Love isn’t love if it’s a theory. Love is only real when it’s embodied, and that’s true for God’s love, seen in the crucified and risen Christ’s life, and now seen and embodied in us.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday of Easter, year B
Text: Luke 24:36b-48
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Love isn’t love if it’s a theory.
No one ever was healed by teachings about love, or comforted by the idea of love, or blessed by a diagram of love.
Love is only love if it’s carried in a body. If it has arms to embrace, or lips to kiss, or hands to hold, or shoulders to support, or a voice to comfort, or a lap to enfold. Love is only love if it is lived. If sacrifices are made, or encouragement is given, or wisdom is shared, or forgiveness is poured out.
Love isn’t love if it’s a theory.
The eternal and Triune God is as aware of that as we are. Becoming incarnate as a human being among us was the only way God could truly show us love, shape us into people who love. No prophetic declarations, no visions of seers, no words from on high could love us in a way that would change our hearts. God tried all those things. But coming to us in the flesh was the deep plan from before the beginning, because it was the only way for God to truly love us so we could know. And so we could love.
That’s why it’s so important that Jesus ate a fish on that first Easter night.
Last week John told us of this night; today we hear Luke. Both agree.
Whatever else the disciples experienced in that upper room, Jesus, their beloved friend and teacher, was physically present with them. His body which was cold and dead now was alive and warm. They knew it was his body: it still bore the wounds his love accepted. Nail marks were still in his hands, John said. The gash the spear cut into his side could still be seen and felt.
Luke agrees with all that, and then says, “Oh, and by the way, he ate a fish.”
Here’s what happened. His disciples, locked away, now see Jesus in front of them, and they’re shaking, terrified. Sensibly, they think they must be seeing a ghost.
Thomas wasn’t there this first night. But Luke says that night everyone got Thomas’ gift. Jesus said to all of them, as he did to Thomas the next week, “Touch me, and see.” He showed them his hands and his side. (And, by the way, if Thomas’ friends told him that they touched Jesus’ wounds, embraced his body, little wonder he wanted the same they got if he was going to believe.)
And then Jesus looked at the remains of the meal on the table, and said, “Are you going to eat that?” Actually, Luke says he asked if they had anything to eat. But what a vision of a loving family! A loved one arrives after all have finished eating and asks if there’s anything left. It’s a moment of pure delight for we who read this story.
Love isn’t love if it’s a theory. And life isn’t life if it isn’t real, lived, physical, touchable.
You can believe whatever you want about Christ’s resurrection. But the witness of the very first to meet Jesus alive was that he was really there. In person. In flesh. Still wounded. Still loving. Breathing on them. And eating. We sometimes have a habit of seeing Scripture stories as pristine tableaux. Jesus reaches out his hand, saying, “touch my wounds,” and disciples demurely place their fingers on them.
That might have been the start. There was definitely hugging next. Kissing. Laughter. And more eating and drinking.
This is the truth of that first night: Jesus, risen from the dead, ate a fish. His disciples saw him. Touched him. And they knew the world had changed.
It was this physical reality of their risen Lord that broke open their lives.
Slowly they started unlocking the door. They began to go out and tell other people. When the Holy Spirit poured into them at Pentecost, their boldness increased and they spread over the whole world. Even though they were arrested and tortured and killed, they never feared the authorities again. Christ is risen, they said, and we saw him. Touched him. Hugged him.
But starting on this first night, they understood that if love isn’t love if it’s a theory, meeting God’s love embodied in a risen Jesus was only the beginning. Again, the Gospels agree that after easing their fear and inviting their touch, and after blessing them with peace, Jesus repeatedly named them as the embodiment of love sent into the world.
You are witnesses of this, he said. As we heard from John last week, he said they would bear God’s very own forgiveness in the world in their bodies. He told them, gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, that they now were to love those whom he loved, feed those whom he loved, care for those whom he loved.
Now all his teachings started to make sense, in these forty days of joy, walking with Jesus once more. Love isn’t love if it’s a theory, only if it’s embodied. So God became embodied as a human being. And now the Risen Son of God makes us embodied love for the world.
No one will be changed by God’s love solely by preaching or teaching or any words.
Only embodied love is love. Reveals love. Creates love. So that’s our calling now.
When you offer undeserved forgiveness to someone you embody God’s love. And God’s love is real to them. And healing happens.
When you embrace someone different from you and love past your prejudice, you reveal God’s truth. And God’s love is real to them. And healing happens.
When you set aside your needs and offer yourself to another without strings attached, you are the physical, living presence of the risen Christ. God’s love is real to them. And healing happens.
And yes, you might be taken advantage of. You might not have love returned. It might cost. If love were a theory, you could make all sorts of arguments about how that could be love’s shape, love’s cost, love’s reality. But they’d be worthless.
Instead, God, embodied in human flesh, loved you, and the whole creation all the way to dying on a cross. You’d never have believed love could look like that unless someone showed you. None of us could.
It’s funny how important that little piece of fish really is.
Because now we know, now we’ve seen, that love, even if it loses everything, even if it dies, can’t be killed. As a theory, it makes no sense.
But this is no theory. This is embodied truth. And just as Jesus, the risen Son of God, in his body still bore the wounds his love accepted, so will our bodies and our hearts. Our wounds are part of the love, part of the sign, part of the story, part of the truth.
Love isn’t love if it’s a theory. And now the world can know God’s love for itself. For you and I will now bear this love in our bodies and hearts and lives. It’s the only way God could heal this world, and it’s already happening now.
In the name of Jesus. Amen