Easter: Not Recognizing the Risen Christ
The very core of Christianity is the amazing tenacity of the believers to assert the impossible – a man publicly tortured to death rose from the dead. What is even more surprising is that they did not recognize Him.
Seeing loved ones after they are dead is not that uncommon among those stricken with grief. According to psychologists, this delusion always produces an immediately recognizable image of the dead person.
One of the most affecting scenes in the Gospel is the encounter between that most faithful of disciples, Mary of Magdala, and the Gardener in the Gospel According to St. John, Chapter 20: 10-18.
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
In the the other encounters of the disciples with the Risen Christ, there is a similar pattern. The very people who lived with Him on a daily basis, shared His travels, and even argued with Him, didn’t recognize Him. The reality was so much beyond a delusion of grieving friends and followers, so much beyond irrational expectation, that we only get a glimpse of how preposterous it was in the expressed doubts of Thomas. (John, chapter 20)
More than any other event in the Gospels, the stories of the empty tomb, the encounters, the general chaos that occurred is hard for us to fathom, let alone appreciate, since we have heard the story so many times. The story of the suffering and death of Christ is always muted for us because we know how the story ends. The men and women who followed Jesus were more bewildered and confused on that first Easter because what they heard was so outlandish.
The term for Easter in Romance languages drives from Passover – “Pascua” in Spanish and Italian, and “Paques” in French. Since the English term doesn’t bear this heavy direct reference to Passover – the Passover of the Lord – we can miss a key fact of experiencing the Resurrection – being led out of bondage is a tumultuous, confusing, and fearful process. We can cope with grief, disillusionment, and grinding oppression, finding comfort in cynicism, skepticism, or addiction. Resurrection for us is only a painful beginning, an inconvenient surprise, getting stretched on a rack of hope.
Having seen the worst, Mary of Madgala, like us, could conceive of only the worst when she saw the empty tomb. These glorious “men” in white must have taken the only memento left of the Teacher whom she so desperately loved. Where was his body? She had come to do the courageous and loving act allowed to women of her time. But there was no body.
Everything shattered when she heard her name, in a voice that no other could have uttered. Her love would only cause more problems. Are we ready for that?