Seven Characteristics of the Resurrection Appearances

The Resurrection is a central mystery of our Christian faith. Without the perspective of the resurrection, we lose sight of eternity and the life hereafter. Yet despite the centrality of this mystery, I wonder how many Christians could answer if we were to ask, “Knowing the importance and the centrality of the mystery of the resurrection, can you tell me a practical, concrete consequence of it in your daily life?”

Saint Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, puts it pretty bluntly: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless” (1 Corinthians 15:17). So, what then are the implications, in daily life, of this great mystery? This question is the main driving force and inspiration behind this essay.

The approach taken in this essay will be to look at the main Gospel passages relating to the resurrection of Christ, and from them to highlight seven biblical characteristics of the Resurrection. It is hoped that the insights gained can shed light on how the beautiful mystery of the Resurrection can have more of an influence on our daily Christian lives.

1. First day of the week

Typically, the Risen Lord appears on “the first day of the week.” We see this in all four Gospels. In Matthew’s Gospel, “After the Sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulcher” (28:1). In Mark’s Gospel, we find “very early in the morning on the first day of the week.” The Gospel of Luke tells us “On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn” (24:1). John’s Gospel has “It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark” (20:1) and “In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews” (20:19).

Why do the four evangelists use this same expression, “the first day of the week”? One reason is that the Resurrection marks the first day of the new creation. The old creation had its week, which began on the first day (logically!). The book of Genesis opens with the words, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (1:1). Later we have “Evening came and morning came: the first day,” (1:5) referring to the first day of creation. The Resurrection of Christ marks the beginning of the new creation, the great recreation. The recreation is a more wonderful event even than the creation. The Resurrection marks the recreation of the cosmos, and also our recreation, our new birth. This means we have a new chance, and a new possibility, to begin again, to start again.

New eyes to see the flowers

I like to reflect on this first day of the new creation. It is part of the radical newness that the Resurrection offers. “Look, I am making the whole of creation new” (Revelation 21:5). St Gregory of Nyssa, puts it nicely: “This is the day the Lord has made a day far different from those made when the world was first created and which are measured by the passage of time. This is the beginning of a new creation. On this day, as the prophet says, God makes a new heaven and a new earth.1 The world is being renewed. Don’t you see it? There is a song in Spanish that speaks of not just getting a new world, but asking God for new eyes to see it. The Risen Lord needed to open the eyes of his disciples. They were closed, like the eyes of the disciples of Emmaus. “It happened that as they were talking together and discussing it, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but their eyes were prevented from recognising him” (Luke 24:15–16). Later in the Emmaus event, after the Risen Lord reveals himself, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31).

We need to ask the Risen Lord to open our eyes to be attentive to the many signs of the Resurrection. “It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground” (Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 2020, no. 4). The Pope mentions these signs of the Resurrection in Evangelii Gaudium:

Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit . . . Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power (no. 276). 

We are the new creation

Sometimes our eyes are a bit slow to open. Some mornings it takes them a bit longer to open because we are sleepy. The good news, nay, great news is that God is super patient with us. Even if we miss the newness of that day, we are given a whole Octave of eight days to open our eyes. Yes, a whole eight days. The Octave of Easter is in fact one continuous day. That is why we listen to the same Gospel acclamation every single day during the Octave: “This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad.” The repetition is representative of the one day of the Resurrection.

I must admit I do like to reflect on the significance of the eight days. The old creation was seven days, now the eighth day (7+1!) is the first day of the new week. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples on the first day of the week (in John, chapter 20), Thomas was not there. But the Lord does later appear to him. When? Eight days later! The Lord in his mercy never tires of revealing his love for his disciples and for us. The experience of merciful love renews Thomas. Anyone who is joined to Christ, and experiences his mercy, is a new creation.

Pope Francis remarked that “God is eternal newness” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 2018, no. 135). What newness am I looking for, or searching for? The newness could be interior — looking for a fresh attitude or perspective. It may be exterior also. Signs of the resurrection may be all around but we need eyes to see them.

