Last week the Gospel reading was a story from Luke of Jesus appearing to the disciples after he had been resurrected. They were afraid, and thought he was a ghost. To allay their fears he said, "Look at my hands and feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see that I have."
They knew those hands. They had watched him break bread with those hands who knows how many times. They had seen him lay those hands on troubled souls, on the heads of people sick with fever, on children who came to sit in his lap. They had seen him fold those hands or raise them up in prayer when he had gone off alone to find strength and refreshment in conversation with his Father. They had walked with him for three years over the roads of Palestine. Their feet and his feet had been coated with the dust of those roads. And, near the end, he had washed their feet, still teaching them the night before his death. They knew those hands and those feet. They were real. Their friend and teacher was real, although alive again in a new way.
I imagine you can think of people who have made Jesus real to you at various times in your life, people who have made Christian faith come alive for you. Maybe it was someone who held your hand when you were small, someone who cared for you when you were sick, someone who took your hand and said, "I do." and stood by you during good times and bad. Someone who walked beside you, listened to you, encouraged you and believed in you.
None of us comes to Christian faith alone. We experience grace, love, forgiveness, hope and joy through the physical world, through relationships, through (yes, I’m going to use a theological word!) incarnation. The wonder of those opening words of John’s gospel say it all: "The Word became flesh and lived among us." We have faith because God has been real to us through someone, something, some manifestation in the physical world.
Mystics might seek direct, spiritual experience of God. Some are drawn to such a pursuit, but their experience is unusual. The normal way of experiencing God is through flesh and bone, through the church, through the Body of Christ gathered as a community. We bear the presence of Christ to one another. My systematic theology professor at Louisville Seminary liked to use a big, technical term for it. He said the church was the "extension of the incarnation." Yes, that’s you and me. We are part of the ministry of Jesus. We are his flesh and bone, his hands and feet. The Word made flesh continues in you and me. You never know when you will hold a hand, touch someone with blessing or healing, or walk beside someone, and you will be part of passing on faith, hope and love.
God is not just an idea. God becomes real in this world through human contact, through giving and receiving. Through you and me. That is the wonder of the Word made flesh.