Perhaps one benefit to Jesus having died a brutal, public death toward the end of an extended public spectacle is that it left no doubt that he had, in fact, died. Those who walked with him loved him, albeit imperfectly, but their reaction is unexpected to us. In movies, a beloved relative's ghost visits and a character often seems to accept it as normal, and at least some of us have met someone who claimed to have such a visit before. Their reaction never seems to be terror, provided the ghostly visitor was known before and loved. Perhaps this says something about our antiseptic approach to death, where we are rarely present when the beloved stopped breathing and took on that final, staring countenance reserved for those facing immanent eternity. Few of us have closed the eyes of another, and so the reality of death is less, and it seems less of a jolt when the departed appears to have returned. Perhaps it is because we are less alive than our forebears, so we underestimate the distance between life and death.
As with the visits of angels, Jesus' first word is "Peace." Like the angels, this is not a visit from the grave, as the disciples seem to fear, but a visit from God, more immediate than they had experienced before. It was well that some of them had seen Moses and Elijah with Jesus before, because these two prophets from of old had a similar experience of God, one that made both hide their faces in fear and reverence. Unlike these older times, Jesus emphasizes his humanity and physical presence, inviting them to touch him and offering to eat with them as he had done before, a thing unthinkable before the Incarnation.
Jesus wastes no time in getting down to business. Before their pulses can return to normal, he tasks them with their mission, and the First Reading shows Peter in the act of carrying it out, with a call to repentance in Jerusalem, and we know he will eventually make that appeal in Rome. We have forgotten that mission, and we no longer carry out the command of Christ, neither by explicitly preaching repentance nor by living in a way that proclaims the gospel. Jesus traveled from the grave to the living in order to give the disciples their mission; he will have to come to a dead Church to call us today. Peter's hearers had the excuse of ignorance, but we who have received the Eucharist, heard these readings, been baptized and anointed, sacramentalized, have no excuse. We appear to have no expectation of Christ's return, and will be far more surprised than the disciples were at his coming, because although we were warned, we have been having quite the merry time while the master was away.
Perhaps we had better wake up?
Readings for today
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
1 Jn 2:1-5a