A publication of Sacred Heart University
The Numbers Game
Breaking the Silence

God Raised this Jesus; of this We are Witnesses

In this Easter season spanning the fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, we listen again to the proclamation of the Resurrection and to stories that recount the slow birth of the early Christian community. The scriptures paint a picture of pain and confusion among Jesus’ disciples, their hopes dashed by his violent execution at the hands of Roman imperial power and egged on by religious authorities. His project, and any expectation they might have had of success, now seemed an abject failure. 

On Easter Sunday we heard how the women belonging to the community of Jesus’ disciples, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1; cf. Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55-56; John 20:1;), came to the tomb looking for Jesus on the first day of the week. The other disciples, all of whom had denied or abandoned Jesus following his arrest, stayed away in fear. Even these most faithful followers of Jesus were caught off guard by the angel’s message: “you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised up just as he said” (Matthew 28:5-6). Jesus defies all human expectation. The presence of the angel at the empty tomb attests to the impossibility of tying him down, of relegating him to the realm of the dead and confining him to the parameters of human hope.

Accounts of encounters with the Risen Jesus are stories, not of unfailing faith and insight, but more often of the disciples’ blindness, as they persistently fail to recognize him. One has Mary Magdela taking Jesus for a “gardener” (John 15:20); in another the disciples on the road to Emmaus take him for a fellow traveler, since “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Mary’s tears (John 20:11-13), her mixture of bewilderment, fear and joy at the angel’s news (Matthew 28: 8; Luke 24:4-5), convey the sense of grief they must have felt. The letting go of their hopes for a triumphant and powerful messiah and the slow process of re-educating their vision of faith had just begun. Still, in her fledgling faith and hesitant comprehension of resurrection, Mary accepts her mission to “go and tell the brothers” what she has seen and heard, and of Jesus’ call to set out for Galilee, where they, too will see him (Matthew 28:10). Her budding faith is enough to witness to his resurrection.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus responds to the incomprehension of the disciples with no little exasperation—“How foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” (Luke 24:25). As they recount their experience to him, they relate the basic elements for a confession of faith: how Jesus was a “mighty prophet,” “the one to redeem Israel,” how he was “condemned and crucified,” and how the women recounted seeing “a vision of angels who said he was alive” (Luke 24: 19-23). They were “astounded” by the women’s story, but not seeing for themselves, they were reluctant to believe. Jesus patiently explains to them the meaning of the scriptures. Their apprenticeship did not end with Jesus’ resurrection. It begins here. They must now reflect again on his whole life and ministry and come to understand it in light of the resurrection, relearning the story of salvation in Christ. Slowly, they come to recognize the Risen One as he nourished their faith with the Word and the breaking of the bread.

These images of the nascent church might serve as a meditation on the life of the church in our time. Today, no less than in the early church, we experience continued resistance to the witness of women. In so many ways our all-too-human expectations have been disappointed by the displacement of the church in Western societies; by the collapse of certain models of ecclesial life, including models of ministry and vocation; by revelations of abuse and betrayal by those in positions of power; by the failure to welcome the gifts of all the baptized. We have measured the “success” of the church by worldly standards: financial wealth, the favor of state power, strong and influential institutions, armies of religious workers, the count of “bums on benches,” baptisms, confirmations and marriages. These gages of ecclesial life are not to be dismissed lightly, but they do not tell the whole story. They fail to assess the most vital dimension of ecclesial life and mission, admittedly unmeasurable by human standards: is this a community where one encounters the Risen Christ and goes forth to proclaim his love?

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are challenged to let go of false hopes and mistaken expectations if we are to learn how to live as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. It is not by chance that the image of the first disciples walking in the company of the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus has come to serve as a paradigm for the synodal process upon which we have embarked as a global church. The many issues identified through the diocesan, national and continental phases of the process reveal the joys and the painful disappointments experienced by many. This is as it should be on the path of conversion—a necessary process of mourning and re-education in the ways of the Gospel. There is much to mourn. There are bitter deceptions and fears concerning the unknown future. We will find joy again in the presence of the Risen Christ if we have the humility to listen and learn like true disciples.

Catherine E. Clifford, is a professor at Saint Paul University, Ontario.


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