I love the Bible stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. All four gospel writers include them. My favorite is one of Luke’s stories, known to most of us as the Walk to Emmaus. But John’s stories – he has three – delight just as much. Matthew’s narrative jumps pretty quickly from Jesus greeting the two Marys at the tomb to the brief commissioning of the disciples and ends there. Mark, of course, has a different feel to his story entirely, assuming you follow the most ancient texts and end it at verse 8. The disciples were terrified, they ran away and told no one. The end. (But of course, they must have told someone, right? Because we know the story!)
But let’s go back to Luke. Here’s Cleopus and his friend, walking home (presumably) on the Day of Resurrection. A mysterious stranger joins them, appearing it would seem, out of nowhere. Now these two disciples must have seen Jesus during his ministry; later in the chapter Luke tells us that they were friends of “the eleven”. But for some reason “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”. Huh. In the margin of my seminary Bible I wrote this question: by whom? Who or what kept them from recognizing him? And why?
Wouldn’t you have loved to hear Jesus’ words to Cleopus and friend, “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”? Makes me wish Cleopus would have taken notes! The Gospel according to Cleopus – I’d buy it!
Then there’s the meal they shared that sounds so much like other meals they might have shared that they finally see him for who he is. And just like that, he’s gone.
It’s apparent from these stories that there is something different about Jesus’ resurrected body. He can appear and disappear. Locked doors don’t keep him out. His looks have changed enough that people don’t recognize him right away (or was it so unimaginable to see a dead person alive again that their brains just couldn’t go there?) Yet his very human crucifixion wounds remain, and in both Luke and John, he eats fish, just any other person would. The wonder and mystery of it intrigues me. The disciples don’t know what to make of it. And what about Jesus, what was this like for him?
But of course, it’s not my delight in John’s and Luke’s storytelling, nor my curiosity about the physical/spiritual details of the resurrected Jesus that matter the most. It’s what Jesus, formerly dead and now alive, did and said. (And maybe what he didn’t do or say, like complain about their betrayal and scold them!)
The post-resurrection Jesus did such familiar things – such Jesus-like things -when he was reunited with his disciples. He taught them, as he always had, opening up the scriptures. He took bread, blessed, broke and gave it them, such strong echoes of the Last Supper. He forgave them and commissioned them and performed a miracle of fishing abundance. And over and over, he offered them his peace. All this, I believe, so they might know him, and see the continuity between the Jesus who was and the Jesus who is.
When someone we love dies, we often talk about the importance of closure – that it’s necessary to view the dead body and carry out our rituals of mourning, so our minds and hearts can truly accept the truth of our new reality.
Maybe that was the point of Jesus’ post-tomb appearances. Not to help them accept his death, but to grasp the new reality of his victory over death. “It’s really me,” he seems to say. “Listen and watch, talk with me, eat with me, touch me and see, I am alive! I want you to know this for absolute certain, because you, my friends, you’re going to be telling the whole world.” And so they did. And so must we.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!