We know that Easter is not just one day, but a whole season--seven Sundays long! We have a chance to listen to different accounts of the Resurrection. Last week we heard what St. John writes about Jesus appearing to the disciples. He remembers the disciples hiding for fear of getting arrested, and Jesus appears among them bringing his peace. This week we hear from St. Luke. He remembers things a little differently. The differences help us to know something more.
At the beginning of the Gospel reading, two disciples are telling the others that they have just seen Jesus alive. We wonder what the other disciples think about this.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
In St Luke's account, the disciples are scared, but they are not scared that they are going to be arrested. They are scared after Jesus appears. We wonder why this is so. Actually, St. Luke says that they are startled and terrified. We can understand why they might be startled. Are they expecting him to appear? They are having a discussion about Jesus, and then suddenly there he is standing there!?! Of course they are startled! We jump when something happens that is unexpected. We are startled.
But why should the disciples be scared? Not just scared, but terrified! They know Jesus, they love him--why should they be terrified? St. Luke tells us that they think he is a ghost. A ghost is a frightening idea. A ghost is imagined to be the image of someone who has died, someone who is not happy about dying. Perhaps Jesus is angry about dying. Perhaps he is angry that the sins of so many people cause him to die on the cross. Perhaps he is angry that the disciples ran away, that they said they did not know him, that they did not try to help. Who knows what an angry ghost might do?
But Jesus is not a ghost. He says,
“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Jesus lets them touch him. They can feel that he is real, not a frightening image. They see now that he is not a ghost, but it is really hard to understand this. It is so new for them to think that death is not the end, that there is life after death.
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
When he eats, they know. They have eaten many meals with Jesus; they know what he is like when he eats. Perhaps he has a way of smacking his lips when something tastes good. Perhaps he always gets a little bit of the food caught in his beard as he eats. They recognize him. This is not a ghost. He is alive for real.
He is alive and yet more fully alive than anything they have known before. Jesus is human like them, and yet he is something more. He is part of the earth, and yet also, he belongs to heaven. In Jesus, heaven and earth have met. This is Parousia. He is a Parousia person.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
This is not the first time that they have heard these things, but it is the first time that they understand. If they had understood before, they would have been expecting Jesus. They would know that he would rise to new life, not angry because he died, but full of forgiveness and calling people to repent of their sins--calling them to become more fully alive like him.
It is good to know that Jesus is fully alive.
It is good to know that in him, heaven and earth are united.
It gives us hope for us, for our loved ones, for the world.
It gives us the confidence to pray: