This week, in an especially poignant way, I have been reflecting on what it was like for Jesus to have appeared among His friends and disciples in His resurrected body. In each account in the Gospels the common denominator is that they did not recognize Him right away and also that His greeting was "Peace" or "Do not be afraid." He was well aware that His appearance would be shocking to them given that they were very confused, and given that no one had ever resurrected before, and so the disciples would not know what that would look like. This week we hear the stories of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and then to two disciples on the road to Emmaus; His appearances to groups of the Apostles, sometimes with all of them present and sometimes with one or more not in attendance, are also recounted. In some of these appearances they are in Galilee and in others they are in Jerusalem. But in every one of them, Jesus seems to be different, and yet He is the same. He is the Lord of all, the Son of God who came and conquered death as He promised, and yet He is the same Jesus that His friends and family had always known. It must have been mind boggling to see Him and try to digest all of that at once.
According to the Gospel writers Jesus appeared many times and in many places. It was clear there were no ‘boundaries’ and that He could enter or leave a room through a wall or door. Yet in a number of the accounts He lets his friends touch Him or He eats with them. It is clear that the Risen Jesus is not an apparition. He has form, yet His form seems to have different properties than ours. Consistently His closest friends did not recognize Him when Jesus first became present to them. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were with Him all day before they recognized Him, and that was only after Jesus blessed and broke the bread; once the bread became the Eucharist, His Body, Jesus disappeared from their sight. (Actually He was indeed still present in the Bread, so they no longer needed to see Him in physical human form.) Even Mary Magdalene, one of His closest friends, was weeping over Him and asking the Risen One where they had put Jesus' body. She had no clue that it was He who stood before her until Jesus said her name.
What is most thought provoking to me about Jesus' appearances is the thought that one day we, too, will also resurrect. He promised us that He would return one day at the end of time as we know it. When His second coming occurs, we will transform into our resurrected bodies, no matter how long we will have been dead before that time or even if we have not passed through death yet. At present, when we die our bodies decay and only our souls go to Heaven, or Purgatory and then Heaven, or for some who rejected God, to Hell. It will only be on that last day that our bodies and souls will be reunited and we will have the same glorified body that Jesus has, the body that his disciples saw when He appeared to them.
Given what we know from the Gospels we know that when that day comes we, too, will be able to pass through doors or solid objects, and yet we will have solid form such as Jesus did, able to eat and drink. Our eating and drinking will not be for nourishment, but for enjoyment, since we will be perfected and lack for nothing. We will retain our wills, but because we will have been perfected we will no longer be capable of sin or weakness. We will be totally healed of that and of all else, as there is no pain or suffering in Heaven. We will look somewhat different, just as Jesus looked different, but yet we will be recognizable to our friends, family, and all those dear ones who will also be in Heaven. We will still be ourselves; that is, we will retain our personality and that which makes us truly who we are, individual and unique. We will simply look a bit different and we will be perfected, completely whole and holy.
The resurrection stories remind us that just as Jesus said to His disciples, we should not be afraid when He comes to us, even when we do not see Him in the flesh as they did. We are privileged to see Him in the breaking of bread no less than the two disciples who walked and talked with Him on the road to Emmaus. He tells us to be at peace in the same manner as He tells all His disciples. We should never be afraid in the presence of the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine. But what we can learn is to see Him all around us both in the breaking of the bread and in the love of friends, family, and quite often, strangers.
The appearance story I love the most is not in the Scriptures at all. The appearance to which I am referring is when Jesus appeared to His mother, Mary. I have no doubt this took place. I have always thought that it was far too intimate for any of the gospel writers to have dared to put it on paper. I imagine they assumed we would know that it happened and appropriately did not write about it. It is fitting that Jesus would have gone to Mary first, since she was His mother and knew Him more than anyone else could have. She saw Him draw His first and last breaths. She was with Him just about every step of the way and never wavered in her trust in what He was doing. She was the first disciple, truly even before He was born. Therefore I have always imagined their reunion to be one of the most sublimely beautiful and intimate of meetings that ever took place on this earth. But I also think that when you and I meet our departed loved ones we will have similar joy. We are just as assured of that as we are of seeing our Lord when the day comes for us.
Let us rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of seeing Him one day as He truly is in the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us rejoice in the promise to us of new life to come. Truly there is nothing to fear and there is great rejoicing in this Easter season. And yes, it is a season and not a single day. Not only is it a liturgical season that goes on for seven weeks until Pentecost, but we need to remember we are an Easter people. Easter is a way of life, not an event on the calendar. At that first Easter Jesus redeemed us; we are different. In light of His resurrection we are no longer the same insofar as we have been baptized and are adopted sons and daughters of God. We are assured of salvation as long as we savor the gift and live as Easter people. So let us rejoice in this great gift which is the reality of who we are. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it!" (Psalm 118) That verse is true and should be our refrain every day as we realize over and over that we are an Easter people and have nothing to fear because we are never alone. We are deeply loved.
May we rejoice in the joy of the Easter season! May we truly believe that He is Risen, seeing His presence around us in a new way! May we rejoice in the great gift of His Body and Blood offered for us each and every day at Mass! May we hold fast to the consolation that we will one day be reunited in Heaven with those who have gone before us! May we accept the gift of peace and the courage He brings to us! And may we grow into the Easter people He has called us to be, confident in the promises of our own future resurrection! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Lord! Peace! Alleluia!
*This entry is dedicated to my father who entered into his Easter joy earlier this week and who now knows much more about any of this than I possibly could.
©Michele L. Catanese
The icons are by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is The Risen Christ and it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/33-the-risen-christ
The second is The Risen Christ Appears to His Mother and it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/56-the-risen-christ-appears-to-his-mother
Heart Speaks to Heart