Greetings, SBT Readers!
On this, the Third Sunday of Easter, the joyous message, "He is Risen!" is in painful juxtaposition with a news stream that is filled with stories of mass shootings, hate crimes, and the use of deadly force by some police officers, especially in encounters with minorities. Here in Chicago, the release of videos showing that thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo had his hands up when a police bullet took his life has caused public outrage. Once again, demonstrators have taken to the streets, with community leaders demanding answers. In Minnesota, tensions are also running high after the shooting death of twenty-year-old Duante Wright during a traffic stop, just miles away from where George Floyd was murdered a year ago; and in Virginia, the vicious police assault on Lt. Nazario during another traffic stop has sent shock waves across the country.
"He is Risen!" As Christians, we cannot let violence and death be the final word, nor can we separate our religious beliefs from our civic responsibilities. Just as we believe that Jesus rose from the confines of the tomb, so we ourselves are called to lead "risen" lives -- that is, intentional lives based on love, hope, and the belief in ultimate meaning, "He is Risen!" is not just a cry of jubilation but a challenge to all of us to help our society rise above a culture of death. Each of us can "do" something whether it be working for tighter gun legislation, advocating for police reform, signing a petition, joining a protest, volunteering with programs for high-risk youth, donating to not-for-profits promoting peace and justice, or -- last but not least-- praying for an end to all the senseless killings. Given all that is happening around us, the only "non-option" is to do nothing.
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
In each of the Resurrection narratives, the disciples came to believe in a variety of ways. For some, it was a gradual process (beholding the empty tomb and then hearing a witness' account or seeing Jesus for themselves); for others, belief depended upon the physical presence of the Risen Lord and being able to touch his wounds. Here is a brief analysis of these differences:
The two disciples who had encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus knew him in the breaking of bread; however, even before he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and shared it with them, their hearts were burning as he broke open the scriptures, explaining the prophecies concerning the sufferings that the Messiah had to face. They knew Jesus through ritual action, through scripture, and at a heart level (Lk 24:13-35).
The eleven and those gathered with them had already heard the good news from Simon Peter (Lk 24:34). Though in the longer ending to Mark's Gospel, the eleven neither believed Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:11) nor the disciples who had returned from Emmaus (Mk 16:13), according to Luke, they evidently believed Simon Peter's testimony. They knew Jesus through the testimony of a credible witness (Lk 24:34).
Later, when Jesus appeared in their midst, they were able to see his wounds, touch him, and observe him eat. Then, their belief was also based on their own experience and observations (Lk24:16-44; Jn 20:20; Jn 20:24-29).
In John's account of the Resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary of Magdala who mistook him for the gardener. She knew him when he called her by name (Jn 20:16).
Interestingly enough, the disciples in Matthew 28 must have considered Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph to be credible witnesses since they headed to Galilee, as instructed. They believed because of the women's testimony (Matt 28:16).
And what is the basis for our belief? None of us ever witnessed the stone rolled back, the empty tomb, and the burial cloths neatly folded inside. Nor have we been greeted by angelic visions and tidings of great joy! We do not have the advantage of being able to see and touch the Resurrected Jesus, nor can we observe him eating in our company. Unlike Mary of Magdala, few of us can claim that we have literally heard the Risen Christ call us by name. All this being said, perhaps it is the two disciples en route to Emmaus whose experience is the most relatable. Like them, we can recognize the presence of Jesus in the proclamation of God's Word and in the breaking of bread; moreover, our hearts, like theirs, can "burn" in response to his presence. Just as the disciples invited their companion into their home to share a meal and find shelter for the night, so we can invite him into the sanctuary of our hearts. Then, we, too, can become credible witnesses as we share our stories of faith with those who are struggling to believe.