I began to see a common thread in the resurrection appearances — something that I can relate to. Jesus himself names this common element: a lack of faith, and stubbornness or “hardness of heart.” If I can understand why it was difficult for the followers of Jesus to believe, I thought to myself, I might be able to understand why it is difficult for me.
The first thing I noticed in the Gospel accounts is that those who saw the Risen Lord mistook him for someone or something else. When something without precedent (Jesus’ resurrection) occurred, they made assumptions based on what was familiar to them.
The disciples assumed that Jesus was dead in the same way that everyone else is dead after they die. They expected that Jesus’ dead body would stay dead, that they would have access to that body in its tomb, that they would never encounter Jesus or hear him speak again, etc. So, they made logical conclusions based on this assumption. Mary Magdalene believes his body has been moved from the tomb and then, when she sees Jesus, believes he is the gardener. The disciples on the way to Emmaus think Jesus is a fellow traveler, and the apostles think he is a ghost.
I so often do the same thing. I live my life based on logical assumptions about what is familiar to me. This modus operandi plays itself out in so many ways. I react based on what I presume another is feeling. I think I know what another wants to say and so I stop listening, or I prepare an answer based on my theory. I plan for the future with the ideas I have regarding what will happen. And when these assumptions are shattered, I have difficulty accepting reality.
Jesus’ disciples were going through the same thing (only magnified exponentially due to the wonders being revealed to them.) Jesus was inviting them to believe in something they had never experienced before. In order to do this, they had to suspend their own assumptions, change their thinking. The disciples had to come to understand the truth of God becoming man in Jesus through whom all created reality has its origin. Jesus was not dead like everyone else, but still alive and in their midst.
Testify to life
Once the disciples had personally encountered the Risen Lord, and their unbelief was transformed into belief, they were able to share the news of what they had witnessed. Mary exclaims, “I have seen the Lord,” and the disciples announce to Thomas: “We have seen the Lord!” Had they stayed incredulous, they would never have been able to testify to Jesus life, death and resurrection. They would have been left with their own personal assumptions. Now, however, they are able to move forward and embrace the Lord as the one to whom they turn to in order to interpret their own lives and the world around them. Furthermore, understanding Jesus as their paradigm for being human, having faith in him and invoking him enables the disciples to do the same miraculous deeds that Jesus did. Things that are not possible for almost all of us — healing the blind and the lame or raising the dead — became ordinary in the lives of the disciples. They are now Christians who can share the story of Jesus and invite others to make the same journey of faith.
As a Christian, I too am invited to suspend what I believe to be true in order to embrace what is true. This is Easter Faith. But it’s not easy faith. I often find myself fighting the reflex to make assumptions based on my limited knowledge and experience. I’m called — we’re all called — to make the Risen One the point of reference. I wonder what repercussions this would have in my life. It’s obvious that it is possible — it was possible for the disciples. So, now I am left with the question: How will my life be transformed once I allow all of my assumptions to be shattered and can truly say, “I have seen the Risen Lord”?