Keeping Up Appearances

The Gospel readings for Easter Week focus on an empty tomb, but even more on the appearances of Jesus to his followers, the first witnesses to his Resurrection.

Strangely, however, the Church’s liturgy does not stress the apostles, but gives us stories on Monday and Tuesday of the women who encounter the Lord and then two random disciples on the Road to Emmaus on Wednesday. We must wait until Thursday to find Jesus coming to the Upper Room to greet those who will become the primary witnesses.

The details of these meetings will vary from one evangelist to the next as we hear from Matthew, John, and Luke, but there is a common theme of grief, shock, and loss of hope after the events of Good Friday, and then a mix of emotions on seeing Jesus – from awe and fear to disbelief and joy.

But what strikes me most about these readings is the way in which Jesus addresses the witnesses. In each case he shows impatience, and a kind of disappointment or exasperation, as if they should have expected his reappearance after earlier predictions in his ministry.

This impatience is most obvious in the case of Mary Magdalene on Tuesday. John’s account in chapter 20:11-18, records Jesus as asking: “Why are you weeping and who are you looking for?” Strange questions for a supposed gardener to ask of a woman in a graveyard, carrying anointing oils. And then there is the brusque way he pushes her away in those famous words: “Noli me tangere” (Do not cling to me).

On the road to Emmaus, the unrecognised Jesus is challenging, to say the least, when he responds to the two travellers expressing their scepticism about news of women reporting the resurrection.

“Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men, so slow to believe the message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer …” (Lk 24: 25). And then he goes into full teacher mode, correcting their ignorance and setting their hearts afire with his glorious truth.

The impatience comes to a head on Thursday’s continuation of the Emmaus story (Luke 24:35-48) with Jesus coming to the apostles and upbraiding them for their lack of belief in his physical resurrection. They think they are seeing a ghost! “Why are you so agitated and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?” (v.38).

The impatience of Jesus in these appearances is a divine impatience from a person who is clearly more in touch with the plan of His Father than any of these woebegone disciples. It is an impatience that goes all the way back to a young boy lost in the temple, confronting his mother with the words: “Why were you worried, don’t you know I must be about my father’s business?

Above all, the impatience is linked to the message he gave to Mary Magdalene in the garden, to tell his disciples that he is shortly going to ascend to the Father. This is the reason he seems to brush her off for clinging to him.

Jesus has come from the Father and longs to return. But he will not leave his friends orphans. He must go so that the Spirit can come and transform their lives from fearful, timid fugitives to the kind of witnesses who becomes bold preachers, like Peter, converting thousands and healing in the name of Jesus, as given in the readings from the Acts of the Apostles these days.

The Resurrection of Jesus and the message of Easter is that there is a new age dawning, the beginning of a new creation, the Kingdom of God, with Christ the King directing things from the right hand of His Father through His Spirit, until the same Jesus will come again in glory to judge the World and finally establish that kingdom on earth.

Why weep? Why doubt? Jesus is fully alive. He is victorious over sin and death. There is no need to be afraid. Alleluia!

Kieran Cronin OFM