Many of post-resurrection stories deal with regular people encountering other regular people, all of whom are coming to terms with the impact of the resurrection. If we look closely at the resurrection story, who are these people we meet on their way to meeting Jesus. If we look at their journeys, do we see ourselves? Isn’t it like looking in a mirror? Are they really so distant and foreign? I don’t think so.
Who are the first five people you see on your way to Jesus? Who do we think we meet? Who do we believe we are encountering? How do these meetings prepare us for the journey ahead? Our challenge is to identify the first five people we see after the resurrection event. Two questions define this search. The first is this: what do these individuals tell us about how we perceive and sometimes obscure the reality of our faith? The second question is this: do events define our faith or do our responses?
1. Mary Magdalene was a woman with a murky past who became an integral part of Jesus’ inner circle. In Matthew’s gospel, she, along with the mother of James and John, were there first people to reach the tomb on Easter Sunday morning. The friend and the mother of friends. The first people you meet on your journey to post-resurrection Jesus are a friend and the mother of your best friends. When something tragic, joyful, or beautiful has occurred who do you want to tell? If you couldn’t run into your own biological family, people who were like family would be the next best thing. Your friends and your surrogate family. If the ground has been pulled out from under you, reality isn’t what it’s ever seemed to be, and you don’t know who to trust who will you trust? People you know.
2. A third woman, only known as Salome, appears in Mark’s gospel as a companion to Mary Magdalene and Mary. Sometimes people come in and out of our lives. We see them for a time and they’re gone. Time and circumstance take us in different directions. The Bible is full of people who only pop up once within its thousands of pages. There are Salome’s who join us for the most important moments we will ever know and then be gone tomorrow. Relish their presence, memories, and moments today. Why, because now, we are all headed toward Jesus.
3. Late in the afternoon, on the day of the resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the on road to Emmaus. As they are returning from Jerusalem, these disciples are amazed that the traveler (Jesus) appears to know so little about the momentous events which have occurred in the city. Although he seems ill informed about current events, his knowledge of the scriptures is amazing. They loose track of time and end up inviting their guest to remain with them for dinner. This is one of the most well-known post-resurrection accounts. Jesus literally “breaks bread” with a group of people who aren’t easily identified as his disciples. Who are these people? Many theories have been advanced over the years. In a sermon I recently heard, by a scholar and preacher I trust, he said he believed Cleopas (the only name given) and the other person to be Jesus’ aunt and uncle. He had a fair amount research and pretty good Greek which sold me on the theory. It would make sense that Mary would have had family with her at the cross. At what point did these relatives recognize Jesus? When he broke the bread. What did they see when he broke the bread? His hands. We meet family on the way to intersect with Jesus. Families love you. You know families come to graduations. In this case, a family came to an execution because that’s what family does. Families mark life and death; together. We need our families on the way to encounter the risen Christ. When we are with Christ, at Christ’s table, we are at a kitchen table. It may not be our table but it is a family gathering space nonetheless.
4. Thomas. There are always people who aren’t sure what’s going on. Death is hard to deal with if someone has lived a long life and passes away peacefully in their sleep. When someone is tortured and executed by the government for crimes they didn’t commit, it’s going to leave a plethora of psychological trauma and scars. No one got out of Easter without some psychological baggage. You don’t witness that kind of brutality and get out scot free. People are going to having different coping mechanisms. When we first meet Thomas, he’s not there. Everyone else is holed up in the upper room, afraid for their lives, and he’s out. Is he not scared? Perhaps he is dealing with Jesus’ death in his own Thomas kind of way? When he finally encounters the risen Christ, he’s not sure what or who he’s seeing. Do you blame him, or any of them for being skeptical? On our journeys we will deal with life, joy, and tragedy in a variety of ways. Sometimes like Thomas, we will need to be alone. At other instances, we may doubt what we’re seeing, feeling, and believing. Nothing will seem real. That is all part of our journey.
5. Do you remember the guy fishing on the beach, the one with the campfire? This may be the most important person to look for on your post-resurrection journey. The early morning fisherman is easy to overlook or ignore. Where I live, I see lots of people fishing, cooking out, catching fish, and enjoying the bounty of the sea. Like the coastline of the Galilee, it’s easy to take fishermen for granted because they’re a common sight. In the days following the resurrection, John tells his readers that Jesus’ disciples returned to Galilee and their work as commercial fishermen. In the early morning clouds, amidst the groups of fisherman hauling in nets, one guy was telling them where to throw their nets for better results. He’d already caught a few and was grilling breakfast on the beach. This was Jesus. At first they weren’t sure, but who else could it be? Jesus was right where they were, where they expected him to be, by the sea catching both people and fish. However, if they hadn’t stopped to look, what would they have seen, simply another man fishing on a cloudy morning? We miss the resurrected Christ when we don’t stop to look at the world blending in around us. The last person we meet on our way to the encounter the resurrection is Jesus. We will meet him in a way we are not expecting. Do you see how he came to the disciples in a way so common and ordinary to their lives? If he can be present as a guy fishing on the beach to the disciples in the first century then what’s he going to do to be present around us, today?
Five people who were just like us. Five people, who if we will look in the mirror and realize, their journey is just like ours.