2. He appears “many times

The Risen Lord appears many times to his disciples. This many times is stressed in John’s Gospel: “This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead” (John 21:14). This third appearance, when the disciples had decided to go back fishing, is not usually given much attention. What is normally mentioned is the threefold question of Jesus asking Peter if he loves him. I find it interesting that Jesus is so patient, and has perfect timing. He waited until Peter was ready before asking him. Perhaps before that third appearance, Peter was not yet ready. He needed time, and the Risen Lord was not in a rush.

God is not in a hurry

The eight days of the Octave also give this sense of God not being in a hurry to reveal everything at once. In fact, the gift of the Resurrection is so great that we need time to assimilate it — one day and one appearance is not enough. It makes us reflect on the depth of the mystery also — an event so great that my little brain or little heart needs time to take it all in. And perhaps we don’t need to be in so much of a rush either. Thanks to his mercy, we have many chances to encounter Him. But God’s kindness with us should not make us complacent. The fact that the Risen Lord appears many times reminds us to be vigilant and attentive.

The many times gives us an insight into how God works through consistency. When the Lord wishes to express his will for an initiative, he is consistent and persistent. He will give us time to grasp the way he wishes to go.  

Going deeper

The many times could also be understood in the context of depth. Repetition of a prayer that helped us can lead to more depth. In a life of prayer, brand new lights are not always popping up. At times, it can be a help, especially in a moment of desert, to go back to a previous prayer point that gave me life or light. To look for novelty is fine, but the newness can also come from new depths. When anxiety comes, many are helped by repeating the opening verses of Psalm 23: “Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name. Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side.” Go on, read it again. It’s beautiful, isn’t it, how calm and soothing it is. Repetition is a form of going deeper.

Discerning

The many times could also make us consider the element of discernment in our lives, the kind of choices which might take place over a longer time period. Here we can easily grasp that the decision is not just made in one day, but is more like a journey, and often we would need to reflect on our direction. In this way, we need the signs of the Lord not only once, but many times. The discernment is not simply deciding to become a priest, nun, or consecrated person and finish. No! Discernment can encompass all of life’s choices. How to adapt to a new situation, place, or work all requires some discernment. Many decisions in the family setting require a type of discernment.

When we have a few good choices in front of us, and know that we can only do one of them, then we need to discern. It is like we opt for where we think the Lord is leading and guiding us. Then in the walking, we get some more clues. Thanks be to God then that the Risen Lord appears many times on the journey.

I am reminded of his Risen presence in the lives of the disciples of Emmaus. Jesus was present walking with them and talking with them. He also reveals Himself through the explanation of the Scriptures, which later the disciples recognized as a fire burning in their hearts (cf. Luke 24:32). At dinner, Jesus reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread, thus opening their eyes. So not only does Jesus reveal himself many times, but in many different ways.

The Gospel writers underline this clearly: not only did the Risen Lord appear many times, but also in varied ways. Mark’s Gospel says that he appeared in “another form” (Mark 16:12). This is interesting for us as we need to be attentive. Most likely he will appear in another way, a different way, a way we are not totally familiar with. This is part of the newness of the Resurrection.

3. Bring some of the fish you just caught

In John 21, the disciples worked hard all night fishing and caught nothing. The Risen Lord asks them, “Children, have you caught anything?” He invites them to throw the net on the other side, and they net a huge catch. He then tells them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” Isn’t it beautiful? The Lord does not say “Bring some of my fish” or “Bring some of the fish that you caught from my great idea.” The credit for the catch belongs to Christ but he doesn’t take it! He attributes the catch to the disciples, who by their own efforts actually caught . . . nothing. The Lord is so gentle, tactful and delicate here.

Fullness

I find it amazing that sometimes when things go well, when we experience success after a time of drought, or if a plan finally works out well after many challenges, we can feel like the work is all ours. I am reminded of Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, Yahweh, not to us, but to your name give the glory, for your faithful love and your constancy!” The temptation to take the glory will arise when glorious things happen in our lives. When there is no glory, its maybe because we are not doing such great things as we already fell into the temptation of laziness and omission! Listening to God’s voice and doing it will lead to our maximum fruitfulness, or should we say “fishfulness”! They caught 153 fish, which at that time was the total number of different species known. It represents fullness. We need faith to be able to give thanks to God for all he does in us and through us. If we forget to thank him, we might end up thinking our success was all our own doing.

