The Easter morning account from John’s Gospel sets a pattern that is repeated in all the accounts of Jesus post-resurrection appearances. Jesus appears – he’s not recognized – but then, in an instant, ears and eyes are opened, and the Lord is revealed.
In most of these accounts, the disciples typically come off looking like dimwits – or, to use the kindlier description of the scriptures – as being “slow to grasp.” But are they? Really?
Most of us don’t come to faith through a purely intellectual exercise. Certainly, it wasn’t how the disciples came to a renewed faith. In their case, faith was GIVEN – in a flash of recognition – in the calling of a name, in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of a seaside breakfast. In each instance, faith was “given.” It was not some trophy for evidence well tallied – for a job well done; but rather, it was a gift, offered, received and then shared.
The Easter Gospel reminds us that faith always comes as an unexpected gift – a gift that is often most accessible to those whose hearts have been broken open by intense longing and profound disillusionment. In the space of a few short days, Jesus’ disciples had been lifted from the midst of a street parade and dropped into the middle of a funeral procession. But it was these aching ones that Jesus sought out, on several occasions; with “words that burned,” with the bread of life. And in their neediness they recognized Him. In the midst of their hurt, faith was awakened and the Lord was revealed.
As I recall the biblical stories of God’s dealings with people, as I think about the faith stories of friends and fellow believers, and my own faith story, it seems that this has always been true. We are more likely to encounter the thin spaces between us and God when we have abandoned any illusions we hold concerning our strength, competence or control of our lives. It is when we are most keenly aware of our own poverty of spirit that we become most accessible to God’s self-revelation.
Like you, I have days where I am frightened, fearful and frustrated; days when I wonder where it is that the Lord can be found! But perhaps I need to remember that, as for the disciples of old on the Emmaus road, the burning ache within my heart may be a righteous burn signalling the presence of the Risen Lord.
These post resurrection stories of Jesus’ encounters with the disciples are more than just their stories. They are also the church’s story; my story and your story. They are not stories that “we Christians explain” so much as they are stories that “explain we Christians!” So fear not; the Lord is near! Alleluia!