It happened to Mary Magdalen in John 20:15; she thought she was speaking to the gardener. It reoccurred when the stranger met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:16)
When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the shore of the sea of Tiberias (John 21:1)their first thought was that it was a ghost.
The disciples’ inability to recognise the risen Jesus speaks to us of the nature of the resurrected body. Resurrection is not a restoration of life, such as happened to Lazarus, as everyone immediately recognised Lazarus when he came out of the tomb. (John 11:44) Resurrection, on the other hand, is a huge leap forward into a new life.
The body of Jesus that rose on Easter was radically different from the one Jesus possessed during his lifetime. For one it was a body that could pass through walls into a locked room. It could be present one moment and then gone the next as it was not bound by space or time. The risen Lord allowed his disciples to touch him; he ate with them and showed them the wounds of his Passion. Nevertheless, his body no longer belonged only to earth, but rather to the heavenly kingdom of his Father.
The first question that could be asked about the resurrection could be: “Was Jesus really dead on the cross?” Maybe he was able to rise again because he only appeared to have suffered death.
However, Jesus really died on the Cross; his body was buried. In John 19:33 the soldiers at the cross make an explicit determination of death; they opened the side of Jesus’ dead body with a lance and see blood and water come out. Furthermore, it says, the legs of the men crucified with him were broken in order to speed up the dying process; this was not required in Jesus’ case since his death had already occurred.
Another question that can be asked is this: Can you be a Christian without believing in the Resurrection of Christ? No. Paul put it this way. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14)
How then did the disciples come to believe that Jesus is risen? The disciples, who before had lost all hope, came to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection because they saw him in a different way after his death, spoke with him and experienced him as being alive.
Testimonies to the Resurrection
Is there proof of the Resurrection of Jesus? There is no proof in the scientific sense. There are very strong individual and collective testimonies by a large number of contemporaries of those events in Jerusalem.
The oldest written testimony to the Resurrection is a letter that St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians around 20 years after Christ’s death. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor.15: 3 -6.)
Paul is recording here a living tradition that was present in the original Christian community, two or three years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, when he himself became a Christian, on the basis of his own staggering encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts of the Apostles 9: 3 -9).
The disciples took the fact of the empty tomb (Luke 24: 2 -3) as the first indication of the reality of the Resurrection. Women discovered it, and according to the law of the time they were not able to testify. Although we read about the apostle John that he “saw and believed” (John 20: 8) already at the empty tomb, full assurance that Jesus was alive came about only after a series of appearances.
The many encounters with the risen Lord, in one sense ended with Christ’s Ascension into heaven. Nevertheless, there were encounters with the risen Lord after the Ascension such as the encounter with Paul the apostle outside of Damascus, and even continues today. It is not out of the ordinary today to meet someone who has turned their life around for the better because of a personal encounter with Jesus. Something that they saw or happened to them; something that was said or read, sparks the conversion experience. Christ was definitely met, encountered and a response was forth coming.
What changed in the world as a result of the resurrection? Joy and hope came into the world, because death is no longer the end of everything. Now that death no longer has dominion over Jesus, neither does it have power over us who belong to Jesus.
Our churches provide us with 50 days after Easter for us to engage and reflect upon the mystery of the resurrection and its implications for us. This though has to go much further than just thinking about what happened to Jesus so many years ago. The more important question is: “What difference does it make to me in the Cook Islands in 2017?” While it is important to know what happens to us after we die, does the resurrection have any relevance for us right now?
Personally, I attempt to link the Resurrection with the Last Supper and in particular the washing of feet. (John 13:1 – 12) “Do you understand’, he said, what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly, so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” (John 13:13 -15).
“That you may copy what I have done to you.” Can I go beyond myself and my usual routine to love and serve others in new and greater ways? If Easter faith has removed from us the shadows of ultimate death, what new risks am I willing to take to accompany and help those who are more vulnerable than I am? Can we see the face in the poor, hoping we will stop to acknowledge them nd stop to show some compassion?
If Easter is only a beautiful idea or singing a few extra Alleluias or calling out “God is good, all the time,” Easter will quickly fade from our minds until next year, when we can rev it up again. If this is our thinking we are like the disciples who failed to recognise Jesus when he appeared as the Risen Lord.
We miss the opportunity of working with him, because we think it is only the gardener, a stranger, a ghost, the old lady who has lived next door for 20 years; the youth that has been bugging me for the last five; the same drunkard that I have seen staggering home for the last 10 years.
But if Easter is something I experience each day, then my life will be filled with amazement. For if our hearts are open and we ask for it, God will invite us into the mystery that he is good and good all the time.
(Sourced from Youcat – A youth Catechism.)
Bishop Paul Donoghue