Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?
I’m guessing that one of the questions you either asked or were asked this week was some version of, “So, how was your Easter?” It certainly was the case for me.
In past years, we might have answered with a description of our celebrations, either at church or with family. This year, what I heard myself and others reflect upon were the moments when Easter felt real.
What prompted these moments varied: hearing a piece of music, sitting on the couch with family members to watch an Easter service, rising early to see the sunrise. Whatever the external prompting, in that moment we felt something–a connection, a presence, a brief lifting of the burdens we had almost forgotten we were carrying. They didn’t change our circumstances or that of our world. But we felt a change inside, however slight or fleeting.
I can’t say that all Christians had such an experience this year; nor are they exclusive to Christians. But if you had such a moment, I hope you can trust it as the gift it was meant to be for you. It’s consistent with what Jesus’ disciples experienced, according to biblical stories sometimes called “the resurrection appearances.” There are nine stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples after rising from the dead, all brief, mysterious, and reassuring.
The resurrection appearances could just as easily be called “resurrection moments.” For in each, there is a moment when the disciples realize the person they are speaking with on the road, or who is cooking them breakfast, or has suddenly appeared among them behind locked doors, is Jesus. In one appearance he speaks a word of peace. In another, he speaks of hope. In others, he offers the reassurance of forgiveness and his unconditional love. Then he disappears. Like for us, nothing in the disciples’ circumstances changes after each moment, but something inside them changes. They receive his peace, his hope, his forgiveness and his love.
I suppose the disciples could have interpreted their experiences as wishful thinking or the delusions of grief. But they didn’t, and over time their confidence in His abiding presence grew. “Lo, I am with you until the end of the age,” Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s gospel. And they wanted people like us to have something of the same experience, and know the power of Jesus’ love and presence. The Gospel of John is clear about this: “Now Jesus did other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and through believing you might have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
For the first disciples and for us, resurrection moments come and go, and life resumes seemingly unchanged. Even the most seasoned of Christians can wonder if they were real or what difference they make. That’s where faith comes in, in the sense of where we place our trust. Dare we trust those fleeting moments enough to be the guiding principle of our lives?
The Christian writer Cynthia Bourgeault, quoted this week by Richard Rohr, distinguishes between two kinds of hope: hope that is tied to outcome, an optimistic feeling that things will get better in the future, and what she calls “mystical hope” that seems to have a life of its own. Mystical hope isn’t tied to outcomes, she writes, but rather to a sense of abiding presence. We aren’t the source of that hope, but it is experienced within us, and it’s meant to sustain us through challenging times.
Abiding, mystical hope is what Jesus gives us in a resurrection, so that we might live from its strength. “It’s not something that will change your life in the short range, in the externals,” writes Richard Rohr. “Rather, it is something that will change your innermost way of seeing. From there, inevitably, the externals will rearrange.”
If Scripture is to be trusted, we will have more resurrection appearances, or moments, in the days to come–glimpses of reassurance, gifts of encouragement, and peace surpassing human understanding–in the midst of this heartbreaking time. Jesus’ presence and power can move through locked doors and touch our anxious, doubting hearts. He invites us to trust him, to believe in him, and to draw strength from his abiding presence. As we do, more of that mystical hope directs our living. Then we might become–through a word, a gesture, or a sacrificial act of love–carriers of a resurrection moment for others, an expression of the same abiding presence that keeps us going when we need it most.