They thought they were seeing a ghost. They did not recognize the truth of his presence with them. They were terrified by this thing that was happening that they had no context for and nothing in their life could prepare them for. Jesus’ words, though they were intended to prepare them, did not prepare them, the scriptures that had been explained could not prepare them. They couldn’t really believe what they had been told because they hadn’t seen anything like it before. And as a result, they simply did not, could not recognize him.
And that’s very real, isn’t it? We don’t see the things we don’t expect to see. It is hard for us to recognize the things that are outside of our experiences. We have a hard time assimilating those things that are “other” than what we believe, know, and expect. Mary at the tomb didn’t recognize Jesus at first, and in the story for today, the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost. These are not to be wondered at. I think we would all do the same if someone we loved and knew had died suddenly appeared among us. Because they had no context for believing in a resurrection, they simply did not, could not recognize him at first.
So then the question becomes, how do we recognize the Holy One in our midst? If Jesus were resurrected or were to return among us today, how would we recognize him? How would we know him?
Mary recognized Jesus when he called her name. The disciples knew Jesus by the familiar behaviors he did – eating with them, talking with them, sharing scripture with them. They recognized him, in other words, by his love for them. By the love in his voice when he spoke Mary’s name. By the love he expressed by acting with his disciples as he always did – honestly, but with comfort, eating with them, sharing with them, being with them.
I’m reminded of a poem I shared once before:
The man whispered, "God, speak to me" and a meadowlark sang.
But, the man did not hear.
So the man yelled, "God, speak to me" and the thunder rolled across the sky.
But, the man did not listen.
The man looked around and said, "God let me see you." And a star shined brightly.
But the man did not see.
And, the man shouted, "God show me a miracle." And, a life was born.
But, the man did not notice.
So, the man cried out in despair, "Touch me God, and let me know you are here."
Whereupon, God reached down and touched the man. But, the man brushed the butterfly away .
and walked on.
A young and successful executive was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something.
As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, a brick came smashing into his side door! He slammed on the brakes and backed the Jag up.
The angry driver jumped out of the car, grabbed the nearest kid and pushed him up against a parked car shouting, 'Just what the heck do you think you're doing?' he yelled. That's my NEW car! That brick you threw is going to cost you a lot of money...' he fumed. 'Why did you do it?'
The young boy was apologetic. 'Please, mister... I'm sorry but I didn't know what else to do,'
He pleaded, 'I threw the brick because no one would stop...'
With tears streaming down his face, the boy pointed to a spot just around a parked car.
'It's my brother, 'he said. 'He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair,' he sobbed. 'I can't lift him up.'
The boy asked the stunned executive, 'Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair? He's hurt and he's too heavy for me.'
Moved beyond words, the driver hurriedly lifted the disabled boy back into the wheelchair, then took out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at the fresh scrapes and cuts.
A quick look told him everything was going to be okay.
'Thank you and may God bless you,' the grateful boy told the stranger.
At a loss for words, the man simply watched the boy push the wheelchair down the sidewalk toward their home...
It was a long, slow walk back to the Jaguar.
The damage was quite noticeable, but the driver never bothered to repair the dented side door.
He decided to keep the dent as a reminder. 'Don't go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention!'
Or in the context of today, we need to be careful to not be so stuck in our images of what things are, in our expectations of what is that we can’t hear what’s actually being said. And we can’t see it when God is right in front of us.
One of my very favorite lines in the very first episode of Joan of Arcadia occurs when Joan sees God and talks to God for the first time. She wonders if there is something special about her that allows her to see God when others don’t. She asks God, “Why are you appearing to me?” To which God responds, “I am not appearing to you. You are perceiving me.” The truth of that hits me often. God is all around. God is all around. But do we perceive God? Do we perceive God?
Three years ago I wrote in a newsletter article about a time when Jasmyn was really struggling. It was right before our world came crashing to pieces, and yet my very intuitive “almost twelve year old” was struggling with a sense that her world was about to be irrevocably changed. She was grieving her childhood and the naiveté of that childhood. She was grieving the easy vision of life, the vision that everything could be fixed with a wave of a wand, and that we could all live happily ever after without scars or trauma. She talked about her fears that a tornado would hit, that there would be a disaster, that all of her life would change in a second and everything that she counted on would be different. And that tornado was about to hit, changing everything. There was nothing she could do to control it, to change it, to prevent it. And it caused her to wonder about the very point of life. But in the midst of all that pain and struggle, all that angst and fear and wondering, all of a sudden the most beautiful butterfly landed on the ground in front of us. “Oh look!” she exclaimed with sudden and deep joy. And I found myself saying, “God sent you a butterfly, Jasmyn. There is your answer from God. There is joy, there is beauty, even in the hard times. And God is bringing that to you now.” Jasmyn turned and looked at me and suddenly she was sobbing in my arms, just sobbing and holding on, as if her life depended on it. So we stood there on the sidewalk, Jasmyn crying, watching this beautiful butterfly and just being together. God knows our pain – God suffered on the cross. The disciples felt that pain too when Jesus died, when they felt their hopes crumbled, their lives irrevocably. But God appeared for them and God appears for us and does bring the butterflies. If we keep our eyes open, we will see them. It is often in the hardest times that God is most near to us, touching us, offering us beauty and a deeper glimpse.
But we have to be open to seeing it. We have to keep our eyes open.
Jesus was recognized by his love. By his calling Mary’s name, by his eating and being present with the disciples.
We too, as Christians are to be known by our love.
We see God through our love. We show God through our love. My prayer then is that all of us may be given the eyes of love with which to see, and the hands of love with which to act. Amen.