Saturday in the Octave of Easter
Even though the Apostles had heard that Jesus was risen from multiple sources, “they did not believe.” While we might be inclined to forgive them for not believing such an incredible event, after Jesus first appeared to the Apostles He “rebuked them for their unbelief and their hardness of heart.” Fear of being wrong can prevent us from knowing the truth. Fear and other concerns had kept the Apostles from believing. If their hearts had been more open, they would have been able to believe as Mary Magdalene and the other disciples had.
Every day this week, we have seen a different account of Jesus revealing the Resurrection. We have seen empty tombs, appearances on the road, and entrances through locked doors. We have seen Jesus reveal the Resurrection through the words of others, and we have seen Jesus reveal the Resurrection through appearing directly. The question now stands whether we will have the same hardness of heart as the Apostles, or believe in the truth that Jesus is trying to give us. Like the Apostles, our hearts can be hardened by any number of concerns. We must ask Jesus to open our hearts, so that we can rejoice in the truth of His Resurrection.
Friday in the Octave of Easter
Thankfully, Jesus is patient. We hear in today’s Gospel that “this was now the third time Jesus was revealed to His disciples after being raised from the dead.” Even this does not count Mary Magdalene telling the Apostles about the Resurrection, or Peter and John seeing the tomb for themselves. As with yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus even eats a fish to show them that He is truly risen. Nor will this be the last time that Jesus appears to them after the Resurrection. For 40 days after the Resurrection, Jesus will appear to the disciples, teach them, and help them to grow in their understanding of what has happened.
Jesus was persistent with the first disciples, and He will be persistent with us. On one level, we celebrate the Resurrection, we believe that Jesus was resurrected, and we look forward in hope to our own resurrection. But it is fair to say that none of us fully grasps it. It is an event so far beyond our ordinary experience that we cannot take it in all at once. Moreover, we will never really be done taking in this extraordinary event. Accepting the truth of the Resurrection is the work of the whole Christian life. But Jesus will help us believe. He will come to us as many times as we need, and in as many ways as we need, so that we can believe that He is risen. Jesus is patient, and will always give us faith.
Thursday in the Octave of Easter
Jesus wants to prove to the Apostles that He is not a ghost. We see this concern not just in this passage of Luke’s but in multiple passages throughout the Gospels. Both Jesus and the evangelists want us to know that Jesus still has a physical body. He can still be seen. He can still be touched. And, He can still eat. Everything we can do with our bodies, Jesus can still do with His—except that He is no longer bound by our limitations. Material reality has been glorified and drawn even closer to God than it had been before.
Often, when we think of religious experiences, we think of being lifted out of our bodies, and no longer having the same concerns for the material world. On one level, this makes sense, as Christianity reminds us that life is about more than the material world. But we are also reminded that life is not opposed to the material world. Jesus did not rise from the dead to overcome physical existence, but to glorify it. As we go about our day-to-day lives, then, whatever we are doing, we can ask ourselves whether what we are doing helps to glorify material reality, or just push matter even further away from God.
Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
The first reading shows us just how drastically the Resurrection can change our lives. Peter sees a crippled beggar, and has compassion on him. Perhaps if Peter had had any money on him, he would have given that to him. But what he is able to give instead is far better. Peter proclaims that “what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk!” Peter gives the man not just money that would have lasted for a little while, but healing that would last for his whole life. Jesus did this throughout His life on earth, and gave it to Peter and the others.
What Peter does should set a new standard for discipleship. When we think of being disciples, and of acting like Jesus, we think of loving others as Jesus asked. We think of care, compassion, the Golden Rule—and rightly so. But acting like Jesus can also mean so much more than this. It is casting out demons, giving people healing, and helping others experience God’s saving love. It is up to God whether we are called to perform miracles as Peter did. But we can always help others see the power of God’s love for them, and help them to be healed by that love in some way. Our call to act like Jesus goes far beyond doing our moral duty—and Jesus will give us everything we need to live out that call.
Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Hindsight is 20/20. We know today that Mary Magdalene had some truly exciting news to share with the Apostles—“I have seen the Lord!” We know that it is exciting because we know that it is true. But when the Apostles were hiding in the Upper Room, there was not much precedent for dead messiahs coming back to life. For Mary Magdalene to go to the Apostles and declare that Jesus is alive would have been more likely to earn her derision than praise. They might want to say that she was merely a woman in hysterics, overcome by emotion. And yet Mary Magdalene goes. She goes to bring the truth of the Resurrection to the Apostles, in spite of all fear, in spite of all consequences.
Mary Magdalene is a model of evangelization to us today. The idea of the Resurrection can seem crazy. In the Jefferson Bible, Thomas Jefferson was content to edit the Gospels so that they ended with the rolling of the stone in front of the tomb. Jesus had a good moral message, but conquering death is a step too far. When we tell the world that Jesus has risen, we say that he was not just a good moral teacher, at most the first among equals. We say that He has changed reality as no one else has, and no one else could. People might not want to believe us. They might deride us, and say we are too attached to Christianity. In such moments, we need the courage of Mary Magdalene to proclaim the Resurrection.
