I wish you a happy and blessed Easter.
The Easter season runs from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Sunday, making it the longest special season in the Church’s year. This is not simply because Jesus remained on earth for 40 days before ascending into heaven. There is also a profound spiritual reason for this. The Sunday gospels of the Easter season are about Jesus’ relationship with us and with the Church. I would like to take you through some of the texts in which you might recognise yourself with Jesus.
There are three very powerful gospel passages in which the disciples meet the Risen Lord: the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; Thomas in the upper room; and, Peter, John and Mary Magdalen at the empty tomb.
The journey to Emmaus is a very puzzling story. Why are the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem? As they talk to Jesus, who they have as yet not recognised, they speak of the women, who going to the tomb and finding it empty, saw angels who tell them that Jesus is alive. The disciples say “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free”. If this was their hope, why aren’t they waiting in Jerusalem? Instead they are walking despondently from Jerusalem; they are without hope. I recognise a negativity here. The minds of the two disciples are so clouded by negativity that they are not able to hear the words “He is alive”. We are sometimes like that. Cynicism and negativity, which destroy hope, can so overwhelm us that we cannot see what is in front of us.
Notice what Jesus does. He walks with them and speaks to their hearts. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us”. Our Lord met them where they were. By nature these men were negative. They could not change their own hearts, so Jesus speaking to their hearts changes them. They now return to Jerusalem to meet the Risen Lord.
Thomas’ story is so well known that we often call someone a “doubting Thomas”. Jesus knew that Thomas would not be there when He first appeared to the apostles and knew that Thomas would be there on His return visit. The whole story is planned so as to “catch” the doubter. Jesus asks Thomas to place his fingers and hand into His wounds and seemingly Thomas now believes. But it is not as simple as this. Thomas is like a modern-day rationalist who only believes something if it cannot be doubted. The modern Thomas will not believe unless there is certain scientific proof. Jesus knows that His resurrection will always be open to scientific doubt, it cannot be proved with absolute certainly and certainly cannot be proved 2000 years later.
How is it that Thomas believes and will ultimately die for his belief? Notice that when Jesus enters the upper room, the first thing He says is “Peace be with you”. In saying this, Jesus gives Thomas the gift of peace by which his heart and soul are no longer troubled by the concerns of the mind. There are some things, in fact perhaps the most important things in life, which cannot be proven scientifically. Love is one example of this. How can love be proved beyond doubt? It is by love that we know that we are loved, not by calculation. Jesus knows Thomas’ problem and comes to the upper room to forever dispel Thomas’ intellectual doubt. Through love Thomas knows that Jesus is risen, he does not doubt again.
Peter enters the empty tomb and leaves it without knowing or believing. Our Lord will meet him on another occasion.
Mary of Magdala meets Jesus in the garden beside the tomb. Why doesn’t she recognise Him? And when she does recognise Him, Jesus reprimands her for clinging to Him. What is happening? When we meet Mary in the garden she is overwhelmed with grief. Jesus has died and she carries the memory of Jesus and mourns. She wants Him back just as she remembers Him and cannot recognise the man standing in front of her. Like her we often live in and from memories which take away our freedom to live in the present moment. Jesus says to us “do not cling” to your memories because if we do, we will not recognise Him today.
The real issue in each of these events is this: why didn’t the disciple recognise Jesus and believe?
There is one disciple left – St John the Beloved Disciple. Beloved because he loved Jesus with an unattached, unselfish love. John enters the empty tomb, sees only an empty tomb and believes that Jesus is risen. Having reviewed Jesus’ encounters with the other disciples, the faith of John is astounding. How is it that John believes with no evidence other than an empty tomb? We are now getting to what Easter is really about. Through love, St John recognises that the one he loves is alive, not dead. St John did not encounter Jesus physically, his memory was not engaged and he was not encumbered with dispositional problems. He stands next to the other disciples and shows us the way.
The meaning of Easter is love and its lesson is this: Jesus will come into our lives, as He did with the other disciples and will, if we open ourselves to Him, touch us so as to remove the obstacles which we cannot remove. I pray that with each passing Easter we will allow Jesus more deeply into our lives so that we will recognise Him and love.
With my prayers and Easter wishes,
Bishop Greg Homeming OCD