The Empty Tomb. Appearances to Everyone. 40 Days. The Ascension to Heaven.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
John 21:4 (NIV)
Jesus’ resurrection really seals the deal for most believers. We have heard of miracle men who perform glorified tricks – things that could be explained away by the doubters – but this feels wholly different, like next level deity stuff.
John tells us that the resurrection period lasted a mere 40 days. Some of the details we get include:
…A miracle involving a large haul of fish (21:6)
…A doubting Thomas who feels his crucifixion wounds (20:25)
…A sudden appearance to the disciples in their home (20:19)
…And – supposedly – many other actions not recorded in the Bible (21:30)
What struck me, reading this story from this fourth and final perspective, was the lack of awareness of those around him. John tells us that no one – from Mary Magdalene to the disciples – recognizes Jesus upon his first appearing. Don’t you think they would recognize him in an instant? Grieving individuals often report seeing their passed loved ones, sometimes being convinced the sighting is a ghost or some evidence of conspiracy. Some just think they might be delusional. But they notice, right? They notice something immediately upon seeing the person.
I am much more interested in the philosophical implication of this rather than the literal. Maybe Jesus just looked different, I don’t know. Something about his appearance must have changed in order for everyone to mistake him. Or there is always the possibility it was some sort of spiritual blindness. Again, I don’t know, and I don’t really care.
It serves the story – that’s why he is unrecognizable. We are meant to believe that in our own spiritual death and resurrection, we will change in some indelible and magical way. Our appearance will give way to something else. If we go to Heaven, we cannot remain the same – who would want that?
As a kid, I used to ask my mother if I would recognize and find her in Heaven. Thinking tenderly that everyone went to Heaven, I imagined it was jam-packed full of people. How would I wade through the mass of believers and find my mother, who would have changed indelibly and magically. Would eternity mean being separate from them?
The fear had a deeper root. I didn’t want to change – that simple. A main tenant of Christianity was that I needed to lose the physical part of my life to gain something much more. I never had any interest in that, even at my most devout. Because that loss felt like death – and that death meant something terrifying.
I never believed in my own resurrection. I never thought it would realize.
Because I wasn’t Jesus. That was for the magical miracle men – not the lowly shmoes like me.
And most of me still doesn’t want it.