Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ghost (Luke 24:36-37)



While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost" (Luke 24:36-37, Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2021)

What is a ghost but memory made wispy flesh?

They have good reason to fear this memory, the disciples. It comes to them clad in grief and guilt— their grief, their guilt, not his. They believed in him, or thought they did. They loved him, or thought they did. They left a lot behind to follow him. Then they left him. Terror pierces through the grief and guilt. Will their abandoned families take them back? Will their villages look at them with anything but suspicion, scorn, maybe pity if they’re lucky? Are boats and nets and tax collector’s booth still waiting, or has someone else taken them over? There they are in the upper room, the crumbs of the supper still on the floor, and they locked into an empty limbo, unable to go back, afraid to go forward.

And suddenly there he is, the reason for it all. They hope he is a ghost, mere memory made wispy flesh. He will haunt them all their days in any case, this man— surely no more than that? He died, after all, whatever he may have seemed to claim or promise. But . . . he will haunt them, clad in their grief and guilt, this man they believed in and loved and left before he could leave them. But you can live with ghosts and go about your business. The hardy reality of wives and mothers-in-law and children demanding to be fed, of nets and boats and clinking coins will hold the ghosts at bay until they fade. Except maybe at night when all the others are asleep and you’re not.

And here he is, ghost and nightmare, absolving them with a word: “Peace.” Well, he had always seen right through their blustering and swaggering to their fears and griefs and guilt. Perhaps they begin at this moment to allow a tiny fragile shoot of hope to break through the stone walls of their prison, their tomb.

Then he clinches it. He forces them to face the truth from which they’re hiding. He never has allowed evasion. Always truth with him. He makes them look at his hands and feet, touch them even. He makes them confront the fact of his wounds. They weren’t there to see him get them, you see, except John. Now he makes them face the thing they fled. The world-shattering reality of the cross, and of him hanging on it, beaten, bruised, bloody, dying, dead. It is not his strength he reveals to them there in that upper room. They have already seen and believed in that: the blind wondering at the sunlight, the deaf hearing their children’s voices, a seemingly dead girl hugging her mother and eating a bit of bread. It is not his strength they are forced to own now, but his weakness, which is theirs, his wounds, which are theirs, his mortality, which is theirs. Weakness not denied but accepted as the only source of strength for them. Wounds not refused but held open as the only source of healing for them. Mortality not rejected but embraced as the only source of life for them.

 At last they know him for what he really is.

And they are us.

Reprinted from Sauntering Through Scripture: A Book of Reflections by Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB. Published by The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2018. Reprinted with permission from the Liturgical Press.  Copyright 2018 by the Abbey of St. Walburga.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Long-Fingered Light (Easter)

 The Benedictine Nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga wish all of you the light, peace and joy brought from darkness by the Risen Christ--even as many are still overshadowed by the darkness of the pandemic and of the violence erupting in different places.  You are all in our prayers.

See Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-12; Luke 24:1-50; John 20:11-18

 Easter lies too far beyond our experience for us to grasp more than impressions of startling appearances by a Jesus who is but isn’t dead, is but isn’t a ghost, is but isn’t the familiar figure his followers knew so well. What was he like? Well, flesh but not flesh as we know it, wounded but not with wounds as we know them, transformed but not in any way we can really picture. He appeared unannounced in locked rooms, walked incognito with discouraged disciples, ate solid food but passed through solid walls. Conceptual explanations of the resurrection don’t help much more than our flawed images do. They make use of words we know, but they use them to expound a reality we don’t, not really.

   We’re in good company, to judge by the general confusion that seems to have left the first Easter Christians babbling contradictory accounts of who saw what when and who believed whom—or didn’t. A stammer was probably the most honest way for them to describe a reality into and over which they stumbled in happy but fearful discovery. Perhaps our own Easter alleluias are our contemporary way of stammering out a truth for which we have no coherent words.

 The risen Christ, transformed into the Fire hidden at the heart of human flesh, sheds a light so bright it blinds us. Paul discovered that on the Damascus road (Galatians 1:15-24). But he was not the first to learn it. Jesus’ resurrection appearances are stories of that light reaching out to touch one by one the dark places in which his early followers walked: the apostles’ fear, Mary Magdalene’s grief, Thomas’s angry doubt, Peter’s shame. Those stories console because the beloved Christ appears in person to cast light into murky experiences we too have known. Fear, grief, doubt, and shame are shadows through which we have all walked.

 But the story doesn’t end with those personal post-resurrection encounters. Jesus disappears from the scene at the Ascension, or seems to, but the Light does not. In the Acts of the Apostles we see a lame man, condemned to a lifetime of begging, spring up and walk at the sound of Jesus’ name (Acts 3:1-10). We recoil at an angry mob stoning Stephen, but Jesus appears to him in glory (Acts 3:54-60).  We hear of fights between Christians of differing ethnic origins settled by Peter’s creative wisdom (Acts 6:1-7). We see disciples jailed (e.g. Acts 5:1-20), apostles arguing policy (Acts 15:1-21), missionaries thrown out of town (e.g. Acts 14:11-19), communities split (e.g. 1 Cor 1:10-17). We see, in other words, all the dark corners in which Christians sometimes find themselves even now, some two millennia after the resurrection. The darkness of the New Testament Church is far from outdated.

In Acts, we do not see Jesus appearing to solve the problems, at least not as he did in the Gospels. Instead we see what he promised: the power of Spirit and Word working to enlighten flawed human beings to see things in new ways, to discover what it really means to “love your enemies as yourself,” to pick up pieces and put them back together in creative ways so that the image of God can shine more clearly in a world still deeply held in the grip of night.

 The Light still reaches long fingers from God’s hidden depths into our present shadows. I cannot really imagine the risen Christ. All my inner pictures seem unreal. But in the annals of the early Church, in the chronicle of the world, and indeed in the story of my own soul, I can see the Light at work. And that Light is very real indeed.

Reprinted from Sauntering Through Scripture: A Book of Reflections by Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB. Published by The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2018. Reprinted with permission from the Liturgical Press.  Copyright 2018 by the Abbey of St. Walburga.