Seeing the Lord

This week's reflection is written by
Mr. Joseph McDaniel, OSFS

On a recent visit home, I had the opportunity of taking a walk to the seashore with my younger brother after Sunday morning Mass. As it was low tide, we were able to observe many forms of life emerging from between the rocks as the waters receded.

While we were climbing up off the beach, we took a final look at a non-descript pool that had formed at the outlet of a storm drain. Usually, storm drain runoff isn’t thought of as valuable wildlife habitat, but in this pool, we discovered schools of dozens, if not hundreds, of young fish that were happily darting around and surfacing, practicing for their eventual migration to the open sea. As we were observing the fish, a long furry creature suddenly scrambled from beneath a boulder and made a dash for the ocean: a sea otter! What many passersby would simply ignore as a pool of stormwater was turning out to be an oasis!

Scenes like this typify what is best about springtime: the emergence of life from the least obvious of places. I think it is fitting that we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord during this season of the year, because the presence of life sprouting, crawling, or swimming from the nooks and crannies of the earth, from places where we wouldn’t otherwise look, bespeaks the design of their creator, who himself emerged unexpectedly from the earth early one morning.

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One striking characteristic of the Resurrection narratives that we hear proclaimed during this Easter season is how often Jesus’ presence was not recognized by his closest friends and disciples, even when he was literally standing right before them. He was mistaken for a fellow traveler, a ghost, a gardener, perhaps another fisherman standing on the seashore. He was at once seen, but at the same time unseen.

Why couldn’t the disciples recognize the risen Jesus when they first encountered him? We know that when Jesus was raised, he didn’t just go back to the same way he was before, to a resuscitation or a prolongation of the thirty or so years he spent walking the ground of Palestine. His body didn’t just receive back the old life he had lived; it received a new, risen, glorified life. But shouldn’t this have made it even easier for the disciples to recognize him?

Maybe what made it so difficult for the disciples to see Jesus was that they weren’t expecting to ever see him alive again: they weren’t even looking for him anymore. Or maybe, if they had some deep-down hope that he would indeed arise from the dead, they expected to be dazzled and overwhelmed by his appearance. They didn’t expect he’d come back to them as a traveler, a gardener, as someone offering them grilled fish for breakfast.

The fact that the risen Jesus, in the splendor of his new life, chose to make himself known to his first disciples in the most ordinary of ways, tells us something about how he makes himself present to us today. We too, like the first disciples, live in the age of the Resurrection. Christ is alive in our midst, and there’s no turning back, but this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for us to see him than it did for his first disciples. 

Like them, we too may sometimes doubt if the Resurrection is something real, something tangible that actually makes a difference in our lives and in our world. Maybe we live in a hope that the Resurrection will manifest itself to us in an extraordinary way that knocks us off our feet and leaves us awestruck, like it did for St. Paul. But if we are in any way like the very first disciples who saw the risen Lord, Jesus makes himself known to us in the ordinariness of our lives. He is revealed as we break simple loaves of bread together in our churches and in our homes; he is the stranger we meet on the road; he is the gardener of the house next door. Just as he emerged from beneath a rock outside of Jerusalem while everyone else went about their daily business, we can find him amidst the stones and pebbles of our lives, as he turns puddles of stormwater into oases of life. We can find him as we look over a beautiful sunrise over the ocean, or even as we toss and turn in storms and find our nets empty.

When John concludes the final chapter of the final Gospel in the New Testament by saying, “I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25), he is speaking a literal truth. The Gospel, the Good News of encounters with the risen Lord isn’t finished being written yet. Each of our lives is meant to be a page, a chapter of that book, in which we exclaim with the first disciples, from the loftiest of mountains to the lowliest of tide pools and seashores: We have seen the Lord.