“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
Today’s Gospel brings us into the reality of another of Christ’s resurrection appearances.
After last week’s Gospel about Thomas’ doubts and being asked by Christ to touch his wounds in order to believe, and Easter 1’s story of the meeting with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, today the third resurrection appearance is to all of the disciples and is the most radical.
They are all together, talking about the witness of the two who met him on the Emmaus road and failed to recognise him until he had explained the Scriptures and then broken bread with them. While they are talking they are aware that Jesus is among them and they are terrified, thinking him to be a ghost.
The Gospel writer is anxious to ensure that the first Christians would understand that Jesus’ resurrection is no mere ghostly appearance but a real person who has suffered and been raised from the dead. The Greek word used by the Gospel writer is pneuma – in Greek it has several meanings including “air in movement, blowing, breathing”, “that which gives life to the body, breath, spirit”,”a part of the human personality”. It’s interesting that this is the same word that would be used to denote the Holy Spirit.
But the early Gospel writers had to deal with early heresies in the Church, one of which was “docetism” which denied Jesus’ humanity and focused only on his divinity. And one of the earliest dogmas of the Church on which all the Church Fathers agreed (and which is incorporated in the creeds) was that Christ was fully human and fully divine.
So it is important that the Gospel writer makes it plain that the Risen Jesus has a physical not a ghostly presence and includes the beautiful little exchange, “touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then he asks for something to eat, an echo of another resurrection appearance when the disciples after a night of fishing find him on the shore of the lake cooking their breakfast. And the broiled fish eaten by Christ here and the bread in Emmaus are echoes of the feeding of the five thousand.
Not only Thomas, but also now all of the disciples are invited to place their hands in the open wounds of Christ.
These open wounds are the doors into the Christian interpretation of the Scripture: the Cross is to be experienced everywhere, in all time, from the Old Testament onwards. The open wounds are also the marks of our inability to embrace in love our enemies, to forgive those who have hurt us. And it is only when we touch those that cause us to “recoil” that we touch Christ. For the open wounds of Christ invite us to experience his Risen Life not as some past event, but as an event in which in the present we are fully participating.
Jesus has another objective to fulfil in this meeting with his disciples over and above ensuring they experience and recognise his risen physical body and believe in his mighty resurrection.
On the road to Emmaus Christ talks a great deal to Cleopas and his companion. Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus explains to them everything that has happened and how it was foretold in the Scriptures. He put it all into context.
Now in this meeting with them all, Jesus explains the same thing. Opening their minds he shows them how all that has happened to him has been foretold. And they must play their part in the Grand Plan, announced by God in the Scriptures, of bringing forgiveness and reconciliation to the whole world. Even the coming of the Holy Spirit has been promised in advance he tells them in verse 49. He is strengthening them for the mission to spread the news of redemption throughout the world.
Until now the gathered disciples are unable to recognise the holiness that stands among them – they are continuing to live, think and understand in the usual human dimension. They see a separation between spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, heaven and earth. When we make that separation we close our minds, deny ourselves the resurrected life for which Christ died, and we lose the sense of and ability to recognise the holiness in the world, in ourselves and in one another.
With Jesus’ resurrection God shatters human separation of His being from us, our limited understanding of where God’s life and energy are to be found and of how God works in this world. Resurrected life can never be comprehended, contained, or controlled by human thought or understanding. Jesus’ resurrection compels us to step outside our usual human understanding of reality and enter into the divine reality. It’s not enough that the tomb is empty. It’s not enough to proclaim, “Christ is risen!” It’s not enough to believe in the resurrection. We have to move from the event to experiencing the resurrection. We can only experience resurrected life by recognising the risen Christ among us. That is the miracle of Easter in all time – and outside of time.
To some there might seem to be a conflict here between the experience of Christ in the early Church and the role of Scripture in the foundation of the Church. Of course the Anglican Church has always stressed the importance of Scripture, tradition and experience in equal measure. And the Bible keeps challenging the Church to rethink its doctrinal traditions, to ensure a deeper obedience to and experience of Christ.
The resurrected life of Christ is revealed in the created order but is not bound by it. Christ’s resurrected body and life unite the visible and invisible, matter and spirit, humanity and divinity – not one or the other but both.
Then he opened their minds to understand …
It’s tough for the disciples; they are oscillating between joy and confusion, fear and elation, expectation and disbelief. And it is tough for us. Christ’s resurrection alone requires a leap of faith.
But with the leap of faith – touching the wounds, breaking bread and eating with him – we must also be radically open to the deep experience of the living, breathing Resurrection Life in every nook and cranny of our world and our being.
Continuing to experience the risen Christ, hearing his “Peace be with you” deep in our hearts, is our life-long work as Christians, making known that unconditional life, love and forgiveness of the resurrected life of Christ.
We must be ready to hear, see and touch before we can open ourselves to the one who stands in our midst offering us life.