I sometimes wonder if there is an element of playfulness in the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Certainly there seems to be a touch of humour in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Trudging along they are talking earnestly to the stranger about the events that brought Jesus to death on the cross. They then go on to tell him that some women of their company found the tomb of Jesus to be empty. But all the time, as we know, it is he to whom they are talking as they walk along the road. Then he vanishes, only to reappear as we hear in the gospel today (Luke 24.35-48) when the travellers to Emmaus meet with the others to tell them the astonishing truth that they have met the risen Lord. The excited pair barely have time to tell their story when, to the further amazement of the company, the risen Lord is there among them.
The underlying message is a profound one. It is that there is a hidden, eternal reality, and it is all around us. The contemporary hymn Gather Us In reminds us that heaven is not light years away. It is not like some distant galaxy. Heaven is the realm where God’s love is manifest, shown forth like a shining light on all creatures, and it is that realm which makes this world possible. The world, in fact the whole created order, has come forth from that realm and depends for every moment of its existence on that realm, that is to say, on the creating will of God who made us and sustains us. In this sense eternity is around us all the time.
Jesus who is Christ is the one who unites heaven and earth. How appropriate then, that he could appear to the disciples at any time or place, because it was a wonderful sign that he would never be far away from them – or far away from us who are in our own poor way his disciples today. In his risen body the realities of heaven are demonstrated in a way that earth can begin to understand. By faith and baptism we are taken into Christ, and in him we have the resurrection promised for us also, a continuity that will take us from this realm of time and space into a whole new way of being in which we will be set free, while remaining uniquely ourselves. In his appearances is a sign of this resurrection hope that is ours.
There remains, of course, the matter of our human frailty. To think of that eternity of light and love is to be aware of our own unworthiness of it. Yet here too the scripture comes to our help. Our first reading gives us a sermon from the earliest days of the Church, in which we hear Peter say that God will wipe out the sins of those who repent (Acts 3.19). And in the second reading John gives us wonderful reassurance when he tells us that ‘if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ … the sacrifice that takes our sins away’ (1 John 2.1-2). An advocate is someone who takes our side. The same Jesus who faces the disciples in that room faces also the Father, and pleads on our behalf.
He is the bridge between heaven and earth, the reconciler of God and humankind, the one who brings love and grace to overturn hatred and sin. Hence the astonishing words of our closing prayer, when it is prayed that we may attain in our flesh ‘the incorruptible glory of the resurrection.’ Each of us in our bodies is unique. The risen body of the Lord is a sign that each of us embodied persons can be transformed by the love and mercy of God, transformed, in fact, for all eternity.