Scripture is a little odd. It’s got these great, pretty bits like “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” and “Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin…” But just as often it’s confusing—I sometimes read passages and think “What?”
And I think I’m not the only one.
After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene sees the empty tomb and she tells the other disciples: she’s saying, “woah, what?” and maybe they’re saying, “sorry, what?” So she goes back and she sees the resurrected Jesus but doesn’t recognize him, she thinks he’s the gardener: what? And then Jesus appears dramatically to the disciples in a locked room…Twice! What? And of course, Thomas the Doubter famously says: what?
You just heard another one of these stories. Some of the disciples are fishing and Jesus shows up and they don’t recognize him: what? Wait, after seeing him once already, after longing for his return, they don’t recognize him? And Peter figures it out and jumps naked into the lake: what? And then Jesus makes them breakfast on the beach, very Martha Stewart of him: wait, what?
They just didn’t get it, couldn’t get it before. No matter how many times Jesus said it, now they don’t believe their eyes with evidence right in front of them. For us now, more than 2000 years later it’s often just a story—if we’re really honest with ourselves, we want these stories and people to be real, we long for them to be as real as the person sitting next to us,…but we don’t really think they are. They’re ancient history, they’re fun and challenging stories, like LOST.
Because when was the last time that you denied Jesus—intentionally, several times in a row—and then were given a second chance by the man Jesus? When was the last time you said to Jesus as Peter does “Lord you know I love you” and when was the last time Jesus said to you, “feed my sheep”—and you did it? Because what else could be your reaction when the man you left everything to follow, the man whose words kindled a fire in your heart, the man who made everything more focused and also more confusing, the man who you saw beaten and killed in front of you—what else could be your reaction when he’s standing right in front of you? I think a gawping, “what?” would make complete sense. Followed immediately by, “Lord you know I love you.” Right?
But he’s not here, is he? Is he? Because the disciples didn’t recognize him—here or other times—when he walked on the sea, they didn’t quite know it was him, Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener, the disciples don’t seem to know it’s him until he shows his wounds, and the fishermen—who knows who they thought he was? They didn’t recognize him after his resurrection—not because they were stupid, and not because they didn’t want to or had given up. They didn’t see him because they didn’t expect to see him.
They didn’t expect to see him…and there he was, telling them to fish on the other side of the boat—of all the things to say when you’ve come back from the dead—so, since they’ve had no luck at all, even though this is a silly suggestion—as though the other side of the boat is going to be so very different—they give it a try and have the single greatest haul in the history of fishing. So many fish it takes all of them to haul it in, so many fish that the net really should break, but it doesn’t.
It’s amazing and wonderful and a little scary and miraculous. And suddenly they looked up and saw Jesus…I had a professor in seminary who said that whenever we say “Come Lord Jesus” in worship—often at communion—he looks up and tenses a little, because he fully expects Jesus to respond to the call, he expects Jesus to show up.
Do you expect to see Jesus?
He could be anywhere, anywhen, anywho even…Paul had a vision of him on the road to Damascus years after the resurrection. Julian of Norwich saw him in a vision in the 1400s. People see his image in grilled-cheese sandwiches all the time—what? And that seems ridiculous sometimes. We don’t expect to see Jesus out and about in Cincinnati…
We think we’re so rational, so right not to give into these emotional moments. Jesus is resurrected, but that’s the end of that—our moral and spiritual existence is now based on a memory, a story, not the real deal. Because we don’t expect to see him. But in our communion service, in the Eucharistic Prayer, we often say “we remember” and it’s not this rational kind of memory. It’s a Greek word, Anamnesis—sense memory—we were there and we are there. Like pitching a baseball 10,000 times so that your body can do it without your brain. The Meal we offer, the lives we live—they aren’t divorced from those stories—we practice them over and over so that we can do them in our sleep because practice is how we learn to see Jesus present with us.
Mystic Julian of Norwich had a vision of God. She saw in her hand something like a hazelnut: she writes, “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that he loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.” You might well ask, “What?” along with the folks on Lost—this little thing represents all of Creation, it is a reflection of God. In this one tiny thing, Dame Julian saw the overwhelming love of God, and the sustaining power of God—it wasn’t just made and then let go, but cradled and cherished by God. So, too, are all of us, and all that we encounter. Dare I say it, even disease and hardship are encompassed by that love and reflect back to us the face of Jesus.
He is here all the time in the guise of other people offering something surprising, in the guise of a new shoot coming up in the garden (continually resurrecting), in the guise of tv programs pushing you to consider things differently, in the guise of a flamingo balancing impossibly on that one skinny leg and in your toddler daughter’s delight in seeing that same flamingo
We don’t see Jesus in our lives, not because we’re stupid or because he’s not there, but because we don’t expect to see him. Because we don’t practice seeing him. But what if we did? What if we approached meetings and conference calls expecting to see Jesus there? What if we went to classes expecting that Jesus would reveal himself somehow? What if we did our grocery shopping expecting to see Jesus on the skin of an orange or the face of our checkout clerk?
All it takes is practice—and maybe asking “What?” deliberately and often.