Doubts invade my prayer and distract me from the whole point of the story— of the entire core of my faith. Questions multiply in my mind exponentially. Why did some people recognize Jesus while others didn’t? Why is the Easter story so different in each Gospel? How did it really happen? Did it even happen at all? What if the whole “resurrection thing” is just metaphor? What if Jesus didn’t really come back in his body, but people just explained it that way because they had trouble understanding what they were feeling after Jesus was killed?
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?”
I guess I’m a lot like Jesus’ friends who had trouble believing their eyes, who remained cynical even when God himself spoke directly to them. Forget “you gotta see it to believe it” or “you had to be there,” sometimes we don’t even believe the goodness that is right in front of our faces.
“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
Maybe I have Easter questions because I am feeling desperate for a big, dramatic miracle. I want some happy headlines that restore all my faith that goodness is the strongest force. Terrorists repent and destroy all weapons. Cancer cure available for free to all in need. Malnourished children restored to perfect health. Billionaires give everything to the poor. Gun shops go out of business.
Apparently I have high expectations and big dreams. Maybe the truth is that I wouldn’t even recognize a miracle if it happened right in front of my face. Perhaps I need someone to show me what’s real and how God’s masterpieces surround me.
And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Yes! God’s beauty is all around me, all the time, in the ordinary things. I don’t have to look too far to find something beautiful. I can easily experience wonder and awe for the goodness of God’s creation. My students are listening and working hard. Buds are opening and flowers are blooming. The food pantry is well stocked. The sun is shining and the sky is a beautiful blue. Life is good!
… they were … incredulous for joy and were amazed …
So much goodness is happening around me, but, how am I part of this? Jesus is God, so above me, so beyond me. I am small. I am nothing. I am just a person with very human needs and wants.
… he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
And he is human too! He shows up, announces “Peace,” and then asks his friends for a snack! This is the Resurrected Jesus I can get behind, that I can believe in–the teacher who pauses in the profound, steps into the ordinary, and asks his pals for some food. Not only is he alive and human, but he’s a beggar too!
Now I know–or at least I am starting to get it: Easter is actually an ordinary thing.
Even though the first Easter Sunday changed everything, the Truth that must inform my daily living is the part of the story where Jesus models how to be fully human. Easter may not end all human suffering, but it should change how we are with each other. Easter is a human thing, a holy and profound moment that is just as basic as showing up uninvited and asking for a snack!
Imagine you’re making your way throughout your day, doing your job, or maybe just going for a walk. And suddenly, you are dazzled, bewildered, so incredibly confused, but there’s this stunning image in front of you. A ghost maybe? Some ethereal being, that’s for sure. I mean … she’s floating.
There’s a smell of roses maybe, or a feeling of incredible peace. And then, suddenly, she’s gone. Did she just speak to me? What … what did she say?
You go back to work or your home, share this news with a handful of people, and pretty soon you are that guy – that guy with the visions, the strangely healing visions. Which isn’t the best way to be known, seeing as there are some pretty intense suffering going on elsewhere for people experiencing visions.
She keeps visiting you. At this point, it would be nice to see more of her, maybe prove something, but do you kind of want her to go away?
What does she want?
Oh God. Make it stop or help me prove it.
And He proves it.
Oh Goodness, here we go.
Today, right now, if you saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, if she appeared to you and shared her message … would you recognize it? Would you believe it? Would you trust your experience enough to know that this was something sacred? Would you share it?
Can you imagine if Juan Diego didn’t?
Take some time to recognize and share your sacred experiences this Advent. You may just have a hand in a miracle.
It’s time for joyous, bright, colorful feasts and celebrations. (Whoa, did you hear the news that we have two new Pope Saints?! Hooray!)
I especially love the Easter season for the Biblical readings that we pray with. We get to hear many of the inspiring stories from the earliest days of Christianity, when it was a brand-new baby religion, dealing with all sorts of identity issues. Wait, are we Jewish or something different!? What do we believe? How do we do this?
Essentially, after the phenomenal resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus, his earliest followers were left staring at each other with their mouths all agape and a certain question written all over their confused faces: Now what?!
