The Day After
It's the day after Easter. "Christ Is Still Risen! He is Still Risen Indeed!"
But sometimes it takes a while for a new reality to sink in. We know this. We have gone through changes in life, and the bigger the change the more parts of our thinking have to have time to adapt and re-learn. "I was sad when they said to me, come let's update your computer operating system." (Loose Paraphrase pf Psalm 122:1)
The disciples saw Jesus that first Easter later in the day when the two returned from Emmaus. (Luke 24:33-35) As they were telling how Jesus was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, Jesus Himself stood among them. Listen to the struggle of their minds to grasp the changes of death undone, the tomb broken and the actual resurrection of Jesus.
"But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit." (Luke 24:37)
"And while they still disbelieved for joy ..." (Luke 24:41)
After eating a piece of fish and telling them it was all told and predicted in Moses and the prophets,
"Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures". (Luke 24:45)
It takes us a while, doesn't it?
I heard once, years ago, Oprah describe "confirmation bias." She said people could be boarding a plane and see a large hole in the wing. But because they figure the pilots and mechanics know what they are doing they somehow don't even notice. They see what they expect to see. It is amazing how we can completely miss something, and it can be dangerous. It takes a lot to break us loose from seeing what we expect to see.
Is that why the two on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus? Because they were so convinced it couldn't be. Is that why Mary Magdalene outside the tomb thought Jesus was the gardener and asked where he had put the dead body of Jesus? Because it just does not happen -- a crucified, executed man just doesn't come back to life open the tomb from the inside and head out?
Is that why we are reluctant and hesitate? Because we have become so used to thinking in this-world patterns of the simply physical and material existence; and it is difficult to shift and think as those who are actually in the beginning of eternal life; who are strangers here, pilgrims looking forward to the heavenly city like Abraham is described in Hebrews 11 (verse 10).
There is an assignment I have given confirmation classes through the years. It goes like this:
Look forward to the day after Jesus returns, after judgment day. A whole lot happened the day before. And now you are living forever. Make a list of three things you want to do "the day after." I have gotten a lot of interesting answers. Some were adventurous. Some were about long separated family members. (The most unique, by the way, was "Jump out of an airplane without a parachute." And then he defended his answer: "You said I was living forever.") ((Note: If you are reading this you know who you are!)) But why this assignment? The purpose was to teach how living in eternal life has a pattern to it that is so completely different from our pattern of life now. It is a struggle to even try to think in such a different way.
So how do we adapt to such a complete change in reality as happened with breaking the tomb, undoing the pattern of sin, and death no longer being the final reality? When you read the last chapters, Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21, (Seriously, read those "last chapters") you see disciples struggling to get their minds around something so completely different that they sometimes look more than a little foolish. They were out of their depth. But then so are we, and that's part of what it is like following Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I am amazed. I struggle to "get" the full measure of the changes You have done to everything: rising so death is not the end; giving forgiveness so I am Yours; making heaven my own and eternity my future. Help me to live with the joy of forgiveness and the boldness of Easter. Amen.
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.