Easter Sunday, Year B
- What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us (1 Jn. 1:3)
From time to time it occurs to me to ask myself: Why did the risen Christ appear only to a few chosen witnesses? Had he appeared to more people, more of his contemporaries would have become his followers, right? The task, too, of preaching to the people would have been less difficult for those he had commissioned to do so and they would not have to contend with a bigger number of incredulous opponents. Had the risen Jesus let himself be seen by those people to whom he had preached and whom he had fed in the wilderness, wouldn’t these have become dauntless and convincing apologists of the resurrection?
But then difficulties come to mind also. Would the appearance of the Risen One have really been of interest to those who had benefited from the multiplication of loaves and fishes? Having eaten, they proclaimed he was truly the Prophet who was to come into the world. But it turned out they were not as nearly interested in seeing signs as in having their fill of food. And would the enthusiasm and euphoria of the moment, on the part of those privileged with an apparition of the risen Jesus, truly translate into single-minded stability? One can wonder how many of those who had acclaimed Jesus with a refrain of “hosannahs,” proclaiming him the Davidic messiah, later clamored for his crucifixion. And had Jesus appeared to more people, would they have recognized him for sure? Not even the disciples on their way to Emmaus recognized him right away. Other disciples continued to doubt, even with Jesus in their midst (Mt. 28:17; Lk. 24:41).
“To see is to believe,” then, does not always apply. The indifferent to the Scripture who make no attempt to understand it, and consequently are likewise indifferent to poor Lazarus and do not attempt to understand him, will not be persuaded even if someone should rise from the dead. The apparition of the risen from the dead does not guarantee faith or even recognition. Even among those who see, there will be those who may end up saying that it is a ghost or a mere figment of the imagination. So, instead of having these as tireless partners in the task of witnessing to the resurrection, the believer will find them to be the more difficult folks to convince. True, in the case of Saul, the apparition led to conversion. But the apparition does not suffice by itself nor does it lighten the load of those who should be ready to give an explanation, with gentleness and reverence, to anyone who asks them for a reason for their hope (1 Pt. 3:15).
There is need for more than just the apparition, something that, as hard a saying as it may sound (Jn. 6:60-66), makes a witness to the resurrection gentle and reverent, and therefore, less annoying. There is need for communion, for fellowship.
Yes, communion. The eyes of the disciples on the way to Emmaus were opened and they recognized him only at the breaking of the bread. The disciples’ doubts were allayed when Jesus approached them and, through the great commissioning, shared with them his authority and ministry. Jesus healed the fears, the incredulity and the hardness of heart of those who refused to believe when he sat down at table with them, ate with them, and showed them his hands and feet, letting them touch him and feel his flesh and bones. Mary of Magdala’s recognition of Jesus began when he called her by name of Mary and she turned to fix her gaze on him and said to him, “Rabouni.”
Even with an apparition, then, it appears that no revelation takes place without communion. Apparition leads to revelation only if the former is taken not so much as a lesson in class but as an invitation to love. The classroom teacher is content with the students’ mental assent to the lesson. The lover, on the other hand, expects not only mental assent, but more, total and integral surrender, that is to say, of heart, soul, and mind, and with all the strength and whole-heartedness that the one invited to love is capable of.
I think Father Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., renowned patrologist and preacher, deals precisely with such a surrender when he speaks of the need that theology and spirituality converge, as they did in the more remarkable of early Christian theologians (cf. “Nourishing Head and Heart” in the March 20, 2006 issue of America). Origen, according to Burkhardt, and St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Leo the Great, and St. Gregory the Great as well “were searching not only for ideas about God; they were searching for God’s very self, struggling for union with divinity.” The Jesuit points out, too, that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are not primarily an intellectual enterprise, but rather, an experience. Ignatius asks that one walks with the Jesus of Nazareth, talks with the Jesus of Jerusalem, suffers with the Jesus on the cross, rises with Jesus from death, so that Jesus may work within him or her as a laborer, and the two become work partners.
And if the person invited to love, responding in such total surrender, eats and drinks with the lover, lives together him, and remains in communion with him in everything, including in his identification with poor Lazarus at the gate, with poor undocumented immigrants at the border, then he or she becomes indeed a commissioned witness to the resurrection.
A very blessed Easter!