Contemplating the Merciful approach of Jesus after his Resurrection.

 

In the papal Bull introducing ‘The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy’ Pope Francis states:

“We need to constantly contemplate the mystery of ‘Mercy.’ It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us...

In his prayer for the Jubilee Year he expands on this, describing Jesus as “the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God, who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy.”

It seems fitting then during this holy season of Eastertide to contemplate Jesus’ appearances to his Apostles and disciples in the early days after his resurrection when his mercy, compassion and forgiveness is so powerfully evident.

It will be good to engage our imagination in this exercise. The imagination, as tool of prayer, was strongly promoted by St. Ignatius of Loyola and remains a significant element of Ignation spirituality.

The first recorded appearance of Jesus is to the women of Galilee, faithful followers of Jesus, devastated by his death and desperate to anoint his body as their last act of service to the person they had loved and revered. We can imagine their amazement and fear as they find the stone rolled away and a strange person sitting on it and their bewilderment and mixture of hope and doubt as they hear his message “The Lord has risen as he promised.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is described fully. His appearance to the other women is just mentioned. The four evangelists describe aspects of this early morning scene at the tomb and it would be well to read each.
Mt.28, Mk.16, Lk.24, Jn.20.

What we can imagine is the joy, the excitement, the sense of awe, wonder, delight and hope that the women experienced. They are overwhelmed but the men folk cannot believe their story.

Does this diminish their joy or create doubt in their mind? I imagine not; they have a shared experience but would have not deemed it sensible to talk and rejoice among the men folk.

Imagine the scene in the upper room in the ‘safe house’ were many of the followers of Jesus from Galilee, were gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. There would be an atmosphere of, anxiety, a sense of great loss, of a person, of dreams that could never be fulfilled, a great sense of shame, remorse, failure and  fear about what had happened to the body of Jesus.

The women on the other hand, possibly have withdrawn to a quiet corner brimming with joy and excitement. Was Mary, Jesus’ mother there listening to them with a quiet joy, having already spent time with her risen son? Although, nowhere recorded, it is surely unlikely that Jesus had not already met with her.

Other things were happening outside the house. We have no account of Jesus’ appearance to Peter. What an encounter that must have been. Imagine Peter’s state of mind, his shame his self disgust, his remorse. When Jesus appeared did Peter turn away repeating a former sentence?

“Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” 

Did he think his denial of knowing Jesus, was unforgivable? We can only imagine the love and compassion in the eyes of Jesus as he embraced him. Perhaps, he reminded him of his words at their last meal together.

Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has asked permission to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail. When you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Lk.22:31-32

When Jesus leaves Peter, we can imagine the apostle dashing through the streets to the safe house to spread the news. Knocking loudly on the door, all fear dispelled he bursts into the room shouting ‘The Lord has indeed risen. I have seen him and he has forgiven me; he has forgiven us all.’ Can we imagine the transformation in the atmosphere of the room – doubts still - and lots of questions but a growing sense of belief and joy and remembering many different conversations? Perhaps now they turned to the women and listened to their stories.

Then there was another knock on the door and two disciples burst into the room. Before they could speak they were excitedly told "The Lord has indeed risen and has appeared to Simon.”

Then they told their own story, of a long conversation on their journey to Emmaus with a stranger, who they only recognised as Jesus, at the table, when he broke the bread and then disappeared.

We can imagine the noise, everyone  talking at once, the excitement, the relief, the returning hope. Then suddenly an electric silence as Jesus stood among them. The silence was broken as Jesus spoke:

“Peace be with you”

What a lovely greeting to those ashamed and remorseful men. The Gospel tell us they were startled and frightened thinking they were seeing a ghost. It is good to try to imagine the compassionate gaze of Jesus as he gently sought to reassure them and convince them that he was the Jesus they knew so well, by showing them the wounds in his hands and feet and eating some of the fish they gave him.

As they began to relax and  to accept that this really was Jesus risen from the dead we imagine he got them to sit down while he “opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.”

We can imagine also their growing sense of relief when they realised he was not rejecting them for their behaviour but was re commissioning them to carry on the work for which he had been sent by the Father.

Jesus was indeed “a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace” for these troubled, disillusioned men. Through his merciful and compassionate approach to them in these appearances he affirmed them, restored their self esteem and gave them courage and energy for the work that was to lie ahead.

We remember with gratitude that it is through these frail, human men and women, that we have inherited the Faith we cherish. The Faith, which we in our turn, frail and vulnerable like them, are likewise commissioned to pass on to others.

Sr. Camilla