April 7, 2013
Some years ago, this season of Eastertide, the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, took on new meaning for me. I read the chapter on Easter in The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser. In it he describes Eastertide as a time to grow into the new life given us by Christ’s death and resurrection. I read his book at a time when I was struggling to make the transition to a new stance in life. I was moving from living life as a victim to living proactively. It involved a great deal of time and effort to make the change. His book gave me insight into the process of transformation taking place in me as I grew into my new way of life.
This year, my guide for Eastertide is Cynthia Bourgeault. In her book, The Wisdom Jesus, she notices that in the post-resurrection appearances Jesus teaches his disciples how to recognize him in a new way. He leads them through the transformation that enables them to see with the eye of their hearts.
Bourgeault says this is the season “to catch the drift of what Jesus is really inviting us to and to deepen our capacity to receive the intense spiritual energy available to us …as a catapult to our own transformation” (The Wisdom Jesus, p. 126).
Today’s reading from John’s Gospel starts us off on this Eastertide journey. At this point in the gospel, Peter and John have seen the empty tomb. John believes, but they both run off in fear. Mary has also seen the tomb, but she is so attached to finding Jesus’ dead body that she doesn’t recognize the live Jesus until he says her name. She tells the disciples she has seen Jesus, but that is not enough for them. They “know” that the only way he can be present to them is in the flesh, and they saw him die. They know that neither Mary nor anyone else will ever again see Jesus. They believe their relationship with him has ended with his death. They saw him die, and they know it is impossible for him to be present to them anymore.
Besides knowing that death is the end of relationships, something else blocks the disciples from seeing Jesus. Fear has so consumed their hearts that it keeps them from noticing that Jesus is still actually with them. The door to the room where they have gathered is shut and so are their hearts. Jesus is present, but they cannot perceive him. In their fear, all they can see is a ghost. We know the feeling. When we are afraid, there are ghosts around every corner. The disciples need to see Jesus’ physical body in order to identify his presence. They need to see some signs of continuity with the way they knew him before. So Jesus accommodates them; he shows them his hands and side which they saw wounded on the cross. With this sight they recognize him and he offers again the peace he promised. He breathes on them giving them the Holy Spirit. With their fear quelled and the eyes of their hearts open to his on-going presence, they can receive his peace, his Spirit and his commission to continue his work.
Now Thomas isn’t with the others when this happens, so we get a glimpse of how Jesus works with him a week later. Thomas, like the disciples before him is not going to take anyone’s word about seeing Jesus. Thomas, however, needs more than vision; he needs to touch the body of Jesus to know Jesus is really present. So when Thomas is back in community the following week, Jesus gives him what he needs in order to believe that their relationship continues beyond death. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not be unbelieving but believe.” We aren’t told that Thomas actually touches Jesus, but Jesus’ offer is enough. Thomas does come to know and believe the presence of God in Jesus.
Whether it seems to happen suddenly or takes place over time, Jesus wants to teach us how to become aware of his presence with us even after his death and resurrection. We come to this awareness by facing and working through those things in us that block our heart from love: things like fear, rejection, loss, self-hatred, inordinate attachments. Even what we think we know can block our hearts to his presence. When we face these blocks and let them go, we come to a new openness of heart. We receive new energy for life. We receive the Spirit that enables us to be about God’s work. This process happens again and again in our lives as Jesus continues to show us what blocks our hearts. Each year during Eastertide, we have the opportunity to become aware of what keeps us from receiving and giving love, from receiving and offering forgiveness. Slowly we learn to let the eye of our hearts be attuned ever more finely to the presence of Jesus among and within us.
Jesus gives us practices to tune our hearts to the reverberation of his love. He gives us the Eucharist that we can taste, touch, see and smell. We take in his presence and he teaches us from inside. He gives us works of mercy, acts of loving service that open our hearts in compassion. He gives us prayer in which he can show us the walls we have built around our hearts that he wants to dismantle. He gives us one another in community to call us to our deeper selves and support us in this transformation.
During this Eastertide may our hearts be tuned to recognize and receive the presence of the living Christ that surrounds us and permeates all creation.