Blog & Pastor Letters

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord – March 31, 2024

03-31-2024Weekly ReflectionRev. Mark Hellinger

When we read the accounts of the Lord Jesus’ appearances in his resurrected Body, we find some curious things. First, people that know him well, those whom he taught and with whom he lived and loved, somehow don’t recognize him at first; and second, these people who encounter the Risen Lord Jesus only recognize him at the Lord’s initiative.

Let’s examine each of these aspects. First, why don’t people know who Jesus is? It’s true for Mary of Magdala at the tomb. It’s true in this Gospel passage from the Evangelist, Saint Luke. One would assume that Cleopas, a disciple of Jesus, who, along with another disciple on the Road to Emmaus, would have been able to recognize Jesus. Yet somehow he doesn’t, and neither does his walking companion. Why?

These encounters of the Risen Lord Jesus, present in his glorified body, with those whom he had at least a passing acquaintance with, if not having been known very well, in his earthly body, fail to have his friends and his disciples recognize him. Therefore, a question for us: what is the nature of the Lord Jesus’s risen and glorified Body? Let’s examine what we know about this risen and glorified Body of the Lord Jesus Christ from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the fonts of Divine Revelation.

To start with, Jesus is not a ghost. He’s really there — the same Jesus who walked with them, who taught them, who healed them, who ate with them. Note that one of the things the Lord Jesus seems to want to do all the time in these post-resurrection appearances is to eat! Note that in the Gospel of John, chapter 21, the Lord Jesus even says, “Come, have breakfast!” Note that the Lord Jesus urges his disciples to touch him and see that he is real. (Luke 24:37–40). It’s the same Jesus who was nailed to the Cross for us and for our salvation. He still bears the marks of his blessed Passion. He asks Thomas the Doubter to put his hand in his side. So, there is continuity with his earthly body.

Yet there is also discontinuity. The Lord Jesus can vanish before the eyes of these disciples in today’s Gospel (Luke 24:31) and he can walk through walls and locked doors (John 20:26). The Lord’s body is glorified. Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Communis, tells us in the Summa Theologiae’s third part, question 54, that Jesus’ body is of the same nature, but of different glory. The Lord’s body is still very real, but it is not subject any longer to decay, as it is incorruptible and it is not subject to suffering, as it is impassible.

With that being stated, we know and can state that the Lord’s body in his resurrection appearances is a real body, now glorified. There is a real continuity with his earthly body and also a discontinuity, since it is glorified. And the good news is that, if we live our lives in accordance with his teachings, when all is completed at the end of the ages, when Christ comes to judge, if we are just, these mortal bodies of ours will be raised and glorified like Christ’s. Saint Paul the Apostle assures of this fact time and again in many passages (see 2 Cor 5:4–5 and Romans 8:18–19, just to name a few).

Now, onto our second point: yes, there is continuity and discontinuity between the glorified body of the Lord Jesus and his earthly body. His disciples, his apostles, those whom knew him well, at first do not recognize him; they seem to recognize him through faith, and indeed they are called to faith, but, it seems, always at the initiative of the Risen Lord Jesus.

In this relationship we have and that we try to foster with the Lord, it is never us who begin; no, it is always Jesus. Think back to the Magdalene at the tomb on Easter Sunday (John 20). She who is the apostle to the Apostles, a close friend, someone who knew the Lord well, does not at first recognize him. She believes the Risen Lord to be the gardener! And how does she come to know him? The Lord Jesus says her name, “Mary.” The Lord Jesus and he alone calls to us and starts the relationship. Like God the Father, when God the Son utters the word, it is created. In this case, the eyes of faith are opened and Mary of Magdala sees him who has been standing right there before her: the Risen Lord Jesus in his glorified body.

Indeed, it is in the encounter with the Lord Jesus, through his word — and we remember that he is the Word through whom all things were made — and through his actions (for instance, the recounting of the Sacred Scripture related to him and the breaking of the bread with the disciples whom he met on the road to Emmaus) that the Lord Jesus is made known.

Isn’t that true for us, too? Don’t we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, come to recognize Jesus, he who has called us by name in baptism, strengthened us in confirmation, and given us our own particular vocation, recognize the Lord Jesus in the readings at Mass? Don’t we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, know him truly present in the breaking of the Bread that is the Lord’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist? And doesn’t the Lord Jesus vanish from our midst, like he did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, igniting our hearts to go forward and tell our brothers and sisters the good news of the Resurrection?

Yes, this story of the Lord’s walk on the road to Emmaus poses some tough theological questions, but even more, offers us hope! As the Lord’s body is risen and glorified, he hopes to share that with us! What should fill our hearts with more Easter joy than that?