It made me think how we report the things we do, or the successes we have. Can you imagine a disciple (or ourselves!) sharing the story later . . . “Well, we were not having much luck, and then I had an intuition, probably from my many years’ experience as a top level fisherman, to throw the nets on the other side.” And in the recounting, there is no mention of a miracle or of the Lord. How many business speeches, or success stories have this slant? Imagine the successful businessman type at the wedding of Cana as a servant. “The wine is lovely!” “Yes, I think this bouquet is one of our best. Of course, when you have worked as long as I have serving wine, you can always spot a good vintage . . .” and so on, and no mention of what Christ has done.

Don’t take the glory!

St. Gregory the Great warned about the dangers of appropriating the glory for ourselves. “For I know through your love for that people, specially chosen for you, that Almighty God has performed great miracles. But it is necessary that the same heavenly gift should cause you to rejoice with fear and to fear with gladness . . . But you should tremble, lest on account of these signs, [your] own weak soul be puffed up with presumption; lest, while seeming externally raised aloft in honour, it fall internally as a result of vainglory.”2 This reminds us not to fall into vainglory!

In a fascinating short essay on vainglory, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, a Professor of Philosopher at Calvin University, USA, notes, “Desert father John Cassian warns us to beware of our spiritual successes, and especially our victories over sin, lest they become an occasion of showing off . . . and falling to vice.” She then adds a sentence that even makes us smile through the tears: “The desert fathers likened vainglory to an onion. Every time you peel off a layer, another occasion for vainglory stares you in the face. It’s no surprise that the end of that kind of self-examination, we’re all crying.”

What can help us combat vainglory is to consider that the Lord is the first one who wants our fruitfulness. When he called his disciples, he told them, “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last; so that the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name” (John 15:16). I mention this as secretly we could consider God as a killjoy, who does not really want our happiness. But in fact, God does not come to steal our happiness, but to enable us to genuinely live it. It is interesting that when Peter grasps this, he leaves the huge catch and dives into the sea to swim to Jesus. He leaves the fish for the Fisher of men.

Perhaps in all our endeavors we should remember, too, the words of St. Augustine to his congregation: “I set food before you from the Lord’s storerooms, from the pantry which I too live on. I feed you on what I am fed on myself. I am just a waiter; I am not the master of the house” (Sermon 339, 4). Seeing as God doesn’t claim the glory, we have to take care to be thankful. I was always struck by the testimony of the great St. Patrick. In his memoirs, he laments that when he was younger he did not recognize enough the graces of God. It made me realize the importance of thanksgiving. So thank you, Lord, for the many graces, blessings, fruits and fish you share with us each day. May we not think it is merely out of our merits but rather your mercy!

4. The risen Lord reveals himself

A striking general feature of the Resurrection appearances in the Gospel accounts is that no one recognizes the Risen Lord! This surely must catch our attention. How is it possible that no one immediately recognizes Jesus, neither his disciples nor Mary Magdalene who was searching for him with all her heart and strength? Why could they not recognize him? Obviously, there must have been something different about him. Yes, his body was different now, no longer a body of mortal flesh but a glorified body. How did that glorified body appear? Hard question to answer, I know. But one thing we can grasp from the fact that no one immediately recognized the Risen Lord is this: he had to reveal himself. That is the point! The protagonists of the resurrection appearance are not you and I; it is the Lord! He is the one who reveals himself, when he wants and how he wants, to whom he wants.

Receive the gift

This means the resurrection appearance is more of a gift to be received than a gift to be grasped. We have to wait, and to wait sweetly. I am reminded of the words of Saint Therese Couderc, the foundress of the Cenacle Sisters: “The best plan, it seems to me, would therefore be to wait a little longer, but to wait with patience, with sweetness, with peace; the Lord’s times are not always our times” (Letter to her nephew, Abbe Leon Couderc, Lyon, January 15, 1881).

Let us look at the experience of Mary Magdalene in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” (John 20:14-16)

Mary was searching for the Lord whom she dearly loved. He was there, standing in front of her and she did not recognize him – she thought he was the gardener! A case of mistaken identity! He is speaking to her but she does not grasp it is Jesus. We are reminded of the Psalm 81:5, “I heard a voice I did not recognize” The Risen Lord reveals his identity, gradually. Perhaps he is respecting the moment of the person, not overwhelming them. Why is it a gradual revelation, or why not immediately? Jesus is respecting something profoundly in the human process of Mary recognizing him. Somehow, we consider recognition as all or nothing, you either do or you don’t, but if we consider knowledge of the other as depth we can understand more the element of process, degree and time.

