“God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear.”Acts 2:32-33
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”Matthew 28:9-10
In every case, as we see here with Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” the first encounter with Jesus Risen evokes terror. In order to become a witness to the Resurrection, it would seem that one must first risk facing the terror of the “more than.” Because we know the story so well, we can pretty much glide by the descriptions of the fear and terror in the resurrection narratives with our knowledge that, changed though he may be, this is Jesus back from the dead. Our safe distance from the experience to which we are all called keeps us from having our own hearts reformed and transformed by the power of the resurrection by going through the initial fear it evokes.
With the exception, perhaps, of the saints and the poets, we all carry on in life by virtue of making the world smaller than it is. As we see in human consciousness all the way back to the author of the Book of Genesis, human beings see their God-given place in the world as having dominance over it. It is humans who are to name every other creature on earth. This is our self-description; our view of our primary place among all that God has created.
Herein lies the “problem of technology” for us. In our time in which climate change threatens the very continuance of our race, we are faced with the reality that it is our own production and technology that have come to threaten us with extinction. As human history continually reminds us, much of what we human beings develop and produce has unintended consequences. In “solving” one set of problems, we discover that we have failed to take into account others. Clearly we are not able to comprehend creation in its entirety. There is a basic delusion at the heart of our self-understanding, a delusion that we find necessary to our survival. We take for granted that it is for us to dominate and master the universe, from our individual to the universal reality.
Albert Einstein well described this basic human delusion:
A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
The delusion of our ordinary consciousness which sees ourselves as separate and perceives reality in self-centered terms is our way of surviving a reality that seems to us to be far too much than we can bear. We know that we shall die, and yet we cannot readily live with the awareness that our life from moment to moment is not in our control. We know, at some level, that we are but an ordinary and common creature, one among countless others in the course of history, and yet we live from day to day in a consciousness that puts ourselves at the center of the world.
So, to “free ourselves from prison” and to widen our compassion and our consciousness “to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” requires of us a passing through of the terror that we have spent our lives avoiding. There’s an old familiar expression: “Be careful what you wish for.” As we read the resurrection narratives, often later additions to the text, we need to ask ourselves if we are “ready and willing” to undergo the transformation that is the way to the promised eternal life.
One of the great ironies of my own life is that my more than normal insecurities as a young person created in me a longing for home. It was thoughts and images of domesticity that most attracted and appealed to me, in literature, film, and thus in my own imagination. A warm well-lit house on a cold dark night was perhaps the most comforting of images for me. Yet, life has brought me to a way of living that is quite different from what I thought I needed. Now it is Increasingly giving what I have through my work for the world that most sustains me, along with the love that I share with others. Where once I felt the need to be the center of the attention of those who love me, I have now learned at least slightly more of a deeper desire for a love that is shared and increasingly expansive, a love that manifests in a common work for the benefit of all.
While my own attraction to domesticity was, I suspect, greater than many others, the challenge of the resurrection involves an abandonment of our impulses and compulsions to domesticate the world in favor of becoming a servant of the world despite what feels like the overwhelming magnitude of creation and the insignificance of what we can do. The terror in this abandonment is the facing of the very terror of our own littleness, limitedness, and apparent insignificance in the face of creation. An aspect of every resurrection appearance is that, in one way or another, Jesus commands the disciple or disciples “to go.” Today Jesus tells the two Marys to go to Galilee and witness to the other disciples. Just before he ascends, he tells his disciples “to go to the ends of the earth.” A basic constituent of the risen life is a continual “going out” from ourselves and into the life of others and the world.
A gift of the resurrection is the gift of peace. When Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room he will announce himself with the words “Peace be with you.” Yet, in Luke 24:37 as the disciples whom Jesus had encountered on the way to Emmaus are speaking to the other disciples about their encounter, Jesus comes among them but they are “startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” Even as Jesus proclaims “peace” to them, their first response is fear at the unfamiliarity to this reality.
It is by habit and routinization in our lives that we domesticate our worlds. We learn over time to build lives that are comfortable enough for us to bear and to live out the illusions we cherish. We even conform the scriptures and our presence to the Divine in accordance with those delusions and needs. At some level, which is our call to transcendence, we experience the lacks in our everyday existence, all that is less than what we have been made for. What we have been made for is the life of the Risen Jesus. In his resurrection, as Peter says in today’s reading from Acts, Jesus has “poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit.” So, the life we long for is already among us and in the world. If we are to know that life, however, we must break through all that we have developed to contain and constrict our lives; we must lose what we take to be our lives to discover the life we have with Christ in God. We speak rightly of the power of the Holy Spirit, of God’s love and grace, that makes such a transformation possible. But, as the Risen Christ begins to come into view, we must first be willing to go through the fear and the dread of a Mystery that we have spent our lives seeking to avoid.
Before I got my eye put out
I liked as well to see —
As other Creatures, that have Eyes
And know no other way —
But were it told to me — Today —
That I might have the sky
For mine — I tell you that my Heart
Would split, for size of me —
The Meadows — mine —
The Mountains — mine —
All Forests — Stintless Stars —
As much of Noon as I could take
Between my finite eyes —
The Motions of the Dipping Birds —
The Morning’s Amber Road —
For mine — to look at when I liked —
The News would strike me dead —
So safer — guess — with just my soul
Upon the window pane —
Where other Creatures put their eyes —
Incautious — of the Sun —