Little Resurrections–Big Awakenings
April 23, 2017
There are those times in life when the earth itself seems to shake under our feet. What we expected to happen isn’t what is happening. What we have prayed for and hoped for isn’t what is coming to fruition. Such circumstances can engender fear and cynicism in the hardiest of hearts. Which of us has never experienced this?
So it was for Jesus’ male disciples after the resurrection. The Empty Tomb didn’t initially solve much for them. After all, they didn’t see Jesus alive. It was just the women who reported this sighting, and that could very well have been an apparition or fantasy in their minds. Seeing is believing, and they didn’t see anything. Yes, Peter investigated their claim. He saw the Empty Tomb with the grave cloths folded inside. According to Luke’s Gospel, Peter then ran off, amazed (Luke 24:12). But he didn’t see Jesus, and the rest saw nothing.
In the meantime, images from the past several days couldn’t stop running through their minds. Trauma does that to a person. They were horrifying images–Jesus’ frustration with them in the Garden, when they kept falling asleep and he really needed them to watch and pray. Angry crowds. Betrayal, arrest, torture, public execution. These men had pinned all their hopes on Jesus. They were convinced he would lead the revolution against Rome and restore Israel to autonomy and greatness. They had even left their families and livelihoods to follow him the past three years.
What in the world had happened? What in the world was next? Why in the world was the tomb empty? Were the women believable, in their insistence that they had seen Jesus? That was questionable, to say the least. Chances were, if the authorities arrested and executed Jesus for sedition, they were next.
It is no surprise after these events that we read in John’s Gospel, “It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.” The religious authorities had colluded with the Roman authorities to get Jesus arrested and killed. The male disciples didn’t know whom to trust, besides one another.
Fear produces reflexive reactions. It produces amygdala hijackings in the brain that block rational behaviors. It can become contagious, lending itself to instinctive tribal behaviors. Fear is a potent political weapon. We are all aware of its reach. We have seen it so much lately.
Are the female disciples also targets of the religious and political authorities? Not likely, in Jesus’ day. The men have valid fears of their own, and no direct testimony of the resurrection. Jesus has been crucified for insurrection, and they are part of his posse. Enough said.
At just this point, who appears through those locked doors but Jesus? It is quite a shocking turn of events, and the disciples are taken aback. After-death encounters come in many forms, according to those who study such matters (see “After Death Communication: Final Farewells,” by Louis E. LaGrand, Ph.D.).
Jesus arrives with no words of recrimination about the cowardice and obtuseness of these disciples throughout the past week. Let’s sit with this thought for a moment. His compassion and forgiveness are palpable. The disciples are touched to the depths. Jesus shows them his hands and side, breathing the Holy Spirit upon them. He speaks of sending them as he has been sent. He encourages them to forgive the sins of others, and then he disappears.
Now it is their turn to offer direct testimony to Thomas, who was not present. These men did not believe the testimony of the women, and now Thomas does not believe their testimony, either. “I have to see Jesus’ hands and feet to believe it!” is his basic approach.
A week later, these disciples are gathered once again in a locked room. This time, Thomas is with them. They still seem quite fearful of the authorities. Jesus passes through the doors, speaking words of peace, as he did previously. He meets Thomas right where he is, inviting him to view Jesus’ hands and feet. The doubting disciple is overcome, proclaiming, “My Lord, and my God!”
All of these encounters are steps along the journey of waking up. As I looked at hymns, litanies, and other readings for the Sunday after Easter, I discovered that very few embody the push and pull between fear and hope, doubt and faith, that the followers of Jesus actually faced in the days after the resurrection. It was not all glory, joy, and hallelujah!
The male disciples see Jesus, yet they still cling to their old ways of interpreting his mission. Weeks later, these same followers ask Jesus at the scene of his Ascension, “Lord, will you at this time give the Kingdom back to Israel?” (Acts 1:5b)
It takes Pentecost, Cornelius the Gentile, the Jerusalem Council, the conversion of Paul, Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles, the Ethiopian eunuch, persecutions, and a whole host of other experiences to transform their way of Seeing. Even for the disciples turned apostles–powerful emissaries of the Good News in the early church–it takes countless little resurrections to create big awakenings.
I feel a real kinship with these early Jesus followers as they struggled to make sense of a Time of Deep Transition. We, too, are living in such days. Periods of great danger are also ones of great promise. Times of fear and cynicism also give way to experiences of awakening and transformation.
We are not alone. The Spirit of the Living God is blowing fiercely in our midst and around the world, sparking new relationships, new solidarities, new witness, new life. As we inhabit both the world of welcoming the stranger and that of becoming the stranger, we and our neighbors are being offered the possibility of being transformed together.
Little resurrections, one after another over time, create big awakenings. That is what happened with the disciples, and that is what is happening with us. Amen.