Often I find myself pondering how it was for the earthly followers of Jesus on the evening of Jesus’ death and the next day, which we call Holy Saturday. I picture them huddled in a dark room in a state of shock, unable to eat and utterly depressed. Fear lives in their hearts and they have no reason to go on. They have no hope. Over the past few years I have encountered many people who are living their own Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These good people have lost their jobs, been disappointed in their church, have had to leave their homes and have lost their health care. They have no hope.
It is to both groups that the Easter kerygma is proclaimed: “Jesus is raised in accordance with the Scriptures!” The message assures us that Jesus the Christ is raised and lives in our midst now. He has conquered death, of which we are most afraid, and offers us deep peace and hope. But where do we find this message? In 2012 we do not have the luxury of seeing the Lord face to face. We cannot put our hands into his side, as Thomas did, or eat fish with the Lord on a beach at sunrise. Or can we?
Where will we find the risen Christ? For many, this is a tremendous challenge, yet it is not as difficult as one might think. The promise of faith is that Christ is always with us, even to the end of time. If we take the Gospel message at its word, then we can encounter the risen Lord each day. Ours is a world of grace—that grace being God in our midst. It is “amazing” grace, freely given with no strings attached. But we must decide to give ourselves over to this grace and to approach each day expecting to encounter the risen one.
With eyes that are clear and hearts full of hope we will find him alive in the communities that surround us in our world. We always meet the Lord in the breaking of the bread and in the opening of the word, a source of great comfort and spiritual strength. The risen Lord is present to the world in other ways as well.
Communities of Service
Communities of people who serve others in need continually manifest the presence of Christ. The Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders, for example, reach out to the needy all around the world, especially in nations where there is political unrest and war. They minister in cultures foreign to their own with respect for those they serve. Similarly, thousands of missionaries spread the word of God in foreign lands and bring spiritual comfort to those they meet; they are the risen one among these people.
Closer to home I see the risen Lord in the Stephen Ministry program. Stephen ministers are lay women and men trained to meet the short-term needs of their church community. They do whatever is needed, from taking people grocery shopping to providing companionship to lonely people. Hospice touches thousands each year. When my father was recently ill, my family and I experienced the support of the hospice program. Not only do these people assist the one who is preparing to die, but they also help those who are in mourning. I remember seeing relief on my mother’s face after hospice came to her home. We knew the risen Lord was close.
Last year, when the United States celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I watched on television the dedication of the memorial near the former World Trade Center. I recalled the first responders, many of whom lost their lives as they climbed the towers, and Mychal Judge, O.F.M., who rushed to the area and became the first recorded victim of that day. Thousands of people helped to find the bodies of the dead and minister to the police and fire fighters—all manifestations of the risen Lord. Many are suffering physically today as a consequence of their works of mercy.
The risen Lord is also present in those who fight for justice and stand up for the downtrodden. In an atmosphere of political negativity, it is easy to believe that no one is selfless or focused on truth and justice. But that is not true. Many lawyers are working pro bono for immigrants locked in detention centers who need representation. Advocates for the homeless staff soup kitchens and try to bring healing to the addicted; they also petition the government for laws to protect the needy. Others are organizing variously to speak for justice and truth. I have sometimes seen the risen Lord in diplomats and world leaders who fight for peace and make decisions based on goodness and reconciliation.
Friends, family members or co-workers may be vivid signs of Christ’s presence in our own daily lives. It is easy to take for granted those near us. We need to pay attention to how they call us to growth, love us unconditionally, support us when we are down and cheer for us when we achieve. I have encountered the risen Jesus when those I care about challenge me to see new possibilities for my life and to trust that Jesus is with me on the journey. Around children especially—these vulnerable little ones who love to smile, laugh and run freely—I feel the presence of the risen One. We adults are disarmed in their midst. No wonder Jesus told his followers to let the children come to him.
In Luke’s Gospel (4:18-19) Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
All our years are years of favor from the Lord, and communities of service have the power to set people free, which they do every day. As St. Teresa of Avila put it, “Christ has no other hands but yours.” Missionaries and others serving in foreign lands, those who sit with the dying or offer friendship and a break from loneliness, leaders for justice, those near us whom we love best—these are the hands, eyes and faces of the risen Lord.
Christian tradition offers excellent tools to help us “discern” Christ’s presence. One tool is the daily examen, as St. Ignatius Loyola called it. The examen involves taking time at the end of your busy day to look back and ask God to show you where God has been present. You pay attention to the day’s events and the people you encountered. You review your interior moods, feelings, joys, difficulties and loves, noting what makes an impression on you. The basic question of the examen is, “How did I meet God today?” This exercise is best done in quiet as part of one’s evening prayer. If practiced regularly, the examen will bear rich fruit. Gradually you may come to anticipate seeing the risen Christ all the time in events and people!
Another tool is to pray over the gifts and fruits of the Spirit listed at 1 Cor 12:3-11 and Gal 5:22-26. One of the functions of the Spirit of Jesus is to fill our lives with blessings and gifts. The communities and individuals we encounter each day are blessings and gifts from God. When we use and appreciate these, we experience the fruits of the Spirit. If you find yourself becoming more joyful, loving, patient, peaceful, kind, trusting, gentle, self-controlled and filled with goodness, you are living in the aura of the Spirit. Then you know you have encountered the Lord in the workings of your day.
We are all on the road to Emmaus. Jesus the Christ comes upon us every day. But often we do not recognize him as we pass him at our jobs and in the supermarket. We read about him in the newspaper and teach him in our classrooms. He comes in all shapes and sizes, colors and cultures. “So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture, so much is in bud,” writes the poet Denise Levertov of the Easter season. May we not miss what is blossoming in our midst this Easter.
Tonight, before you pull up the covers, take time to look over your day and perceive where the risen Lord was present to you. Then sing a verse of “Amazing Grace,” smile and say thank you.