The days, weeks and months – and even years – following the death and resurrection of Jesus was a time of fear and confusion for his followers. The shock of the empty tomb and rumours of sightings by his disciples were fast becoming the stuff of legend. To be alive after death was not normal. But it opened up to those who believed a new world of courage and hope.
That Jesus was alive, albeit in a manner not of this world, was puzzling though recognized and confessed by his disciples. They looked back and remembered his words and deeds from the past and saw them packed with new meaning and significance for the task at hand to which they felt drawn. Something new drew them onward.
Much discussion and searching of the scriptures went on. The ancient promises made to Abraham, the exodus from Egypt and the words of Isaiah about a Messiah who would ‘bring good news to the poor’ all took on fresh meaning and new hope. His disciples reproduced his practice of table fellowship, breaking bread as he had done, recognizing him in it, and going forth to care for the needy in their midst.
Perhaps unknown to them at the time, their table-sharing was a new structure of justice and inclusion that appeared in, and even challenged, a world of exclusion and injustice. Participation in it would nurture the seed which would bring them to hear Jesus’ memorable promise, “just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me…come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you…” – Matt 25.
Disciples without their Master, they wondered about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel and found themselves filled with a new spirit and sense of hope. Their lives were changed. Jesus was clearly alive with a new kind of life in their midst. Time and patience, discussion and resolution of differences led them to a deeper understanding of Jesus, and of who they themselves were and what their task would be.
The Gospels and Acts give us bits and pieces only. Mary Magdalene, once demon-possessed, had risked arrest at the tomb. The others, Jesus male followers, seem to have succumbed to caution and fear. Au contraire, her love was filled with fearlessness and risk. The others were slow to believe when she said he was alive. Her proclamation was the first and basic gospel message of Christianity.
What does it all mean for us today? Maybe dogs have something to teach us: the art of paying attention. They watch our every movement, hang on our every word and stare into our eyes as they wait for the cue that it’s time to eat or time to go running and sniffing. The inspired stories of Easter invite us to pay sensitive attention and do some sniffing.
“Let Him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness in us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” – Gerard Manley Hopkins.