Examine

Of course we KNOW God, but how deeply? How deeply do we know ourselves? The other day I felt a bit sad after a conversation and I could not work out why. Later we had a formation about the topic of listening, and it helped me to revisit the moment of sadness and ask some questions about it:

Consider the experience

What happened?

                                  In my body

                                  In my feelings

                                  Thoughts

                                  Was there an UNMET need?

Listen to insinuations of the Spirit

This analysis helped me to recognize God’s presence in the event. In said conversation, I had felt tension and anxiety, was thinking that I am a bit stupid and felt a little humiliated at my reaction, and realized that actually I was looking for some affirmation. This light and understanding gave me peace. At least I could somewhat unravel my reaction and it finally kind of made sense to me. That is why the exam is rather important, when we have a moment to review, or look back calmly at the events of the day, or an event in the past few days.

It is interesting that sometimes we only recognize the appearance of the Risen Lord afterward! Exactly as happened with the disciples of Emmaus. When the Lord first appeared, they could not recognize him, even if he was walking with them, and conversing with them: “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Only later did they realize it was Jesus who was with them. We are reminded of the words of Jesus in John 13:7, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand,” and also, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:12). The gradualness of revelation reminds of the infinite depth of God. There is more to discover in Him! We have not yet exhausted our knowledge of God.

5. The new life in Christ requires nourishment

A delightful detail of the Resurrection appearances is their association with food. Let us explore this somewhat. When Jesus appears to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, he cooks up a lovely breakfast for them. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’. They knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish” (John 21:12–13). Sounds like a slap-up breakfast of barbecued fish and fresh baked bread by the seaside.

So breakfast is covered. How about the other meals? At the end of a long walk as evening draws near, Jesus reveals himself over supper. “Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them” (Luke 24:30). So we have the two main meals of the day covered. How about in other moments? We can settle for the wholesome snack found in Luke 24:42–43. “And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Of course, the first thing we note is the connotations of the Eucharist here, with the bread and fish being typical symbols we see to represent the nourishment of this sacrament.

Nourishing the newborn

The Risen Lord takes seriously the nourishment of his newborn Church. He knows that without solid nourishment the newborn Church cannot grow. A beautiful detail about this nourishing is it takes place after the Resurrection, not merely before. In Acts of the Apostles, we find: “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him AFTER he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39–41). What catches my attention is that the witnesses were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. If the text had said “who ate and drank with him BEFORE he rose from the dead” we would accept this without further questions. But it is remarkable that they are eating and drinking with the Risen Lord himself.

We can understand from this that the risen life in us needs nourishment. The old life of sin and darkness does not need any nourishment at all! In fact, the less it is nourished, the happier it is and the more the old sinful life grows! It makes us consider, how is the quality of our nourishment? Once we gave an Easter retreat to pediatricians from a NICU. Their specialty was neonatology, taking care of newborns. It was quite enjoyable to talk to them about the new life of Christ in them. Of course, they were experts in feeding and nourishment of newborns, but were quite fascinated to learn how to nourish the new life of Christ in themselves. Like a growing baby in the womb, the new life has to be well nourished. Not any old food will do. Some foods can even harm the growth and development of the new life in us. We have to take care of our spiritual diet.

You are what you eat

You are what you eat” so we should take care not to eat everything that is thrown at us. Pope Francis wrote: “We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data – all treated as being of equal importance – and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 64). It is not such good practice to put a Youtube video on the same level as a Church document on an important topic, or to give something I saw on Instagram the same value as an official pronouncement from the Church on the topic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences” (no. 2496).

It is quite a good exam to review our use and consumption of mass media, especially the time spent on it. St. Alphonsus Liguori, the patron Saint of moral theology in the Catholic Church, comments:

Time is a treasure which can be found in this life alone; it is to be found neither in heaven nor in hell . . . In heaven there are no tears; but if the blessed could weep, this would be a cause for lamentation, that they had lost any time during this life in which they might have acquired greater glory for such time they now can never have. And you, my brother, how are you spending the time?” (“Consideration XI” in Preparation for Death).

