How often we have first impressions that turn out to be far different realities. A person, a situation, an encounter, aren’t what we thought. First-hand accounts of the Easter stories show just such recognitions of reality.
Days after the brutal death of Jesus, the Gospel stories after the event artfully show the confusion his followers felt. We read or listen to the first-hand accounts of their extraordinary experiences.
The gospel accounts of Jesus alive show how those who best knew him during his years of ministering, healing, and teaching, did not, after his tortured death on the Cross, recognize him. The man they saw surpassed the limits of human life. His friends could not grasp his bodily presence among them: is this a spirit? Jesus asks for bread: to eat with them confirms his physical presence, his humanity. He invites one of them to touch the wounds in his body. He is alive. They recognize him.
The Easter Jesus approaches his friends in different ways, with the Gospels giving details of each encounter, emphasizing the shocking reality of Jesus alive after death. The first encounter with the resurrected Jesus took place in a garden near the tomb where Mary Magdalene found the body gone, the body she and others had carefully prepared for burial. In her tears she does not recognize the figure nearby—her first impression was the gardener. Jesus says simply, “Mary.” That’s all that need be said: she recognized Jesus alive. Her following him as a disciple over the years reaches this privileged moment of being a witness to Jesus alive.
A third episode centers on two disciples who are totally bereft at his death. Their journey from Jerusalem was profoundly confusing and sad. A fellow traveler joins them in their journey, and they discuss the meaning of Scriptures. When they stop for refreshment, Jesus blesses the bread—and they recognize him, wondrously alive, inspiring, and true: new life out of real death. Their trust in him through all the events shared with him is now fulfilled: they recognize Jesus alive.
Recognition—a deeper encounter with what was beyond understanding. They become witnesses, eyewitnesses, to Jesus alive. On the witness of these followers of Jesus, our faith is built. We believe, we recognize all that he has said about life and life after death: first Jesus.