Monday in the Octave of Easter
In the Gospel today, the chief priests bribe the guards to keep quiet about Jesus’ Resurrection. We might wonder why they did this. If they had doubted that Jesus was the Messiah before, surely now they have the proof they need that He was preaching the truth to them. But things are a little more complicated than that. The chief priests are human, and motivated by all the same things as the rest of us. What would happen to them if they were proved wrong on such a colossal scale? What would their lives look like afterwards? Would they still have occupations to support themselves and their families? How would they have to change? The Resurrection would make concrete claims on their lives, and that is terrifying.
The same can be said of us. If the Resurrection is real, we need to live our lives a certain way. We need to accept that this world is not all that there is. We need to accept that physical death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. We need to take seriously everything that Jesus has said, since in conquering death He has clearly proven that He has authority to back up His words. Our lives cannot look the same as it would if we were not Christians, or as it would if the Resurrection had never happened. It means giving up a lot of control and power, and embracing truths we might want to ignore. The Resurrection is terrifying, if we think about it. The urge to squelch the news of the Resurrection is not just one that the chief priests faced, but one that can lurk in each of our hearts.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
The first words of Peter’s preaching, in the first reading for Easter Sunday, are “you know what has happened.” Peter does not start off by saying “you know the stories,” or “you know what motivates us.” He talks about “what has happened.” This gets right to the heart of the Christian claim. Something has happened, and we know it. God has burst into human history and altered it forever. When we speak of the Resurrection, we speak of a real historical event.
This is the amazing thing about Christianity. We do not say that if you believe, you will be a more motivated individual, you will be a better person, or that you will be more at peace with things—though all these things will hopefully happen. First and foremost, we say that if you believe, you will be more in touch with reality—you will know what has happened, and be able to act accordingly. And the reality is that God became a human being at a particular time and place, died, and then rose from the dead.
This reality is a lot for us to take in. Someone who was (among other things) fully human managed to conquer death. It is more than just a pleasant bedtime story, or one of those rumors that starts “this guy I know swears…” We have actual people and places we can point to, and a specific tomb in Jerusalem (now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) that should have a body but doesn’t. But if it is hard for us to grasp the reality, we can at least take comfort in knowing that the same was true of the disciples. All this week in the readings, we will see them experience the Resurrection and then question their own experiences, while Jesus comes to them time and again to help them believe the reality—a reality He has changed forever.
Saturday in the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time
For all of his blunders, Peter’s trust is quite amazing. The Gospel relates that at the Transfiguration, Peter “hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.” But in the midst of that terror and confusion comes an extraordinary statement of faith: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” Peter hardly knows what is going on, and in spite of his fear still says that it is good for them to be there. Peter may not know much, but he knows that.
Terror and confusion do not normally bring out the best in us. Some rise above their fear, but for most it brings panic and basic survival instincts. Seeing Moses and Elijah (long dead even then) probably only added to the apprehension. But Peter sees Jesus–he knows that his Rabbi is there. Even before the Father spoke from the cloud, Peter knew the goodness of his situation. Peter sees Jesus and knows it is good. It is fairly straightforward to see God in a moment of beauty or calm–it is much harder to do what Peter did, and see God in a moment of terror.
Friday in the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time
In a movie full of great lines, one of the greatest in The Princess Bride is when Westley says to the Princess “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Jesus is certainly not trying to sell us anything in today’s Gospel. The Cross is an inevitable part of the Christian life. We must take it up to follow Jesus, go beyond our own desires when we make choices, be willing to endure the shame of acknowledging Jesus publicly, and be willing to die. All this is bound up in a life of discipleship. Then again, all of this is bound up in life in general.
Westley is right that pain is a part of life. If we run away from pain, from sacrifice, from shame, from death, we only run away from life. No matter what we do, there will be struggle, there will be choices, and in the end, there will be death. Jesus does not ignore this, or try and wave it away with a magic wand. Our earthly lives, with all the difficulties they entail, are embraced and acknowledged. In terms of pain, the life of the disciple might be exactly the same as the life of anyone else. So what has Jesus changed in saying that we must take up our crosses and follow Him? That in our pain, we can follow Him.
Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
When Jesus rebukes Peter in today’s Gospel, He does so in a curious way. He says to Peter “you think not as God does, but as human beings do.” The rebuke is curious because Peter, being human, would be expected to think in a human way. How else would humans think? But the rebuke is even more curious because it reveals an expectation: you could be thinking as God does. In the midst of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter is a startling invitation to leave behind human thinking and take up divine ways of thinking.
Jesus takes our normal ideas of right thinking and throws them out the window. Our ideas of good thinking might be that our thoughts should be more altruistic, or more benign, or more loving–but still basically human ways of thinking. We don’t normally go from “I should think less about myself and more about others” to “the Son of Man must suffer greatly.” In his essay “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis observes that “God finds our desires not too strong, but too weak […] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.” Like Peter, we may be content with thinking and acting in our human ways, but Jesus is calling us to thinking and acting in His divine ways.