By Corinne Winter
It’s Easter! The season of Lent is past and we would like to put it behind us as we do the long crazy winter we have endured. Flowers bloom on altars that have looked so bare. Alleluia returns to our liturgical vocabulary. The odd, short-lived and apparently false triumph of the Palm Sunday procession is replaced by the true victory of the cross and resurrection. Christ lives. All is joy.
Or is it? After an intense weekend of celebration, we turn to see the world still in desperate need of transformation. Jesus’ first followers are depicted as having comparable experiences. Elated at the news that Jesus is alive, they remain fearful for their own lives. That fear seems well-founded, for it is not long until we read accounts of the persecutions they faced, and of stories that were created to contradict their testimony to the risen Christ. It doesn’t even seem to take long for arguments to arise among the believers themselves.
So, is the joy of Easter only momentary? Or perhaps it is just a hint of a distant future in which all will be well?
Theologians speculate in various ways about exactly what the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus might have been like for his followers, but there is broad agreement on some ideas. Those who saw Jesus after his death seem to have been, with one exception, those who already believed in him. There is no account of Jesus making a flashy entry by which he suddenly proved himself to crowds who had rejected him.
Even St. Paul, who did have a dramatic conversion experience, was already seeking to serve God — the same God revealed in Jesus, although Paul (Saul) had failed to recognize that. So seeing Jesus led to deeper reflection on his life and teaching rather than to a sudden turn around. Several accounts even indicate that disciples to whom Jesus appeared at first struggled to recognize or to acknowledge that it was he.
Further, each account of Jesus’ appearances includes a call to service. The women who go to the tomb are sent to tell other disciples. The disciples gathered in the upper room are commissioned to spread peace through forgiveness. Peter is told to feed the sheep. Those who gather to take leave of Jesus on the mountaintop are commanded to spread the good news throughout the world.
The world into which the Risen Lord comes is and remains a suffering world. It carries the wounds of sin and suffering as the risen body of Jesus carried the wounds of the cross. The joy of Easter endures to the extent that we accept it as a mission to a world in need.
I have recently been inspired by the reflections of several theologians on the call to see Jesus today. One told of a prisoner who wanted to learn to see Christ in each of those with whom he shared the table in prison. Another spoke of Mary Magdalene thinking Jesus was a gardener when she first saw him in the garden. He compared our experiences to Mary’s, asserting that we can be blinded by our expectations or prejudices and thus fail to recognize Christ where he is present in our world today.
Certainly, a Christian would not claim that our experience is the same as Mary’s or as those of the other disciples whose stories are recounted in the Gospels. Rather, as we reflect on the Gospels we can become aware of ways in which we are called to be open to experiences of Christ.
We are called to be faithful, to listen attentively to the teachings of our faith Tradition so that we can recognize them when we see them in action. We are called to see Christ in our flawed world, in faces that look ordinary or even ugly. We are called to be open, to hear the call to deeper insights when we may think we have a full understanding of the Word of God and of its implications for our lives. We are called to serve, to take the gifts we receive in faith not as personal privileges to be grasped but as bequests for which we are responsible, which we must share with the world.
(Corinne Winter is a professor-emerita of St. Ambrose University, Davenport.)