3rd Sunday of Easter - 2009
“Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are you”? They knew it was the Lord Jesus.
Well now at least the disciples recognised Jesus when He appeared to them, although they did not like to tell Him so? I expect past appearances when they did not know who He was left them a bit wary. We have read over the past weeks of the comings and goings of Jesus following His Resurrection and the strange reactions of those who had known Him so well before, but failed to recognise Him on these occasions.
I have been, like most, discussing yet again whether or not Jesus rose physically from the dead on that first Easter morning. It is a question that comes up year by year and always causes the popular press to indulge in growing bizarre theories. Yes, it is a complex matter and will always demand close and well- reasoned attention, but whilst our proper debates continue we must not allow the concern for the details of the event itself to overshadow the essential meaning of the Resurrection.
From a series of edited essays entitled, ‘Essays Catholic and Critical’, published several years ago, (in 1926) one essay written by Edward Selwyn, in which he attempted to understand the Easter experiences, caused some controversy. He tried to account for the reason why some biblical records indicate that only believers saw the Risen Lord at various times and places of His appearances. It was based on the instances when Jesus would suddenly enter a room through locked doors and leave just as mysteriously, how they were often unable to recognise Him at first as Himself, beginning of course with Mary in the Garden at the Tomb entrance on the first morning. She thought the man standing nearby was the gardener, she spoke with him and only when Jesus called her by her familiar name, Mary, that she recognised Him; yet she had known him and spent time with him for ages and tended to him in his last hours only 3 days before and still did not realise it was Jesus! Significantly too, he requests her not to touch him, but sent her off to summon the disciples. What confusion for her? --- and that pattern was repeated time and time again in various ways—passing through walls, walking and talking with some disciples on the Emmaus Road and they did’nt know who they were talking with, and not until halfway though a meal with them that they twigged on to him and then He just disappeared !and again at breakfast on the Tiberias in our extract today, yet they had known him for 3 years at least, discussing matters, eating and drinking together, praying with Him, watching him healing the sick folk, listening to his talks and seeing his great miracles in nature, with him to the last and now just a few days later walking and talking with him and not knowing it was Jesus!.
St. Thomas of course expressed his concern very openly, he just could not get his head round it and demanded some stronger evidence and he certainly was satisfied with the answer he received—no doubts after that! And so it went on, right to the time of the Ascension, an action picture beyond any kind of figuring out today, let alone even in their day!. A ‘physical’ body of flesh and blood and presumably clothed, ‘going up’ to the heavens?, the ‘heaven and ‘up there’ above the sky are all outside any rationale and thinking or imagination today with our sophisticated geometric and universal scientific knowledge. So it was that Selwyn suggested that these factors surrounding Christ’s resurrection and Appearances thereafter as experienced and written up by those witnesses at the time were
perceived in a quite different
way from that of ordinary people and better understood as ‘visionary experiences’.
I can appreciate with perhaps some folk of what we might say advancing years when not able to remember someone we have been introduced to only very recently, the name just seems to go and the face just is not the one we thought. Those of years ago however do seem to come easier! Funny that, but very embarrassing, just saying ‘Oh yes, what’s his name? I spoke to him yesterday’!. But the disciples were half my age and memory loss of that kind not a problem. So what a remarkable restraint by the Risen Lord, and why?
Had the Easter accounts in the Gospels been invented on the basis of Daniel 12 vv 2-3, the most familiar Jewish ‘resurrection’ text, the Gospel writers would probably have portrayed the risen Jesus as ‘shining’ like a bright and eternal star’ (v3) The only figures mentioned by the Evangelists that were said to be dazzling were those angels that appeared at the Tomb and Ascension etc. So the post resurrection portrayal of Christ does seem to rest on some very early and authentic, albeit extraordinary memorising. No attempt to hype up the appearances and no apparent research among them as to why the strange manner of Jesus amongst them whom they knew so well. In fact it seems they just recorded what they saw and as we say, ’how it was’. The evangelists were clear that the resurrection was not and could not have been simply the revival of a corpse. It was indeed a new form of spiritual existence; it was ‘real’ alright and they go to some lengths to explore the Person of Jesus as the one they had known, (Thomas etc.,) and though they had ‘recognition’ problems; they did not attempt to offer any thought out reason about the Easter meaning, it was to be later that formularies of its significance for eternal life to be shared with Christ would be made.
We should not simply however dismiss the theories of several theologians who offer what can be thought sceptical approaches to the corporeal nature of these authentic visions as only products of the human psyche. Such ideas do not invalidate the actual ‘event’, but helps in placing it in the spiritual sphere of our understanding of the material actions in the divine plan.
We have I hope then seen that the Resurrection of Jesus was in its reality of a nature not simply of a corpse, but a new form of spiritual existence, the new ‘body of glory’ referred to by St. Paul (Phil.3; 21). Yes, perhaps only believers were able to recognise him, but of that we can’t be certain for there may well have been other folk on the fringes of belief or searching for answers, the point is the body was a ‘new form’—no promises given at this time for believers or otherwise. In the N.T. elsewhere the resurrection of Jesus is understood as the basis for the resurrection, (in whatever form), of Christian believers.
The resurrection message is then taken to be, that knowledge of Jesus transcending both evil and death which enables us to live by this faith giving hope to a fallen world. God then is discernable in our lives and in the world around us, it won’t protect us from worrying about the world’s ills, but it gives us the motive and power to face all the sources of evil and injustice and so help the Creator to kick them into touch. This is the Resurrection faith, this is what Easter Day is all about, this is the victory over death we share we Jesus Christ and a positive faith to live by. We live because he lives, and share the purposeful joyous grace of God in the Redemption of a fallen world.