Several things happen to the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus. One significant element is their process of recovery from fear. This process is enhanced by the presence of the risen Lord and by the manner with which he reveals himself to them. In today’s gospel, the causes of their fear seem double-faced. John’s account tells us, “the doors were closed where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews” (Jn. 20:19) whereas in Luke’s account it appears as if their fear is related to Jesus himself, “But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk. 24:36-38).
The disciples are obviously going through a crisis of faith -their master has been killed. They hear that he has risen. They go to the tomb and do not see him. They recall his words before his death, but not sure what exactly the resurrection means. The Jews threaten them and plan their arrests as well. The Master starts appearing to different individuals at strange places. Then, he visits the disciples while the doors are closed. They try to deal with internal problems such as Thomas’ absence at the master’s visit. The two disciples return from Emmaus and complicate matters, bringing their version of the story. In fact, there is a lot for the disciples to deal with at the time, so, they are terrified. The Lord appears again as we see in today’s gospel. His signature greeting is the same, “Peace be with you.” Surely, Jesus demonstrates that He is the same in his divinity even though he may have changed in his bodily appearances.
In this encounter, Jesus brings himself to the level of the disciples to make them recognize him. He is their Lord and Master (Jn. 13:14). Rather than be the cause for their fear as they imagine, He is the solution. Jesus is always the solution to our problems. Imagine how he penetrates their inner thoughts, the same way he is able to get into the rooms despite closed doors. “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?,” He asks. Jesus shows them his hands and feet, and invites them to touch and feel him. Although his human body has been transformed, Jesus is still the Lord who cares and who is compassionate. He is the meek and humble servant. He invites them to a meal and shares the fish with them. On a spiritual level, Jesus reinforces what the prophets have written about him in the scriptures, “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead.” His mission is to bring God’s mercy and pardon to his believers and through his death raise up witnesses to his resurrection. In Jesus the author of life, there is no room for fear. The disciples should have known this.
One striking difference in Luke’s account of the post resurrection appearance is the assertion that the risen Lord will be fully known and experienced at the breaking of the bread, at the community’s sharing of the Eucharist. Think about the movement of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus for a moment. Think about their condition at the time of departure from Jerusalem and you will appreciate the importance of the encounter which precedes today’s gospel narrative. Those disciples are going very far away (seven miles from Jerusalem). They are practically disconnecting from the spiritual community and socially disengaging from the people around them (isolation). Their eyes are prevented from recognizing Jesus because they have shutdown mentally. Their faces are downcast. These all happened before Jesus engaged them. But today, they are excited to announce their new experience before the other apostles, “how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Some of us go through similar experience of a crisis of faith? Maybe that has happened in the past year as a result of the COVID. Perhaps it is not even as a result of COVID, can be something else. Have you ever got to that point where you seem not to see meaning in anything, where it appears as if there is a darkness cast over your entire life? Have you ever had to deal with fear as a result of family, health, job or something outside your control? It may not be you, maybe someone you know is experiencing crisis at the moment; someone dear to you. And that makes you worry! Imagine the disciples feel, just in a very bad shape. They are startled and terrified, meaning they are in a state of shock, stunned, frightened, and alarmed. They are terrified, scared, horrified, and panicked. The good news is that the Lord steps in and identifies with them. He doesn’t need to guess because he is the Lord. Jesus addresses them directly as his children, “Why are you troubled?” So, if you are at that spot, I could ask you, do you know why you are troubled? Do you know why you are terrified? What solutions have you been trying?
I was attending to someone some time ago who is over the tops with anxiety. Ironically, she does not know exactly what the cause is. She says to me, “I just want to run away.” Run away to where? That’s what the disciples heading to Emmaus are doing. They want to run away. There are times that some persons might feel like running away because they feel overwhelmed. Again, if you are at that spot, listen to me. Fear speaks into your head, tells you that Jesus is a ghost. Your community scares you. The scriptures lose their powers around you and you just want to run. The problem is the fear; it creates the ghost. Fear produces phantoms which appear real. Fear shuts down your ability to think. Fear corrodes your vision and makes you see imaginary objects. The disciples “thought they were seeing a ghost,” that’s what fear does.
Fear is one way in which the crisis of faith manifests. I like this quote from the science-fiction author Frank Hebert, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
But I want to tell you that fear is not just an emotional problem, it is more of a spiritual crisis. The devil steals our faith by planting fear in our minds. For example, when you get scared of coming to the church because you are afraid of seeing people and being harmed, the devil is taking advantage of your fear. When you feel afraid of contacting COVID by through your Christian community, the devil speaks fear inside you. He tells you that you are free at other places, shopping, etc., but unsafe in the Lord’s house. When you begin to see God only as one who punishes you, the devil is planting seeds of fear to make you feel like running. When you see the Cross as an object of punishment and wickedness and not the symbol of salvation and victory over sin and death, the devil is messing with your brain. The disciples of Jesus are heading in that direction before the Lord steps in.
The truth is this, even when you feel like running, Christ does not let you run alone; He runs with you. Christ encounters us in our crisis moment. He presents himself in the Blessed Eucharist. Christ wants us to stay with our community of believers, to hear his words in the scriptures. Our community can be a source of strength amidst fear. In the Holy Communion we discover our friendship with Jesus. Saint John reminds us that our fears can also be driven by a sense of guilt. We may want to run, but God does not give up on us. The evangelist writes, “But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” Let us share God’s love in the faith community. Embrace Christ in the Blessed Eucharist and let him into your heart. By uniting with him, you find peace and calm which surpasses any fear. Christ is not a ghost. He is real. All He wants you to do is to touch and feel him in the Blessed Eucharist. That is the best way to deal with any faith crisis.