“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.” – Luke 24:41-43 (NRSV)
It still ranks as one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten: a plain salami sandwich on white bread, accompanied by a cup of black coffee so strong and thick, it more or less qualified as sludge!
Not exactly gourmet cuisine, to be sure; but make no mistake, it was a veritable feast, one shared with my father and the other men out with us on one of our deer hunting trips along a brook deep in the northern Maine woods. One of the men had brought the sandwiches with him from camp, while another produced a small backpacking camp stove on which he proceeded to “boil a kettle,” which somehow he’d also managed to have on his person, along with the more than ample supply of Maxwell House Regular Grind. I was still pretty young at the time, not yet much of a coffee drinker, and in fact, not really a fan of salami, either; but I remember thinking while scarfing it down that this was the best salami sandwich I’d ever eaten, and that this black, aromatic ground-filled elixir had now become my new favorite beverage!
When I remember it now, however, what I think of the most is where I was and who I was with. I can still see my father standing there; smoking his ever-present pipe and chuckling at the ever-so-slightly tall tales being told by the guys as they recounted the day’s adventures; and I can still recall how they all listened intently as I shared a story or two of my own. And it was… great! Here I was, still just a kid, really, in most respects still very much wet behind the ears with so much yet to learn and to experience; but in those moments out in the woods eating lunch with these men, I knew I truly belonged; to borrow a line from Jean Shepherd, it was like an initiation into a larger world: I’d arrived, and now the future was filled with possibility.
In these lingering days of Eastertide, I’ve been lately drawn to Luke’s account of how even after the Risen Christ had appeared to them, the disciples were “disbelieving and still wondering” how such an incredible thing as Jesus being alive could possibly be true; in fact, it’s only after Jesus asked them if there was anything to eat, and then ate a piece of broiled fish while they watched that these skeptical followers began to accept that this miracle they’d witnessed was for real. Fascinating that it takes something as everyday and so utterly mundane as eating some leftover food to convince them of the truth of the resurrection; and yet it’s in the very sharing of that small meal that their eyes, ears and hearts are wholly opened to the new life that was theirs because of it!
As Luke tells the story, it’s a small but telling moment; one in which the cosmic nature of the divine becomes intensely personal; and, after all, isn’t that very reason that Jesus was raised from the dead?
It strikes me that each year as Easter approaches and we join with faithful people everywhere in coming again to the empty tomb, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer power of that singular event: the massive earthquake, the stone that had been rolled away; the angel in bright raiment proclaiming that Jesus was not there but had risen. It’s truly the stuff that our alleluias are meant for, and it’s what rightly fills our Easter morning songs and hymns with such joy and triumph. However, as Easter Sunday becomes Eastertide and we delve deeper into the story, we discover that in many ways it ends up being the smaller, more intimate moments of what happened that bring us closer to the truth of his resurrection: Mary, at first mistaking the Risen Christ for the gardener, but then realizing the truth when Jesus speaks her name aloud; “Doubting” Thomas, insisting he see the wounds on Jesus’ hands and feet if he is to believe, only to melt into wonder and praise just as Jesus gives him that very opportunity; Peter, awkwardly facing Jesus and his own denials over breakfast on the beach. In every instance, there was a noticeable lack of what we might think of as “biblical spectacle;” but then again, these were moments in which believing ultimately became less about the shaking of heaven and earth than it was about the touching of their very hearts; it was about the Risen Christ coming to each one precisely in the places of their own brokenness, offering healing, peace and new life that brings a new purpose.
It was a gift of divine grace, borne of infinite and redeeming love; and it’s a model, if you will, that still extends to you and me today, just as it does to all those who were not a witness to the events of that day of resurrection – people who, much like those first “still wondering” disciples, struggle with its great mystery – and yet somehow know in their heart of hearts that it’s real. Indeed, there are so many of us who have had the experience – however small, unique or even fleeting it might have been – of truly knowing that in the times we thought ourselves to be totally alone there was in fact a divine presence as close to us as our very breathing. It was an affirmation, and for us a true proclamation: perhaps it came about through prayer and worship; or else it could have been something felt on a mountaintop or beside an ocean, or because of the support and insight that was offered in the company of kindred hearts. For that matter, maybe it was an awareness that came about suddenly and without warning; like, for instance, during a meal of say, grilled fish or even a salami sandwich!
After all, it’s not so much the food that matters as much as who you share it with.
c. 2015 Rev. Michael W. Lowry