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.

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