The disciples in the reading from Luke were on a high-speed journey of discovery following the resurrection of Jesus. Their minds were full of questions and the answers were taking their breath away.
I remember a short journey I took with my children a few years back on a rollercoaster in Disney Land. It was advertised as the fastest rollercoaster around and I have to say my personal experience would support that. Sitting in the carriage next to my son, the smell of burgers from a nearby stand wafting over us, the sight of a dark tunnel ahead with flashing lights, the sound of loud rock music all around and the feel of the hard seat, the cold handlebar and tight seat belt all preparing me for an unknow journey. The music became quieter, and a countdown began. 3…2…1 and we exploded down a runway, head thrown back, air squeezed out of my lungs the tase of fear in my mouth. I recall my head spinning as I tried to understand what was going on as my body experienced new forces and I gasped for breath. Then it was over, and we were coasting to a halt. The journey over but an event I would never forget (or likely repeat) and the basis of many retellings of the experience whenever we meet as family and reminisce on that holiday.
What is the point of this story? Well in our reading from Luke today, the disciples are having a once in a lifetime experience on their journey, and the encounter between them and the risen Jesus is centred on senses. Jesus knows that our understanding and our memory relies on the engagement of our senses. The initial reaction of the disciples as Jesus appears amongst them is that he is a ghost. He then engages each of their senses to take them on a journey of understanding. He invites them to look at the scars on his hand’s feet and side, then to physically touch him to confirm his physical presence. This proceeds into his expression of the physical need for food with him telling the disciples he is hungry and as the fish is cooked the aroma would have filled the space engaging the disciples in the familiar memory of the encounter they had experienced so many times before. Then they watch as he tastes and eats the fish. Finally, the disciples are ready to listen to Jesus as he ‘opens their minds to understand the scriptures’. In other words he has prepared them through engaging their senses to have a renewed and deeper understanding of scripture and to know that the way forward is based on his word and the ministry, in the name of Jesus, of repentance and forgiveness to all.
This gives me the image of a cycle of faith development that the church is called to follow. It starts with engagement of God’s people on a journey beginning with their senses through physical action. To some degree this happens in a church service with the visual symbols such as cross, holy table, candles and architecture. The familiar sounds of a service with music and singing and the voices, the possibility of incense or the smell of coffee brewing ready for fellowship the feeling of the hard pew or the chair and the hymn book being held and the taste of the wafer or bread when Holy Communion is received. It involves helping people to have new experiences or else familiar experiences with a new depth or perspective: being creative in worship and ministry and taking risks. This process is a preparation for listening to the Word of God and developing and understanding to prepare the church to go out and put the Word into actions, building relationships, walking alongside people on their journey and being visibly present in the community. From these further experiences of action the hunger for more understanding grows and the scriptures are open further. The journey out delivering the love and forgiveness of God grows deeper and so the cycle continues. God has equipped us with senses to do that work. For some of us, certain of our senses have deficits or may even be absent, but we still have our other senses to experience the presence of the living God and enable us in whatever small way to be part of this faith process. Never forget that God loves each and every one of us and that our senses are a way of engaging with that truth.
I wonder if you make time to use your senses to feel the presence of God around you: the smell of newly mown grass on a cool breeze, the taste of favourite food, the sound of a stream or spring rain, the feel of tree bark or the soft fur of a pet, the sight of a loved one in a photograph.
I wonder where you are on your journey. Are there ways you can engage the senses you have to deepen your understanding of God’s presence in your life.