fish, which he then consumes in their presence, probably while they are still standing with the jaws dropped. But his eating in front of them proves he is actually alive in this body, not wearing it like a costume draped over his spiritual being. And the disciples need that—but even more, they need the grace and forgiveness that is made present by Jesus sharing a table with them again—the place where so much of his gospel of radical forgiveness and inclusion was enacted.
This story comes immediately on the heels of the Emmaus story, where again Jesus joining his beloveds for a meal is where they come to really recognize him as their beloved Teacher and Savior. It is good for us to remember that the Last Supper wasn’t really the last time Jesus would sit at table with his beloveds. Yet, just like us, the disciples have a lot easier time accepting the crucified body of their savior than the resurrected one. Yet it is vitally important that we see that those-post-resurrection meals serve the purpose of reminding their participants and ourselves as observers of Jesus’s absolute solidarity with us as the Incarnated One who is also the Resurrected One. And by sitting down in fellowship with his disciples and eating with them, Jesus is demonstrating true grace, as he speaks to them lovingly while many of them probably are still carrying the shame of their desertion on Good Friday.
Believe it or not, there is a huge body of speculation over the last two millennia focusing on why Jesus would eat. There are debates about why he ate fish in this incident, and how the fish was digested (yep) if Jesus had no need to eat any more. There’s sympathy for the poor fish who has been caught, killed, and eaten even as Jesus is a symbol of death being defeated.
Holy mackerel. Talk about wading out into deep waters.
Jesus eats with his disciples after the Resurrection to reassure them and to once again declare his steadfast fellowship with them, regardless of their doubts, their despair, and their previous weaknesses. There is nothing fishy about this, either. Jesus continues to be Jesus even after his Passion, death, and resurrection—for the disciples, and for us. That humble piece of fish becomes part of Jesus’s body as a testimony to the power of God to vanquish even the power of death.
These post-Resurrection meals are especially about healing, reminding us all that every time we gather together in the Eucharist, we are joining together in the declaration of community despite physical distance or difference. We are also sharing the table with Jesus, who is both host and guest, just as the Emmaus story reminds us. We proclaim that Jesus is not just Risen, but Alive. Right now. He is not merely the historical figure depicted in the Bible, but living and breathing and bringing the experience of humanity into the Holy Trinity, into the very heart of God.
Jesus once again comes to the disciples where they are, loves them and seeks to bring them peace. As he attempts to set their hearts at rest, he also turns their minds from the past to the future, commissioning them—and us– to be witnesses to the power of the healing, radically inclusive gospel of Christ. All with asking us for something simple—like a piece of fish—to remind us that he with us—always.
Leslie Scoopmire is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.