Food, touch, and dispelling fear

“While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.” (Lk 24: 36-42)

Over and over again the readings at Easter feature Jesus telling his friends, “Do not be afraid.” The disciples are afraid before they encounter the resurrected Christ and even afterwards. We can imagine that they have many fears as they hide: they may fear being arrested and crucified as his associates; they may feel guilt about their betrayals; they may fear the loss of meaning that can accompany other kinds of losses. Many of the disciples had left behind their whole prior ways of life in order to follow Jesus. With Jesus’ death, their sense of identity is also challenged. “Who am I?,” they may wonder, in light of Christ’s death.

Jesus appears and they are still afraid, this time fearing a ghost. Jesus responds to their fear by asking them to touch him and to give him something to eat with them. He shows them his hands and his feet and then he eats fish.

Jesus’s manner of reassuring them is mostly physical. His invitation to touch and to give him food is physical proof that he is not a ghost, to be sure, but his actions also show a deeper understanding that their fear will be dispelled less through words than through loving actions. The touch of a friend’s hug or a squeeze of a hand can reassure us of care more than words. Eating a meal with others is a way to connect and to relate in community. Notably, Jesus here invites and accepts their touch and their food. He’s not the one doing the feeding this time but the one in his humanity accepting the fish to eat and allowing the touch of his hands and feet. He demonstrates a kind of vulnerability of touch in order to connect to their own vulnerability. He offers physical connection as a way to soothe fear and to re-establish relationship.

I recently read an article posted by a friend on Facebook that reported that American men lack touch in their friendships with other men. My female friends and I constantly communicate care through hugs, verbal expressions of care, and little gestures like bringing lunch food, dessert, or flowers to each other’s offices. It strikes me how challenging the cultural “rules of masculinity” around expressing care–especially to other men–must be. Yet these small physical expressions of care are as central to friendship as words, and build up love between friends.

Fear can hold us back from love. Simple acts like eating food together or offering a hug go a long way toward building connections and bringing us to be more loving people. Jesus reminds us that our identity is physical and not only spiritual, that love is embodied.