We are uncertain. Much of the time we are afraid. We endure pain and grieve, mourning for lives unlived. We huddle in rooms that feel safe with our loved ones, and there we thread through our fingers the most precious of our memories and the most fragile of questions. Sometimes we are desperate, sometimes hopeful. We come out of our rooms for duty or for passion: to journey home, to bury friends, to look for a miracle. Year after year, we call this “life,” and we don’t always think how contained our lives are in the brief narrative of Easter. One dark day and a few blindingly bright moments in the lives of the disciples of one Yeshua of Nazareth.
This year’s Easter wasn’t that long ago. I was listening to the Passion of the four Gospels and thinking about us. How we are them, all of them: Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, Cleopas, Thomas…
I missed half of the Holy Week this year lying in a hospital bed. I just made it back for Easter Vigil – and in a funny twist, that was the rehearsal I had missed lying in the hospital the week before. I think I’ve mentioned in my last post that it’s been a hard fall, a hard winter, and now a hard spring for me between my mother’s health and mine deteriorating so quickly, mounting caregiver stress, mourning a religious life that never happened, and a new and brutal mystery ailment that’s been tossing me in and out of the hospital. And yet…something is keeping me sane, something is keeping me together.
They were afraid, the disciples. They were grieving and desperate and hopeless, and they were huddled together in a room, holding on to precious memories and throwing up to the heavens, maybe, some silent and unsure questions. How could this be? Was this all meaningless? And they were afraid for their lives, and for their families, and for their fragile, thinning sanities. He was gone, and their world had collapsed and gone with him, and they felt so very alone. That’s why they were afraid. They didn’t know.
And then he came and stood in their midst. One after another, one by one and all together, they encountered the meaning of life they thought they’d lost, and didn’t know what they were seeing. He came to Mary by the tomb; he came to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus; he came to them in their little huddling room, and he said, “Shalom.” I love it that in Hebrew—and in Aramaic that Jesus and the apostles spoke every day—the word of greeting means “peace.” Our Bibles translate it as “Peace be upon you,” a phrase that in our 21st-century English-speaking world feels so lofty, so resurrection-worthy! But really, it wasn’t. It was just a word of everyday greeting. On the worst day of their lives, when they thought they were doomed and damned and abandoned by God, suddenly there was his voice, and it said, “Hi there.”
I often feel a particular affinity with Mary Magdalene. As an adult convert who came to Christianity through a profoundly mystical encounter with Jesus, I perceive him more as a beloved betrothed than any other human relationship. Mary’s story—her suffering, privilege, and faith—speak to me. In John’s Gospel she becomes the apostle to the apostles, the first to see the risen Lord—and yet she too is looking straight into his face and doesn’t understand what’s happening until he calls her by name.
I came to believe some years ago now that the disciples’ story of Easter is the everyday story of our lives. We are uncertain and afraid, aggrieved and desperate, and whether we know it or not, we treasure in our hearts the love we’ve felt and learned from the Lord Himself. But many days, many times, many minutes in an hour we lose that love, and whether we know it or not, we mourn for it, and, huddled in the rooms inside and outside us, we feel alone in the universe and separate from it. Abandoned by God. We do not realize that He is there with us, always there all along, and we are looking straight into His face and don’t know what’s happening. So lost and so scared we are and so mournful for the treasure of the past and future that we need Him to call us by name each time, to call out and reach out and shake us and stick our hands into His wounds before we realize: He’s been in our midst all this time.
This discovery is conversion. We have big ones and small ones—at least I do. One really big one, but time after time I keep discovering Him there where I almost lost Him. Right where I am. In my midst. He calls me by name, and then I know, and I know that I already knew, I just didn’t know I knew. Just like Mary, and Cleopas, and the disciples—I’m sure they knew, they just didn’t know it.
I believe, if you think about it, that this is part of the deeper nature of faith. From one angle, faith really is allowing ourselves to know what we already know at the core of our hearts. Daring to believe. Bringing to consciousness a truth which animates our underlying being. Realizing, as we are looking at a familiar face—familiar world—that we’ve been looking at the Lord, who knows all these things and smiles anyway, our Love Eternal, and we have never been alone. He calls us by name and says, “Hi there.”
Or perhaps you think of it in entirely different terms—different images, different mythos. That’s no matter for faith, and the story of Easter says that to me, too. Because it says that there isn’t a single face or a single name you must recognize to find yourself in the presence of the risen Lord. In a grave-digger or in a roadside passerby, our Love Eternal is with us: it’s the encounter that matters, the finding ourselves in the presence, the seeing of meaning in what’s already here. In other words, the moment when God calls us by name and says, “Hi there.”
It is then that we find Him in our midst. And peace…well, peace then comes with the territory.