Two key questions keep coming up in the gospel readings these first weeks of Easter: Where will the risen Christ appear, and what will the risen Christ look like? The reality of the resurrection is never in question for the evangelists, but there are lots of questions about where and how Christ appears. And they are important questions, not because they’re about Jesus or his resurrection but because they’re about you and me and our experience of the best of life today.
The first question, “Where will the risen Christ appear?” is really, “Can I put myself in a place or in a state of spiritual readiness where the risen Christ is more likely to appear to me?” And the second question, “What does the risen Christ look like?” becomes, “Will I give up even my most dearly held expectations of what the risen Christ looks like so that I might see the risen Christ who appears in a different and unexpected form? The second question first.
The four gospels report seven appearances of the risen Christ, and the longer endings added to the gospels of Mark and John report four additional appearances. In most of these, those who were closest to Jesus failed to recognize him at first, something Jesus predicted before his death (Matt. 25:31-46). So for us today, to ask what the risen Christ looks like is to ask a question that cannot be answered, except to say, “We don’t know.”
The fullness of life that was once alive in Jesus is alive today, but in a form we won’t immediately recognize. The embodiment of the deepest human yearnings in life is present in the world around us. It moves among us; it ponders life’s questions and searches with us for the meaning of life’s mysteries; it walks with us in our daily journeys; it sits with us as our companion at the table; and in God’s time our eyes will be opened, and it will be revealed to us. The message of resurrection is that the fullness of life that was alive in Jesus is alive today, here and now. We just don’t see it.
And that brings me to the first question, “Where will the risen Christ appear?” Can I put myself in a place or in a state of spiritual readiness where I’m more likely to be encountered by the risen Christ? The story of those two travelers on the Emmaus Road gives me some clues.
Few things open us to the core like death does, the death of a loved one, the death of a dream, the death of a favorite illusion, and that’s exactly where those two travelers were on the first Easter Day as they talked about all the things that had happened. They weren’t talking about the weather; they were searching for meaning, for understanding; they were trying to make sense of a senseless loss; they were talking circles around a great, gaping hole that had just opened in their lives. And it was there, exactly there, where the risen Christ joined them.
Where are those disorienting experiences for you, the places where you’re unable to make sense of life? What are the deep questions you struggle with but are unable to answer? Don’t try to avoid them or put them to sleep with any of the sedatives our culture provides. Those are precisely the experiences and questions where you’re likely to encounter the lively presence of the best life has to offer, the deep dream that only seemed gone forever. It is gone, in the form you once knew, but it’s alive again in a form you don’t yet recognize. It’s your companion in the struggle for meaning and understanding.