How could I possibly write of the Christ, risen from the dead? Surely a mystery too great for me to expound upon, as though I understood it…
Yet something beckons me to write.
There is something so beautiful, so compelling and so mysterious about the accounts of Jesus in His appearances after the Resurrection. It is this Jesus in whom the Truth comes fully alive before us – yet our minds cannot comprehend it.
He is not stopped by locked doors, yet He eats and can be touched. He is not recognized when seen but is known without doubt. He is seen by a few but also by five hundred at once. Yet not everyone sees Him. Not everyone knows.
How can all of this be? What does it all mean?
As many times as I have heard the Scriptural accounts of these encounters, something new stood out to me this year in the Gospels:
“Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples at the sea of Tiberias.” (John 21:1)
I have emphasized the word “revealed” because that is the word to which I was drawn. Jesus did not simply appear, as a speaker makes an appearance in auditorium or as a rainbow appears in the sky. He was present and He revealed the reality of His presence to believers.
As I write this, I have to stop and struggle with it a bit. “Wait a minute,” I say to myself, “are you saying that Christ only revealed Himself to believers? Are you saying that He wasn’t there for nonbelievers to see?”
Yes and no.
Let’s stop and consider the appearance on the road to Emmaus. It seems unlikely that the two disciples who encountered the risen Lord there were the only people on the road. Jesus was well known in the region because of the recent events, as documented by the disciples’ dialogue with Him. What did the other people on the road see?
This was not recorded for us. However, I doubt very much that they saw the disciples talking to no one, i.e. carrying on conversation with an invisible or imaginary person. Yet I also doubt very much that they saw them conversing with a man who looked exactly like Jesus prior to the Resurrection.
(If they had seen either of these things, would that not have drawn a great deal of attention? The former would have caused concerns about ghosts or spirits. The latter would have drawn people to ‘come see that fellow who was crucified a few days ago – look – he’s alive!’)
Hence, what seems most plausible is that they saw the two disciples carrying on a conversation with an ordinary looking man who did not draw their attention. This seems especially probable, given the disciples’ own admission that they did not know it was Him until later.
Much has been speculated about this lack of recognition of the resurrected Jesus, most likely because it makes our logical, Western minds vaguely uneasy. If even His closest friends didn’t know it was Him right away, how can we be sure it really was Him?
This is not a minor detail. We need to know.
Yet the post-Resurrection Jesus could not have appeared looking exactly as He had before he died.
More important than the practical considerations (e.g. some would claim He hadn’t really died after all) is the meaning hidden within the Resurrection itself. If He returned appearing just the same, it would seem to suggest that He was just the same.
In other words, it would teach us that Resurrection was simply a return to the life that we already know. Returning to this life would hardly be salvation, certainly not the Kingdom of God for which we would give up our lives and everything we own.
And so the risen Lord appears. He is seen as human – or perhaps, more accurately Human, the fullness of what we were created for. Having crushed our sin and death with His humility and love, He reveals the new Life in Himself, in a new Body.
When He was recognized by His followers, it was not a recognition of the eye or the mind, but of the heart. He revealed freely and completely but not all could see that it was truly Him.
Some seemed to know Him almost immediately, others took longer. Some, like Thomas, needed quite a bit of help to believe it was true. And the risen Lord freely gave what was needed. He wanted to be known.
Yet not all recognized Him, not all knew Him. Many, perhaps, did not want to know Him – or were afraid.
It took a lot to believe – to know Him risen from the dead. And once knowing, it demanded a lot. It demanded everything.
And it still does.
Knowing the risen Lord, we can no longer live our old lives. The new Life is before us and we have so much to learn and to do.
But our Savior knows that – and He gives us all that we need.