Do you remember the scene from Ghostbusters when the ghost who would later become known as “Slimer” was in the hotel hallway, eating off the room-service cart? Everything he put into his mouth fell right through and splattered onto the floor. Why? Because ghosts don’t eat. Apparently Luke knew that, too, because in today’s gospel lesson (Luke 24:36b-48) he goes out of his way to describe Jesus’ fish-breakfast.
I’m not really one to request fish for breakfast, but I think the point is clear. When they saw the risen Lord, the disciples were confused. “Who or what is that?” they must have asked themselves. Luke reports that they were “disbelieving and still wondering” and that, in response to their doubts, Jesus asked for some food. Apparently he and the disciples also knew that ghosts don’t eat or drink. I guess I missed that day in science class.
Perhaps the fish-point is a little too specific, but the reality it suggests is clear. The disciples and those in the early church who would have been reading Luke’s account wouldn’t have understood what the risen Jesus represented. Was he real? Was he just a vision? Was he a disembodied ghost? And Luke wants everyone to know that the risen Christ was a physical reality—not just a spiritual one. If Jesus had only risen from the dead in spirit—if the disciples had only beheld him in their hearts—then Easter would be empty.
The empty tomb must be empty. It can’t just be an image or metaphor. If the risen Jesus were only a ghost, the resurrection would only represent the disciples’ ability to choose positivity despite failure. And that’s not good enough for us. We need a resurrection that doesn’t depend on our ability to imagine it or articulate it or cling to it. We need a risen Christ who comes to us and shows us that God’s victory has implications for this life—not just the life to come. Eating fish may be a silly way to get the point across, but Luke needed to tell you and me something that we wouldn’t have the privilege of knowing first-hand: the tomb was totally empty—body and spirit had risen.