As we enter more deeply into the Easter season we continue to focus on the appearances of Jesus to the apostles and disciples. We might imagine what it would have been like for them, and we may be just a tiny bit envious that they were able to see Jesus such as He was in resurrection. Like Thomas we want to see the wounds and to experience what the others saw. Even if we do not need to see to believe, we still would love to see. I think many of us would like to have been there to see Him as they did, to have been like the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ so that we could actually lay eyes on Jesus the resurrected Lord as He appeared to the Eleven and those gathered in the Upper Room. However, we may feel that the apostles were more significant than we are, and therefore it was right that they saw Jesus. After all, He had hand-picked them and they had been prepared for their future ministries as the ones who would build the church. We might even feel that we are too insignificant to have a ‘real time’ view of the Risen Christ such as they did. Of that, I do not believe.
Just this past week I had the joy and delight of being able to go to west Texas to an area called Big Bend. As beautiful as the terrain of the National Park is, with its mountains, desert, varied birds and wildflowers, the most stellar part of the trip was the visit to the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, TX. (Pun intended) The observatory is incredible in its own right with telescopes that are wonders to behold. But it was the nighttime “star party” that enchanted me. At around 9:15 PM we were taken outside to the amphitheater to view the night sky, free of all ‘light pollution’ since we were in the darkest part of Texas on a clear night, (thank God.) To say it was spectacular is a gross understatement. We saw with the naked eye constellations such as Cassiopeia, Orion, Ursa Major and Minor, star clusters such as the Pleiades, and some planets, such as Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. After the show we were able to walk around the area to view space through various telescopes. I saw Jupiter with such clarity that I could see four of its moons; even the large ‘floating’ storm was faintly visible. And I also saw a galaxy or two, such as Messier 51. It was a time of grace, gratitude, and deep wonder and awe.
Just trying to comprehend the vastness of the universe was almost more than I could manage. Looking up at the sky, attending the marvelous presentations, and seeing countless stars were amazing experiences. At one point we were told in a symbolic analogy that there are as many galaxies in the universe as there are grains of sand on the beaches of the world, and that with all scientists know about space, 96% of it is still unknown. As I looked into the telescopes, especially the ones trained on stars and galaxies that were distant, I felt increasingly insignificant. In using the analogy of each galaxy being like grains of sand, then we are comparatively as small as the smallest division of a quark.* That makes us profoundly insignificant, indeed.
But all this insignificance is significant because as small as we are, we are known and loved to a greater degree by God than the entire universe combined. Everything about us is known by Him. With all that is in the universe, most of which is beyond our comprehension, God has every one of the hairs on our head counted (Matt 10:30) and knows each and every one of us intimately. And He knows our sins and forgives them when we ask. (Acts 3:13-19) His love and mercy are boundless! If we were really so insignificant, He would not have cared enough to come to earth, die, rise, and therefore free us from all that holds us bound, including death. No matter who we are, where we are from, what our socio-economic status, sexual orientation, health status, mental capacity, gender, or age may be, we matter immensely to God. This is a greater marvel than the wonders of deep space and a thought far more beautiful than the night sky, with its lovely Milky Way (in which we reside, by the way). With all the stars, galaxies, and ‘what-have-you’ out there, as small and seemingly insignificant as you and I are in the universe, we are the center of God’s attention each and every moment of our lives. Even when we sleep, He is mindful of us. (Psalm 139 and Matt. 28:20) There is no greater reality than this. We are significant in our seeming insignificance. This gift of God’s love and attention to us is simply stunning.
In this third week of Easter we encounter Jesus with the apostles who think they are seeing a ghost. (Luke 24:35-48) They think their eyes are deceived, and yet in their terror Jesus reassures them by saying, “Peace be with you!” He knows that seeing Him resurrected is more than just a little startling to them, so He offers them His peace. Their terror turns to joy, but Luke describes it in what seems to be an oxymoron. He says, “…they were still incredulous for joy” which basically means that they were skeptical, yet filled with joy in Jesus’ presence. In other words, their minds and hearts were in conflict with one another. That they were incredulous for joy is not unlike my experience with the stars. It was a joy that somehow co-exists with the acceptable incomprehension which we call faith. The joy with which they were filled could only come from God. They knew deep within their hearts and minds that this was Jesus, who was both their friend and their Lord. They did not really need to understand because any attempt at understanding would distract them from the reality of being with Him. They wisely chose to savor the moment rather than to try to dissect it with rationalization and understanding. In other words, they had learned to discern what was more important: it was not feeble attempts at understanding that which cannot be understood which was important, but rather it was simply being in the moment which was the most real of all realities. They were with Jesus, who is Lord and yet friend. These seemingly insignificant fishermen, and those of other similarly ordinary backgrounds, were incredibly significant to Jesus.
The other lesson that these apostles and disciples learned is that every single person to whom the Lord had spoken, whom He had healed, and whom He had freed from sin, was equally significant. They came to see in that one moment that everyone who was to come, all those who were to believe because of the word of men and women like them, were all equally significant to God. Those apostles and disciples (and Mary, His mother, who Scripture tells us was present in that upper room) learned not only that they mattered to Jesus, but that each and every person who was, is, and is to come is immensely important to Jesus. It was not about them: it was about all of us. The apostles, who at times seemed overwhelmed in their attempts to get it right during the life of Jesus, had at last “gotten” it. They understood that to be a follower of Jesus one has to be the servant of all. One has to be humble, willing to be insignificant in service of those who are rich and to those who society deems as outcast. The apostles had learned the lesson taught by Jesus throughout their time with Him.
Had Jesus lived in our age instead of in first century Palestine, I wonder if He might have told a parable about the stars in space and our place within them. No matter, the lesson is this: we are all significantly insignificant. That is, we are infinitesimally small amidst all of creation and because of that we ought to be truly insignificant to Him, but instead, we are known down to our last hope and desire. We are immensely significant to God, who created us intimately, and who in intimacy knows our heart and mind even better than we do. And He loves each of us as if nothing else exists. In light of what does exist, that is nothing short of astonishing.
May we be filled with awe and wonder at the vastness and incredible variety contained in the universe! May we have a sense of the greatness of the gifts we have received in the beauty of creation! May we be responsible stewards for all that which is contained in our home, the planet on which we reside! May we know, as the apostles came to realize, that we are all significant to God no matter what anyone else thinks of us! May we have the humility to serve and to let others serve us! May we have deep gratitude that God has created us, and knows and loves us intimately! And may we be filled with the mercy and peace of Jesus as we learn to recognize Him in those around us! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*For an explanation of what a quark is click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark
The icon at the beginning of this post is called The Risen Lord Appears to St. Thomas by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in a copy as a plaque it can be found at
All of the photos are mine. The ones in the series are, respectively, The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, the McDonald Observatory, and the huge telescope inside the observatory.
-Next is a cactus flower. I chose this because it is a bit of 'an incredulous joy.' Where the desert seems so stark and possibly lifeless, everything is in bloom; even a prickly cactus has a joyous beauty about it.
-The following photo is of one (lonely) bluebonnet, the state flower of Texas. There were bluebonnets everywhere, so this really does not portray the myriads of flowers lining all the roadways. And that is precisely why I chose this photo. The flower is significant and was noticed even when alone in the sand. (This lone flower was near the banks of the Rio Grande. Bluebonnets in Big Bend can grow to three feet high.)
-The final photo is a sunset over the Chisos Mountains.
Heart Speaks to Heart