The other day I was watching a Netflix series called “Worn Stories.” The show does storytelling centred in articles of clothing that are dear to people. They are all touching stories and one episode begins with telling the sad story of a father who lost his adult son to addiction. While that is a story many of us are familiar with given the opioid crisis, what stands out is the father considers himself a researcher of the paranormal. He tries communicating with his son in part through the clothing he left behind. He an EMF meter and other diagnostic equipment he connects to a computer, analyzes the clothing for the presence of his son. He’s using instruments he believes measure the presence of a soul.
The father finds comfort wearing one of the hoodies of his son and goes to his son’s grave in search of communication and connection with his son. The man has also begun supporting other families who have lost loved ones, seeking connection with the paranormal. He doesn’t charge for his services, helping process their audio and various readings for signs of loved ones. He even plays audio in one scene, which he believes is the voices of his son speaking to him from the other side.
Whatever we might think about paranormal communication, it’s a touching story, and “Worn Stories” always brings empathy to its storytelling. As Lutherans we profess faith in a man who died two thousand years ago, celebrate his rising from the dead, and each Sunday invite one another to receive bread and wine, representing Jesus’ body and blood. Some people may think we’re not exactly normal either. The story of the father and his friends have formed what seems to be an effective grief counselling support group, trading stories over Zoom about the loved ones they miss.
Interest in ghosts and the paranormal in general have been with us for some time. I remember stepping off the ferry in Salt Spring Island and immediately was met with a sandwich board of a local psychic. Our fascination with the paranormal is everywhere. In addition to communicating with ghosts, another current trend is that of zombie movies and series. While ghosts are often associated with mourning loved ones, zombies are often associated with nightmarish scenarios whether of our own making or something out of our control.
On a recent podcast called NerdsAtChurch, the hosts speculated about ways in which people might interpret Jesus in today’s gospel reading as a zombie. He is definitely not a ghost as he shows the disciples his body. We often associate zombies with a malevolent force and so we might cringe at the comparison. We also point to the empty tomb of the Easter story and that Jesus’ resurrected body is something altogether different. However, it speaks to the ways in which parts of the New Testament resonate within pop culture and the kinds of stories that getting told today.
On a related note, with confirmation students we are reading Grit and Grace, stories of heroic women in the Bible. Some of the stories are a little gory as we think about stories like that of Jael who heroically defeats an enemy army by driving a tent peg into Sisera’s head while sleeping. While we were working through the complexity of stories like this one of the students surprised us changing a Zoom background of a photo in which they were decked out with full gore makeup. It was an impressive feat and painstaking attention to detail. I know I gasped and had to look away. It definitely had the desired effect and also diffused the seriousness of the stories we were discussing.
I mention this in part because so often we lament the gap between the stories our kids gravitate towards as being different from scripture. But if we look closely scripture is actually pretty weird. There is more room for comparison with pop culture than we might think. Importantly there are opportunities to build bridges with our kids and grandkids, rather than lamenting generational differences.
Whatever we might think about ghosts and zombies, let us turn to what happens in our passage from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” and they jump like they’ve just seen a ghost. Jesus invites them to touch his body to see that he is real. Jesus tells them is hungry. Ghosts aren’t hungry. Another sign Jesus is not a ghost. Jesus eats a piece of broiled fish. And the fish doesn’t just fall through him onto the ground. Definitely not a ghost.
Let’s think for a moment why this message is so important post-resurrection. It matters that the disciples recognize that it’s the same Jesus. Not an apparition but the real thing. It is also a sign of God’s love that God returns to be among the disciples as Jesus promises in the gospels. That God continues to be incarnate among us through the risen Christ. God embodied. Not God at a distance. Not God simply as a ghost who floats away and disappears.
The resurrected Jesus resonates with us with us too. We’re a bit jumpy, a bit anxious in these times. Like the first disciples we want reassurance that everything is going to be okay. We give thanks that God is here among us, with us. Even though we are still keeping distance during a pandemic. We need to know that God has a body in Jesus and that God blesses our bodies through the incarnation.
It’s reassuring to know that while our bubbles may be small, many of us still have other people in our bubbles. Or we may have family further away who we long to see again sometime soon. And for those who live alone, let us know if you need someone to check in and say hi. Jesus is in our bubble too. We continue using our bodies in worship, whether we participate in communion at home, actively listening to the word, listening to music, and singing God’s praises with our whole bodies. Even now Jesus is embodied through us. And that is comforting.
Thinking about bodies I am reminded of our Black friends both in the US and Canada given Black Lives Matter protests following the shooting of Daunte Wright, twenty years old, in Minneapolis and shooting of Adam Toledo, only thirteen, in Chicago. I also think of those who died in a mass shooting in Indianapolis, several of the victims were Sikh.
There was a recent story of a colleague, the Rev. Jennie Sung at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. They have been handing out food to neighbours who live near where the shooting of Daunte Wright took place and where a lot of the protesting has been happening. One neighbour reported that when tear gas is launched there are people desperately trying to get into his apartment to escape from the tear gas. Yet the neighbours are committed to staying, to making it work. Rev. Sung says the church is handing out whatever people need: food, clothing, diapers. It’s one way to be present for the neighbourhood, to be the body of Christ in a hurting world.
Next week for the BC Synod Study Conference for rostered leaders and seminary students, the Rev. Lenny Duncan will be a keynote speaker. He serves as pastor at a Lutheran mission congregation in Vancouver, Washington and has attended Black Lives Matter protests in nearby Portland where he lives. One thing he has urged is for Lutheran bishops and church leaders to show up to protests. Not just social media posts and public letters, but showing up with their bodies, wearing clerical collars, even vestments (when appropriate and welcomed by organizers). But like the disciples they’re scared. Maybe they’re not sure if the risen Jesus will be there to meet them. We have all been afraid at times and we can relate to that sense of reluctance. In the coming days and months we have an opportunity to show up as church visible.
In Greater Victoria there were Black Lives Matter protests last summer and this week there are Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls organizers showing up downtown at Centennial square yesterday and the following two Saturdays from 12 to 2 pm, in preparation for the day of remembrance on May 5, 12-4 PM at the Matulia or BC Legislature. Small acts like showing up and with protesters, when the opportunity is there. We don’t have to understand all the issues. It’s just caring for neighbours in the same way we care for family who are hurting. We put on a pot of soup and we show up.
What are ways we can be there for Black or Indigenous folks and all people of colour in Greater Victoria or wherever we live? We also think about Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu neighbours celebrating during this time.
Wrapping up, what are your worn stories? Which articles of clothing do you fondly remember or perhaps still have with you? Maybe it’s a sweater a parent or grandparent gave to you. Maybe it’s something you made or gave to someone. This week I want you to consider taking a photo of the article of clothing and send it to the church office e-mail with a caption or short paragraph about why it’s meaningful to you. We can share these stories online via Crossroads our newsletter and on social media.
Know that the risen Christ is near to you, grounding you in love. Amen.