Gospel Reflection for April 18, 2021, Third Sunday of Easter
Father Koch: Easter brings new possibilities for encountering the Lord
On the Second Sunday of Lent, as Peter, James and John descended the Mount of the Transfiguration, they were forced to contemplate “what rising from the dead might mean.” As according to ancient tradition that event occurred 40 days before Jesus died on the Cross, it is just perhaps just some six weeks later that they and the others are immediately confronted with this same question as they encounter the risen Lord.
While Jesus has raised others from the dead – the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow at Nain, and their friend Lazarus, they were simply restored to their former selves. They still appeared as they did before and their lives had returned to normal. Yet, here is Jesus. Jesus appears different. They barely recognize him, though he remains familiar. He must have had recognizable facial features and a familiar presence. However, it is the differences: an otherworldly corporeality, and perhaps that aura reflective of what the disciples experienced at the Transfiguration, that makes him unrecognizable. All of the Gospel accounts of encounters with the resurrected Jesus indicate this uncertainty in recognition.
As Jesus appears in this moment, the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, which is the event just prior to the Gospel passage read this Sunday, are enthusiastically recounting their experience of how he taught them and then was made fully known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The disciples are, understandably overcome with emotion. Imagine Jesus, whom you know to have died on the Cross, now standing in front of you. They know for certain that the tomb is empty. The women arrived early in the morning to make that announcement. Now they together must make sense of what is happening right in front of them.
Jesus immediately addresses their skepticism, their uncertainty and their questions. Could this just be a hallucination or the appearance of a ghost? They did mistake Jesus for a ghost once before as he passed by them as he walked on the Sea of Galilee. There will definitely be those who accuse them of fabricating a story about resurrection in order to perpetuate the idea that Jesus was the messiah. Others will assert that in their grief, the disciples experienced a collective illusion.
Jesus has them look carefully at him – to study his hands and his feet – to see that he still carries the marks of the Crucifixion on his body. They are having an actual physical encounter with a living corporeal person. The one who had died is now risen. He also takes a bit of fish to eat. Ghosts, they are certain don’t eat, and neither do apparitions, phantasms or illusions.
This encounter with Jesus, though, is different. He is more than a resuscitated body; his appearance is other. Then, as suddenly as he came, he is gone. What remains is their shared encounter, and whatever was left on the dish from the food that Jesus ate. This dish, if nothing else, sits there as a sign that he was really there. If any others arrive who are doubtful of what they are hearing, they have this dish off which Jesus had eaten. It might seem insignificant, perhaps even trivial, but it is a grounding experience. When we can point to something tangible, it helps to diffuse our confusion.
We can just imagine the conversation among them after Jesus departed. One must expect that there was first some moment of awed silence until one of them, likely the usual babbling Peter, broke the silence. Those who came from Emmaus felt validated no doubt in their recounting of their experience. Others who were more quiet and uncertain now have those doubts allayed.
The obvious question they must have all wondered must be “what happens next?” Will he remain with them forever? Will Jesus make himself known to the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the priests? Will he attract large crowds like he had done earlier in his ministry? Is this now the end of the age, does a whole new period of history begin? And of course, what does this mean for each of us gathered here?
John leaves us pondering all of these questions and more. The answers are not forthcoming in his Gospel, but the history of the Church provides us with the answers. As John draws his Gospel to a close he recounts that the works of Jesus would fill uncountable volumes. We know as well, that the work of Jesus continues in our midst.
The Resurrection of Jesus not only enabled the disciples to encounter him in new and extraordinary ways, it also makes our encounter with him tangible through our sacramental mysteries.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.