19 Apr 2015
“But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Lk. 24:37)
In the name …
This morning we continue to hear stories about Jesus’ resurrection. And I don’t mean to offend anybody. God speaks to each of us in different ways. But for me, these later Easter stories don’t carry as much weight as the women coming to the tomb to complete the burial ritual and discovering to their amazement that the grave has been opened and is now empty. Or Peter and the Beloved Disciple running to the grave to see for themselves, Peter then walking out awed but probably still confused, while the Beloved Disciple starts to feel that first tingle of Easter hope. I’m impressed by the casual mention in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus’ mother and His brothers are among the disciples after Easter. All throughout His ministry Jesus’ family was stand-offish, but then all of a sudden after Easter, there they are among the believers. Something happened in those few days that changed them. For a person of faith that something is the resurrection.
But for as real as was the resurrection, it was equally real that explaining it was nearly impossible. If you remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, Lazarus comes out and is Lazarus again. He is reunited with his sisters and for as little as we know he lives an ordinary life and then dies an ordinary death, and this time he stays dead. But Jesus comes out of the grave transformed. All of sudden the men who were calling Him “rabbi” at the Last Supper are now blurting out, “My Lord and my God!” The resurrected Jesus now belongs to a different realm than ours. I like to read books by scientists that are written with the layperson in mind. Concepts that may make absolute sense to them, and concepts that work marvelously in the real world but nonetheless remain mysterious even for them, are so hard to explain to a person like me who can’t do the math or the experiments. The authors struggle to come up with comparisons that may make sense to a non-scientist, and they may write chapter after chapter trying to explain something that is expressed in just one straight-forward mathematical formula. That it’s hard for me to understand the science or the math doesn’t mean that the science or math isn’t real. Likewise, when the few human witnesses of the resurrection encounter the glorified Saviour, their confusion doesn’t hamper the reality of the resurrection. It just tells us how hard it is to share because it is so completely other.
And because those human witnesses want so desperately to help us believe as they do they also come up with comparisons and examples that attempt to make the unexplainable explainable. This is what we read about in today’s Gospel. The disciples think that they are seeing Jesus’ ghost. In other words, that Jesus is still dead and this is His disembodied spirit. And they’re terrified. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I can imagine running into one in a dark room would not be a lot of fun. So Jesus has to go out of His way to show them that He is flesh and bone. And what I find completely inadequate to the task of sharing the mystery, power and promise of the resurrection is that it is proved for His followers when He eats a piece of baked fish. The grandeur and awesomeness of whatever the resurrection means is dumbed-down to the proof of eating a piece of baked fish. I know what Luke is trying to say. He wants us to know without any doubt that the resurrected Jesus is real. He’s no ghost. But eating a piece of baked fish just seems so trivial to convey such a truth.
The empty tomb, the startled and surprised believers, the non-believers who start to believe, all of this strikes me as honest and real responses to something that we can’t really know right now. And I believe that the stories of eating baked fish are not meant as lies, but as comparisons no different than a science author trying to make the unexplainable explainable. But we shouldn’t get so caught up with these details that we miss the main point. I don’t know what the resurrection entails. I’m locked into the physical. I have a whole slew of problems trying to figure out this world, and that’s why I read the books by scientists. I love their sense of wonder when they talk about relativity, quantum mechanics or the fact that all of the ordinary stuff in the universe is something like 5% and all the rest of it is some unknown stuff and energy. The ordinary is by definition extraordinary. I can barely grasp this world, never mind God’s reality. But locked in this physical world doesn’t mean that I can’ believe and trust that Jesus came back, that the resurrected, glorified Jesus was encountered by His closest followers. I’m not surprised that they can’t explain what happened. I am disappointed sometimes when they try. That piece of baked fish, again just for me, is a huge let down.
The resurrection is Jesus’ testimony to us that there is so much more to our lives than we can see right now. I picked-up Kristin at college this past week. She came home for a day and now she’s in Boston. While I was waiting for her to pack, which by the way should have been done before I got there, I was looking around their common area of her suite. Once I got past the half eaten birthday cake, the half eaten veggie platter, and somebody else’s half consumed bottles of adult beverages, I noticed a little plaque hanging on their dorm wall. It read: I don’t want to spoil the ending, but everything’s going to be all right. That’s what Easter says to me. That’s what Jesus coming back from the dead promises. We don’t know the details of how the story ends, but the message of the resurrection is that everything’s going to be all right. We need to live accordingly. We need to live like people who really believe that promise. The proof of the resurrection is not eating a baked piece of fish. It’s about transformation. Easter changed Jesus and Easter changed everybody who saw Jesus, and it should change everybody today who believes they saw Jesus and that we will too some day. I’m not too worried or impressed by the baked piece of fish, but transformation, that’s where the proof and power of Easter lies.
As we continue to celebrate the mystery of Easter, let us rest assured that even in a sometimes mean and confusing world everything’s going to be all right, and let us live like we really believe this. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo