Jesus was dead. They saw him die, and they saw the tomb where he was buried. The trauma was indelibly printed on their minds and would not be easily removed.
Now he was appearing before them, but they did not recognize him. Mary Magdalene did not recognize him until he said her name, “Mary.” The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize him though he walked with them until nearly dark. Only at the breaking of the bread as they began to eat were their eyes opened.
To overcome the trauma of seeing Jesus’ torturous death they needed proof to confirm what their eyes were now seeing. After offering them his peace, Jesus “showed them his hands and side.” (John 20:20) Later he eats fish to show that he is not just spirit but also flesh. (Luke 24:42-43) On another occasion, he confirms his presence with a miracle catch of 153 fish. (John 21)
Overcoming our paradigm of death and its irreversible nature is no small matter. It was true for the disciples and it is true for us. Yet, that is exactly the hope that God offers on Easter morning in the person of his son, Jesus. God became one of us to show that life does not end with our physical death. Who we are has less to do with our physical nature than with our soul and spirit, which are a created by God and mysteriously joined with our physical nature at conception.
Jesus bequeathed to both the disciples and us something to take the place of his physical presence – the Holy Spirit, which he described as giving us the power to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit enables the words of Jesus to become a reality in our lives — he is in us and we in him just as the Father is in him and he is in the Father. He says the result is that, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:12-13)
With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience Jesus’ personal presence in our daily lives. For me, it first happened on an October evening many years ago when I met him in a personal way and he took the sin and disorder from my life. We now meet for coffee and prayer every morning. I also see him every day in the big bright smile of our daughter with Down syndrome whose many hugs reflect her natural inclination to love.
I see him in the love of my wife and all or our children and grandchildren as they respond to his love for them. I see him in the inmates of the local jail who accept the humility of their present circumstance and seek the sacrament of reconciliation. I see him in the teenagers and college students we know who postpone career decisions to serve him on college campuses and impoverished areas.
Where do you see the risen Jesus?