“Remember as of yet they did not understand.”
It would seem from John’s account of the Resurrection, that the impact of Easter’s reality was not immediately apparent upon the disciples. The Beloved Disciple is said to have believed, but it is not clear what it was that he believed. Presumably he had an intuitive belief that something divine had occurred, but he had little understanding beyond that. And so, even for John the Beloved who believed, Easter did not seem to be a transformative experience. The next verse of scripture, not included in the lectionary, says that the disciples simply went away again to their own homes. Mark’s account concludes the resurrection story with the disciples fleeing for home, trembling in fear and bewilderment. Something had happened. It was not clear what that something was. What difference would this make for their lives? They did not know. Uncertain, afraid, and not sure how to respond, it was probably best not to do much of anything, but to return to the familiar and secure.
But the disciples would soon discover that neither the strong walls or locked doors of home could keep things as they once were. All that was familiar and secure was to forever change. They at first sought to explain Easter away. Empty tombs were nothing new. When Moses died in the desert, his body could not be found either. Perhaps Jesus’ body too had been carried by angels to heaven’s gates. They knew also of resurrections; Lazarus was brought back from the grave, and he walked among them as one of them. But soon they would realize Easter was not just an empty tomb; it was no mere resuscitation. They would discover that the Risen Christ represented a new dimension. Jesus was out of the grave, he would walk among them, and he would be one of them, but he would be decidedly changed and different. And with Jesus, everything in time, space, and reality was changed. A new realm of life was now open to all. A new order was being ushered in.
As disciples today how do we respond to the news of Christ’s resurrection? Are we like Mary Magdelene, our hearts longing to love and to be loved but still feeling lost and unsure. Like impetuous, impatient Peter, do we observe all the trappings, all the outward signs and symbols which tell us that something happened on Easter but we don’t quite get it? Are we like John, definitely committed and believing but hazy in our beliefs, not grounded in scripture? Or are we running scared, seeking safety in the comfort of our regular routine, knowing Christ is alive but if he shows up too close to home, what will we do then?
The reality of Easter, of the Risen Christ, sneaks up on you. Easter, for all the fanfare we have made it, is actually very subtle. There are no trumpets or fireworks. While everything is changed, yet nothing is changed unless we somehow respond; unless we finally allow ourselves as Mary to be embraced, unless we finally as Peter learn to stand still and reflect upon what we see, unless we finally like John dig a little deeper and ground our emotional experience in the Eternal Word, unless we say welcome to the Messiah at that moment he walks into our lives. Unless we do these things and more, Easter is only an empty ritual, a warmed over tradition.
Easter Sunday Acts 10: 34-43, Col 3: 1-4, Jn 20: 1-9
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.