Today’s Gospel, indeed, all the gospels of the Easter Octave describe not only an event, but even more so, a journey. For we are tempted to to think that, having seen the risen Lord, the disciples and apostles were immediately confirmed in faith and stripped of all doubt. Now that they saw the Lord they went from zero to 100.
But, this is not the case. Most all the resurrection accounts make it clear that, seeing the risen Lord was mind-blowing, but it was still only a beginning. Like any human experience, no matter how intense, the disciples still needed to process it and come to live its implications in stages.
This pattern of a journey, of a coming to resurrection faith in stages is presented in the resurrection accounts almost in painted form at the beginning. For we notice that the first awareness occur “when it was still dark” and “at the rising of the sun. But as we know, it is not suddenly full light at dawn. Rather the light manifests and grows in stages. And so it is with the resurrection. It begins to “dawn” on the early disciples that He is Risen, truly, he has a appeared to Simon.
But the first reports are murky and there is a lot of running around: Mary Magdalene to Peter and John, Peter and John to the tomb, the women to the rest of the apostles. Yes, there is a lot of running about. It is still dark and the “cobwebs” of recent sleep still assail, and the light is twilight, not noon.
They wonder what does this all mean and how has our life changed?! Answers like this will require a journey and are not to be answered in a mere moment.
In today’s Gospel there is a beautiful line that describes the experience well:
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed (Matt 28:8)
Yes, such a beautiful description: “fearful yet overjoyed,” Amazed and afraid, φόβου καὶ χαρᾶς μεγάλης, (fearful and of great joy). Or to put it in the classic Latin sense, Fascinosum et tremendum (amazed and afraid).
What to make of all this. He is alive! Yet what does this mean?! My life is changed, but how?! One is filled with joy, yet draws back in a kind of reverential fear at the unknown, the unexperienced.
And so we see the women, encountering the Risen Jesus on the road and they are both amazed and afraid. And again, while we might suppose that such an appearance would seal the deal, it is not that simple. Consider the following realities in the aftermath of the resurrection appearances and that a journey of sorts is required to sort it all out.
- Mary of Magdala doesn’t even recognize Jesus at first, but has to have her eyes adjusted by the faith that comes from hearing, in this case hearing her name “Mary” spoken by Jesus.
- She also has to make a journey from merely clinging to Jesus as “Rabboni” and running to others to proclaim him by saying, “I have seen The LORD.”
- The disciples on the Road to Emmaus don’t recognize Jesus at all until their eyes are opened in the Breaking of the Bread.
- When the Apostles first saw Jesus they drew back and thought they were seeing a ghost. He has to reassure them and clarify things for them.
- Simon Peter, even after seeing the Lord several times, falls away from his mission and announces to the others, “I am going back to fishing.” And the Lord has to stand in the shore an call him anew from his commercial nets to sacred shepherding of the Petrine Ministry.
- Even after forty days of of appearances, and having been summoned to the mountain of the ascension, some saw and believed but some doubted.
- Yet still after the ascension, the day of Pentecost still finds the apostles and disciples, huddled behind closed doors. Only after the coming of the Holy Spirit are they really empowered to go forth.
Yes, there is more to experiencing the resurrection than mere sight. Faith comes by hearing and deepens by experience. They have to make a journey to resurrection life and so do we.
And even for us, who were born in the teaching of the resurrection, the truer and deeper meaning of it all is not simply an answer the Catechism can supply, it is a journey we must make.
As a priest and disciple, I have both observed and experienced that Good Friday is powerful and moving for many people. Most of us know the cross, we have experienced its blows, and its presence is quite real and plain. On Good Friday there are often tears at the Stations, the Trae Horae, the Evening Service of the Lord’s Passion.
But come Easter Sunday morning the experience is less certain. People are joyful, but seem less certain why or how. The Joy of Easter seems more remote than than the brooding presence of Good Friday or the gloomy silence of Holy Saturday. They are unpleasant but familiar. But Easter Sunday is different. What does it mean to rise from the dead? What are we to do in response? In Lent we fasted and undertook focal practices. But Easter is more open and vacuous: JOY! Alleluia! Now what?
It remains for us to lay hold of this new life the Lord is offering to us. It is not enough to think of or see the resurrection as an event of 2000 years again. It IS that, but it is more. It is new life for us. We rise with Christ.
But how and what does this mean. That is the journey. It is the deeper and more personal experience of the historical event the Lord accomplished for us. He has raised us to new life.
In my own journey I have had to move from event, deeper to personal and true experience of that event. I have come to experience the new life Jesus died and rose to give me. I ahve seen sins put death and new graces come alive. I am more chaste, generous, joyful hopeful, serene and and zealous. My mind is clearer, new and I have better priorities and clearer vision. My heart is more spacious and I have learned more deeply of God’s love and mercy for me, and can thus share it more toward others.
Yes, this is the journey to the new life that the Lord died and rise to give me. Good Friday and the Cross are rather plain and obvious to most of us. But Easter Sunday takes more time to lay hold of. It requires a journey where we, like the early disciples go from fear to faith, from darkness to light, from sleepiness of the early morning to the alert faith of mid day.
It is the journey toward a true and lasting Easter. We never cease to be amazed and afraid. But our awe deepens from an bewildered awe of the unknown to a knowing wonder and awe at what the risen Lord is doing in our life. And cringing fear becomes the holier fear of reverence and love.
Easter is an event, but it is also a journey. The twilight of early dawn, gives way in stages to ever brighter awareness as we lay hold of the new Life Christ gives us. There is a beautiful line in the King James Translation that captures Simon Peter’s journey, which at that time was ust beginning:
Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. (Luke 24:12)
Peter now knows, even as he is known, but for you and me, the journey of wonder, awe, and experience continue to unfold. For me, I know more today, than ever before, thank you Lord. But so much more needs to unfold. It will, by God’s grace, and in God’s time.