I don’t think I have ever eaten broiled fish. I had to look it up and the first recipe that came up was for broiled lobster, which made today’s Gospel reading seem very upmarket (Luke 24:36-48). Perhaps Jesus liked playing with his food too – I discovered a couple of years ago that if you stick your fork inside the claw of a lobster you can make the pincers move and this takes messing around with your food to whole new level. That said lobster is not actually a fish, but a crustacean, a free-living aquatic animal, so seafood but not a fish. One video told me that broiling is like upside down grilling, which was not necessarily helpful, or as another source told me, cooked over an open fire or under heat. It is cooked when the flesh is opaque and flaky, 145 degrees Fahrenheit or 63 degrees Celsius. So Jesus was given a very basic cooked food, which could easily be eaten with the fingers.
That it was hot or ready to be eaten means he turned up at dinnertime. The point of the broiled fish is to show that the risen Jesus was real and not a ghost or figment of the imagination. He really was there. They saw him in 3D and he ate with them. The point of the wounds is that this is not just someone who looks like him, but is him. See the nail marks in the hands and his feet. It really is him. And to make the point even further, he tells them stories of his teaching that only he and they would have known, things he had said before. It is like the secret word or phrase to let you know that the message asking you to confirm your credit card really has come from your bank or for you to get through telephone banking security clearance. So the details are there to make the point, this Jesus really is risen. Wonderful but scary. Wonderful because he was dead but is now there in front of them. They can’t believe this change of fortunes. The one they had lost is back with them. Scary for precisely the same reasons. The dead don’t do this, so something very odd has happened.
Having gone through security clearance and proved his identity Jesus gives the disciples a job to do. They are to be witnesses. They are to be ones who tell of this astounding news and live it. They are to be people who sing alleluia in everything they do, and to everyone they meet. The risen Jesus tells them to be witnesses of the resurrection life, people who proclaim new life everywhere they go. Death is no more; it no longer has a hold over them.
There are so many places where this becomes a moment to live and proclaim hope. Whatever the challenges that we face people of new life find ways to let new life spring up. It can touch relationships in surprising ways. It can breathe new life into otherwise gloom-ridden outlooks. In fact it changes the story that we tell, the song that we sing. There is a profound confidence in that broiled fish being eaten. This is the faith that we live regardless of whether anyone else takes any notice. And if that is what we do, then it will be infectious. People of hope have a way of changing the mood of a room or a place.
Every church building, which is the home of a community which sings alleluia, stands in its community as a sign of life and love and hope. St Luke’s may have a small congregation, but it sings praise every week and it matters that it gathers to do this. The venue is not really that important, though the sounds of singing coming from it make a statement every week the songs are sung. But it is a place of hope along the street and that matters. Soon [it/we] will be joined by the Mar Thoma Church in St John’s Hall and they will add to this witness. St John’s, standing in the city square, has a special vocation to be a place of hope and new life in the midst of so many events, shopping, hospitality and gathering. We pray for our city, for the city square and take the platform on occasions affirming that love is stronger than hate, that peace-making is our priority. That is Jesus’ greeting – ‘Peace be with you’.
There are some significant threats around at the moment, global political – not least with Syria and Russia, just exactly where will the frosty relations over Novichok being used in Salisbury and the bombing response to chemical weapons being used in Syria take us. There are major uncertainties over what Brexit will mean for our relationship with our European neighbours as well as internally with a deeply divided country. There is deep anger and hostility whenever Brexit is mentioned. Some of the claims are easier to cut through than others are. We remember wars, not least the First World War, but I wonder if we remember what led to it and how peace has been built, which is arguably more important than the fighting. But the fighting gets the attention because of the deaths and the cost. But beyond the shock and wanting to honour the sanctity of the lives sacrificed, we need to understand what it means to say ‘Peace be with you’ and live it. There is a lot of effort put into supporting our armed forces. Let us put equal effort into saying ‘peace be with you’.
We have a challenge to provide longer term care for the homeless and their multiplicity of needs: emotional, psychological, the ability to cope and manage, to combat addictions and all that it means to rise up and raise your head when it feels too heavy to do. New life, resurrection, can come when hope is shared and made possible through loving embrace and being honoured as a fellow sibling before God. Out of the Winter Nightshelter there is some mentoring taking place to walk alongside those trying to rebuild their lives, people who are being agents of hope.
Remembering that we are fellow sons and daughters of God is a good place to start when being witnesses to the resurrection. Whoever is next to you this morning, across from you, behind and before you, is equally loved. Churches are remarkable places, because that is what we say by sitting here alongside one another, singing together, praying together, wondering and reflecting together. There are very few other places where this happens. And it is not actually understood by some agencies. They talk of our membership and assume that our boundaries are closely defined. But, actually, we have a very open door, so open (in St John’s) that it opens by itself as people come towards it.
So broiled fish, with or without seasoning and lemon juice, herbs and spices to flavour, hot and flaky, easy to eat brings a tangible sign of new life and hope. It is the security clearance for the one who announces his presence with the words “peace be with you”. And in so doing, sends those he greets as witnesses in word and deed, in the story they tell by being who they are. This is a vocation in which we share, which is given to us, and which we reaffirm every time we gather with alleluia in our heart and on our lips.
Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Easter 3 – Sunday 15th April 2018