Sermon for Sunday 22nd of April 2012, ‘There are no fish bones in heaven’

Acts 3: 13-15 & 17-19

1 John 2: 1-5

Luke 24: 35-48

May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Growing up in Cornwall in a family of fisher folk it is not surprising that we often had fish on the table when the family gathered at dinner time. So I suppose it was inevitable that I should eventually fall foul of the dreaded fish bone and I remember the occasion well. The bone stuck hard in my throat and although I was very young, I knew I was in big trouble. As I began to choke my mother repeatedly hit me so hard on my back that I thought my eyes were going to pop out of their sockets, but all to no avail. Then my grandmother serenely brushed my hysterical mother aside and from the dresser took a large gull feather that she kept there and promptly pushed it down my throat. The effect was instantaneous and I don’t think I have ever been as sick as I was that day. But the relief was just as instantaneous as the sickness and there for all to see was the cause of my distress; an inch long John Dorey bone! Now if ever you are visiting a home in Cornwall and you see a gull feather on the sideboard you know exactly what its there for, a little tip that would be common knowledge to most fisher folk.

Now several of the disciples of Jesus were fisher folk too. So when they gathered together at home, they also must have often eaten fish together. So we shouldn’t be surprised that when Jesus appeared to them, as they were gathered together after the resurrection, he should ask them for fish to eat. It would remind them of the family meals they had eaten together. They brought him some broiled fish, and watched him eat it. But actually those are some of the most puzzling words in the whole of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus had died, and now he was alive again. The doors were locked, yet suddenly Jesus was there standing among them. So He obviously did not have the same sort of body as he had had before. A few verses later we read that Jesus ‘ascended into heaven’. What sort of body did He have? It seemed to be equally at home in heaven and on earth. Perhaps that is the point. Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He wasn’t a ghost. He wanted them to know that He was more alive than ever before. Yet at the same time He wanted them to know that He wasn’t restricted by an earthly body, as we are now.

Why did Jesus want His disciples to know this? Perhaps because He wants us to understand what life after death will be like for us. When we die, we are given a new body, though maybe not quite the same a Jesus’ resurrection body. Life with God will be as down to earth as a family meal. At the same time, it will be as wonderful as the most spiritual experience you have ever enjoyed. Heaven and earth joined in one. Of course we have no words to describe anything as new as that; God has to use symbols to suggest how wonderful heaven will be. The symbol Jesus chooses in this story is that of a family meal. The power of a family meal was and is important to Jesus, His earthly ministry begins with the ‘Wedding Feast at Cannan and ends with the ‘Last Supper’.

Unfortunately today many families never do eat together as in the recent past. They come home at different times, take an individual meal from the freezer, and cook it in the microwave, before flopping down in front of the television without speaking so as not to interrupt what they are watching. Or they are all going out at different times for evening engagements, and never seem to have time to sit around the table together and talk to each other. When such families do sit down together, once or twice a year, its not surprising that hidden tensions come to the surface, but they can be resolved as people eat and talk together.

But we have a family meal together in church, every time we celebrate the Eucharist, and we enjoy Jesus’ post resurrection presence here today when we come together for the Eucharist. It may not seem much like a meal, because we only eat a small wafer of bread, and drink just a sip of wine. But it is, in a very real sense a meal, and an important one at that. It is meant to remind us of that Last Supper meal, which Jesus ate with His disciples in the Upper Room, when He said, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me’. Our services are supposed to have both dimensions: to be a down to earth family meal, and at the same time be a foretaste of heaven. The Church is knit together as a family when we eat and drink together, even if it is only symbolic. We share the Peace, and express our love for each other. We join in various church activities together, and we should not be afraid to speak about our disagreements, in a spirit of reconciliation and mutual understanding, because we must all be determined to resolve them before we come to the altar to share in the meal. Just as Jesus intended all the best families should. The family meal draws us together in spite of our differences; it is a sacrament of unity. A loving family meal and a foretaste of heaven, because of the symbolism. And fortunately there is no risk of choking on a fish bone in heaven!

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