To help clear up the questions, the Holy Spirit led the way and God provided some strong leadership (Hooray for Peter, the first Pope!). Those with agape faces quickly became very bold and then formed strong, prayerful, compassionate communities. United, they risked their lives for the Gospel. At first, they called themselves the followers of The Way (one of Jesus’ names). They professed in public that Jesus was the Messiah and got more and more people to join them in their faith, even though it was dangerous and deadly for them to do so.
Love was bold and faith was fearless. By the power of the Risen Christ, all sorts of miracles were able to occur through the believers. Some of the stories help us know that the Church was refreshingly human (like the one about the guy who fell asleep during some preaching) and some miracles were just amusing. (Here’s the entertaining article I use to teach my students about the miracles in the Acts of the Apostles.) In addition to the miracles, many Christians were tortured and martyred during this time. Amazingly, this inspired more people to get in on the action.
For sure, when things were just getting started in the early Church, there was no shortage of excitement and mind-blowing news. The believers imitated Christ and were eager to love others boldly, radically and non-violently. This meant they’d be loving and peaceful even if it killed them, literally. A certain purity and fervor bonded the faith communities and helped the Gospel to spread like wildfire.
A lot has changed in 2,000 years and now the Church doesn’t look much like it did when it began. If the shrugs my students show when I ask them if they would be a Christian even if it were illegal and deadly is any indication, a lot of the original fervor of this faith has burnt out.
So, what happened? Where has all the fervor gone?
Well, Christianity became popular, acceptable and credible. Ask any historian and they’ll likely agree: once a movement enters into the mainstream, it is no longer radical and countercultural. When the unconventional becomes ordinary, it quickly conforms to the culture and gets watered down.
Theologian Greg Boyd does a decent job of summing up how this problem infected Christianity:
Indeed, we certainly need to stop trying to bend Christ into our image.Instead, we need to conform our lives to who Christ truly is: humble, non-violent, powerless, forgiving and generous.
Let us pray that our faith can become as countercultural and courageous as it was for our Christian ancestors. Let us remember that Christ has conquered death and we are free.
Let us be real, resurrection, Easter people who will rise up to Truth: the cross is no longer a symbol of oppression and torture, but a sign of how we are called to love and how we have been loved. We embrace the cross and boldly proclaim the song of our freedom: Jesus lives! Amen! Alleluia!
Actually, it’s quite hard to live like a Christian, especially if we keep hearing that showing up for church on Sundays is good enough. Really, we’re supposed to be non-conformists of this world, conforming instead to the radical, non-violent, loving ways of Christ. Our faith life needs to be deep, prayerful and solid, and must direct all else in our life. God really is supposed to be our All in All.
I wonder if the increase of secularization in our culture is responsible for the myth that faith is only appropriate when its private and doesn’t offend others. I am concerned about how our youth are learning to practice our faith from us. Is it really okay for us to live in luxury, privilege and glamor while others suffer? Why do we practice our religion? Is it because we love God and the people of God (the Church)? Are we willing to go through major conversions in order to grow in union with God? Or, are we only willing to live our faith if it doesn’t ask us to change too much or get uncomfortable?
Certainly, living a life of Christian faith is simple in principle. It is a simple way, a way of Love. In actuality, it’s pretty challenging and demanding.
I am finding that it’s not easy to teach teenagers this principle- -the idea that having faith might require you to change, be uncomfortable, stand up for the vulnerable, make hard choices and be radically different from what popular society says is cool and acceptable.
I recently showed the following video to some of my students. Afterwards, when I asked the students to silently pray and contemplate how the story related to their lives, the classroom felt pretty intense. Faith is hard.
The good news is that if we really have deep faith that causes us to grow and change we never know what we might be able to do. Our faith strengthens us and unites us with a power greater than ourselves.
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” -Matthew 17:20
Yes, as we grow in union with God, nothing is impossible. Because, for God, nothing is impossible and we are instruments of God.
Here’s another video, this time about how awesome it is to be an instrument of God: