In all the major accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in the gospels, we are not told that he stayed with the witnesses for any prolonged period of time. In fact, in some of them, we are told that he disappeared at the breaking of the bread. This makes it extremely hard for us to pinpoint what it is that defines the resurrection of Jesus. And if it is hard for us to wrap our minds around it, it would be just as difficult for us to make it clear for ourselves what the resurrection would be. After all, we seem to have very little to hold on to, causing our detractors (read atheists) to say that our belief in the resurrection of Jesus is some sort of “pie-in-the-sky”.
Perhaps this is the problem as well as the solution, if “solution” is the correct word to use. Jesus did tell Mary of Magdala in the resurrection account in John’s gospel not to hold on to him. There’s something that doesn’t allow for his witnesses to hold on to him. The human tendency for us is to hold on to as much as we can because we cannot deal with change and transience well. We only need look at the Transfiguration event to see that we all have that human tendency to want to build tents on the mountain top and not ruin a good thing. We resist any call for change and fluidity, but God does not. Yes, we do know that God is immutable, but he is also called the unmoved mover as well.
But we only need to look at life and see that permanence of any sort does not really exist. Our lives are not permanent, our addresses are not permanent, and neither are our jobs and our health. What we need to do is to learn how to cope with change well, and unfortunately, in my experiences with folk who have changes thrust into their lives in unceremonious fashion, change is not only difficult, but extremely frightening as well.
I suspect the reason why the resurrection accounts in the bible are so fluid and fleeting is because our own experiences of resurrections in life have the same character. We are not joyful all the time, neither are we elated, ebullient and exuberant. But having said that, neither are the antitheses of these – our sadness, our mourning, our pains and sorrows are also not permanent. The resurrection joy and energy that Jesus wants to give us is to allow us to be aware of these resurrection moments when they happen in our lives, and to see that these are glimpses of something that have a permanence not in this life, but the next. And what gives us hope always is the chance of a new start.
This is why Jesus always mentions to the disciples – go to Galilee. Why Galilee? It’s not so much a physical place, but a time when it all began; a place where the disciples were first called, a time when fish were caught aplenty and when boats were left on the shore. Jesus wants them to recall and to start over again. That is what reconciliation and forgiveness is about.
We all have our Galilee moments. When friendships falter, when dreams fade and when romance seems to be just a figment of our imagination, we need to go back to Galilee too. It is there that we will see the Lord calling us again – calling us to love in ever expansive ways.