Nothing wrong with a bit of leisurely browsing, but don’t spend all your time there, especially when we could be doing many other good things.

Thank you, Lord, for wanting to nourish us well. We need good quality spiritual food to grow strong. Sometimes we are weak and spiritually anemic because our diet isn’t up to scratch. You want your Church and its members to be strong, to be well nourished. May we take care of the quality of food we are consuming, as well as fasting somewhat from overuse of mass media! St Francis de Sales, patron saint Catholic media, pray for us!

6. Go to the mission

In the resurrection appearances, the Risen Lord always is pointing his disciples to the mission. Let us consider some examples from the Gospel texts. St John’s Gospel has the threefold petition, to match the threefold appearance of the Risen Lord (not just Peter’s threefold denial), “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15,16 & 17). St Matthew has: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:16), and St Mark has: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). We can cite more examples, but suffice to say that clearly the Risen Lord desires that his disciples, as a fruit of the encounter with him, will have new zeal and energy for the mission of the Church.

A good litmus test for us, or for non-chemists, a good sign for us, or a good indication of the encounter with the Risen Lord is a renewed desire for the mission entrusted to us. How does this encounter take place? Well, one way it can occur is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our good Lord appears more than three times in this sacrament, if we have the good sense to go more than three times. The grace we receive comes through the death and resurrection of the Son, as the priest’s prayer of absolution states: “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son . . .” The sacrament can really renew our zeal and enthusiasm for life, for Jesus and for our mission.

Hard-headed disciples

One detail I find humorous in the sending to the mission is the reluctance of the disciples. In different occasions the Lord appears to invite his disciples to the mission, but they were a bit slow off the mark. Often, they did not believe the news he had risen, or were so afraid they were quasi-paralyzed. “And the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Other times they felt the news of the resurrection was nonsense! “The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. And the other women with them also told the apostles, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:10–11). It was not just “doubting Thomas” who had difficulty to accept the Resurrection — he was just more honest and sincere — but most of the community.

The Risen Lord had quite a few obstacles to overcome — no wonder he had to appear many times! “She then went to those who had been his companions, and who were mourning and in tears, and told them. But they did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him. After this, he showed himself under another form to two of them as they were on their way into the country. These went back and told the others, who did not believe them either” (Mark 16:10–13). What is the solution to the fears and doubts? To wait longer, for more formation, to listen to more exhortations? We notice some very hesitant and stubborn disciples: “When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated” (Matthew 28:17) and even in Mark 16:14, we find: “Lastly, he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.”

Get on with it!

After all this, and all these reactions, you would think the Lord might have second thoughts about this group he had chosen. What is the response of the Risen Lord? “Go!” It is in the going that the doubts will be resolved, the fears overcome, the stubborn hearts softened. It is not in the staying but in the going! It is often better to go than to remain doubting, faffing around and procrastinating. Better to just get on with it!

Talking of mission, I like the words of St. John Henry Newman. He reminds us all:

Everyone who breathes . . . has a mission, has a work. We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random . . . God sees every one of us; He creates every soul, He lodges it in the body, one by one, for a purpose. He needs, He deigns to need, every one of us. He has an end for each of us . . . As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also. (“Discourse 6. God’s Will the End of Life.”)

What mission is the Risen Lord inviting me to?

7. A mission in community

The Resurrection accounts often emphasize the importance of community. The Risen Lord appears to the community in various moments like to the seven gathered at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21), or to the two disciples of Emmaus. In the cases where the Lord appears to one individual, like Mary Magdalene, he then invites her to go to the community. Even the two disciples of Emmaus were going away from the community, in the opposite direction. After encountering the risen Lord, they return to Jerusalem to announce the good news to their brothers and sisters. We remember the experience of Thomas who was not with his community when the Risen Lord showed them his wounds. Later, the Lord appears to Thomas and this experience helps Thomas reintegrate into his community. The Risen Lord generally points his disciples to their brothers and sisters.

