3rd Sunday of Easter 2016
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
The third encounter of the Apostles with the risen Lord once again reveals to us the mysteriousness of Jesus’ new presence in their midst. There must’ve been something quite different about his appearance, or there would be no reason for them to even think that they might ask thsi man on the shore who He is. They obviously didn’t have a clear visual recognition, yet they didn’t “dare to ask” who he is, for by his words and actions they now “realized it was the Lord.” This is very much like the scene with the two disciples at Emmaus who only come to recognize the Lord by His “breaking of the bread” with all of those words’ Eucharistic overtones.
Moreover, it is interesting that in this third appearance of the Risen Christ, the disciples no longer are at all frightened by His appearance as in the upper room on Easter Sunday night when Luke reports they were “startled and terrified” because they thought he was a ghost. He assured them then that he was not a ghost and even had them touch Him and He ate with them. Here at the Sea of Tiberius, there is no longer terror, but simply wonder and mystery. At first, they don’t recognize Him at all, and then John, after the large catch of fish, understands that this miracle has happened before, and who this is, and he tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”
The risen body of the Lord is itself a great mystery. His risen body is evidently not subject to any laws of physics because he suddenly appears in rooms where the doors are locked. Moreover, his body is only recognized when He chooses, and seemingly only by his words and deeds. Mysteriously, he also does not allow the glorious light of his risen body to shine through as he did on the mount of the Transfiguration. Why not? There must be a reason, but we have no clear answer to that question. Perhaps he simply wanted them to be more at ease, since the awe of the resurrection was already a lot for them to handle without the full glory of His body as well. Who knows?
At any rate, once the fear of his bodily presence being that of a ghost is dissipated by his words and deeds, the disciples are no longer fearful, although they do seem to remain filled with awe, as in today’s gospel. They come to understand that at this point in time what is important is that they learn to recognize him in his words and deeds, which means for us both in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. The full mystery of the glorified body will only be revealed when he returns in glory.
How different all this is from the way most people in this world think of a return from death to life in this world. One of the most popular shows in the history of cable television is about dead bodies returning to life as the walking dead which is the title of the show. This show is all about the horror of zombies walking the earth. But these walking dead are really not risen men but dead bodies without souls stalking the earth. That is what makes them horrifying, that they are really not alive, but the dead coming back to haunt and terrify the living.
Jesus, risen from the dead, is anything but a zombie. If he is frightening at first, it’s because they really think he’s a ghost. But once He quickly dispels that mistaken identity, the apostles are no longer frightened in his presence, even if they feel a sense of awe. And why are they filled with awe? Not because they sense a lack of life in the risen body but a superabundance of life. The risen Lord is overflowing with life, the fountain of life placed in the midst of the garden.
However, while there are no real zombies walking this earth, there are in fact dead men walking. That is to say, there are many who walk this earth in the state of spiritual death, deprived of the life of Christ by their own actions. One cannot be living in a willful rejection of the laws of God and be in the state of grace at the same time. Ultimately only God knows who these dead men walking are, but the Gospels make it abundantly clear that they exist. And that really is something fearful, and it motivates the church to bring the Gospel and the grace of Christ to all.
Likewise, there are also risen men and women already walking this earth. These are the men and women who live by the risen life of Chris, communicating in the life of grace bestowed in Baptism and nourished by the other sacraments. They are truly new creatures, and hopefully we are among them. This risen life which is hidden for the most part, often shines through in the lives of the saints who can appear to be angels in human guise. Their holiness is something truly awesome, as was the presence of Christ after His resurrection.
This dichotomy between the walking dead and the walking risen points us to the mystery of the end time. Jesus, and the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel, tells us that all will rise from the dead, but some will rise to eternal condemnation, while others will rise to eternal life. Those who rise to condemnation will be very much like our depiction of fictional zombies, because they will truly be dead men walking for eternity, truly horrifying creatures cut off from the grace of God forever.
Those who rise to glory, on the other hand, will be alive in a way we can barely understand, and will forever experience the ecstasy of the glorified body and soul that Jesus and Mary already experience in heaven. The saints in heaven already experience that divine ecstasy, but only in their souls. With the coming of Christ in glory, they will be raised to experience that same mystical unity with God in the glorified body as well.
Meanwhile, we must all await the resurrection of the dead in hope. And we must come to know the Lord in his risen humanity by submerging ourselves in his words and deeds and living the new life he has given us in Baptism. Philip once said to Jesus, “show us the Father and that is enough for us.” Jesus now shows us the father and Himseld, and He shows himself to those who believe in his words and deeds, and live with him and from him in the communion of saints which is His Church. We are not the walking dead, but those who by faith and grace live in Christ, now and forever, Amen.