An emotional rollercoaster

A significant observation, and quite an amusing one also, is the wide range of emotions experienced by the community of disciples when they see the Risen Lord. The disciples experience strong and changing emotions! If we list the emotions here, they will include:

  • Fear (behind locked doors)
  • Terror (thinking he is a ghost)
  • Amazement & awe
  • Joy
  • Peace

Let us look at these varied emotions. Fear is a typical reaction in front of the revelation of God. Think of the shepherds, who, only seeing an angel, were terrified (see Luke 2:8–9). The disciples in John 20 were behind locked doors, “for fear of the Jews” (v.19). The soldiers at the tomb were terrified, as were the disciples who thought he was a ghost. Maybe this is why God sometimes reveals himself gradually, so we will not be totally overwhelmed and die of a heart attack! At other times, amazement and awe shine through. But good to know, the feelings of joy and peace often predominate. We say “feelings” but we are also conscious that joy and peace are fruits of the Spirit.

So may varied and changing emotions. In the appearance of Jesus in John 20, the disciples initially experience fear, then great joy. So, the emotions can change — sometimes we feel we are on an emotional rollercoaster! We should be ready, and not surprised, to experience the gamut of emotions. In our following of Christ, we generally experience everything! This reminded me of the words of Fr Jaime Bonet, the Verbum Dei founder. He was talking of his experiences of retreats and said that it is very normal to experience the vast gamut of emotions when one is in silence. So let us not be surprised by that in times of prayer. He also said that when he was preparing his preaching, he often did not experience any feelings. A Jesuit spiritual director explained the dynamism to him by pointing out that the joy will come not in the preparation, but in the delivery. Seems reasonable to me! If God gave the reward too early, we might not persevere with the preparation of the Word of God!

I am with you

The Risen Lord reassures his disciples that he will be present in the midst of this community, the nascent Church. “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The community would have been comforted by this living presence of Jesus in them, among them, and working through them. This should give us great joy knowing that the Lord is with us too, working in us and through us. Pope Francis commented on this joy, the joy that Jesus brought, and the joy his Risen presence brings: “As he passed by, ‘all the people rejoiced’ (Lk 13:17). After his resurrection, wherever the disciples went, there was ‘much joy’ (Acts 8:8)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, n. 124). Here again we note the continuity of the mysteries — what Jesus lived during his life is also seen in his Risen life.

Conclusion

We have noted the common characteristics of the Resurrection appearances. The context of the first day of the week opens us to the radical newness of the resurrection. The appearances are many and varied, which are a sign of God’s mercy — he patiently reveals himself to us. He is the protagonist of this mystery, and we can wait sweetly to receive this wonderful gift with gratitude. The Risen Lord is interested in nourishing his nascent Church and teaches his disciples how to catch the fish — throwing the net on the other side. May we not go back to the same old ways! May the Spirit give us courage to dive into the newness the resurrection offers us. With the strength the Risen Lord gives, the disciples were able to, eventually, run to the mission. The disciples went through a range of emotions, but overall, the fruit of the encounter with the Risen Lord was to go and announce the Good News to the whole of creation (see Mark 16:15).

  1. Oratio 1 in Christi resurrectionem: Jaeger IX, 277–280, 305, quoted in the Office of Readings, Monday of the Fifth Week of Eastertide, Cycle C.
  2. Second reading in Office of Readings, Feast of St Augustine of Canterbury, Lib 9, 36: MGH Epistolae, 2, 305–306. In this quote, to make it relevant, I took the liberty to change the subject of the phrase “the preacher’s own” weak soul to “your own” weak soul.
Fr. James McTavish About Fr. James McTavish

Fr. James McTavish, FMVD, MD, STL, is a Verbum Dei missionary, currently assigned in Rome as a General Counselor of his community. He is originally from Scotland. He did his undergraduate studies in medicine at Cambridge University, England. He graduated as a medical doctor in 1992, pursuing a career in surgery, eventually gaining his fellowship in general surgery with the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. While specializing in pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery, he met the Verbum Dei missionaries in Sydney, Australia. He entered religious life in 1999, spending his formation years in Cebu and Mindanao, Philippines, before finishing his studies in Rome, receiving a license in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana (Redemptorist Higher Institute of Moral Theology in Rome) and a MA in bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome. He has published various articles in the Linacre Quarterly (of the Catholic Medical Association, USA) as well as for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. He combines his teaching with an active apostolate, helping to form the laity in prayer and evangelization.

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