The Scriptures tell us that after Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days. However, though they were His intimate friends, they failed to recognize Him. Why was that? It was because Jesus in His glorified body had been so transformed that He was beyond their recognition. Remember that the last time they would have seen Him was on the day that He was crucified. At that time, His body was broken, His flesh torn apart by the beatings He received and His face bloodied and scarred from the crown of thorns. Once risen, however, Jesus’ body could no longer suffer. He could now pass through locked doors and stone walls. He could travel from one place to another in no time. Yet it was still a physical body. As we read in today’s gospel, unlike a ghost, He had flesh and bones. His disciples could touch Him, and He could even eat. He was the same Jesus, only transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and glorified by God.
In the stories of His appearances to His disciples over those forty days, it is interesting to learn how they came to realize that it was really Him. His first recorded appearance is to Mary Magdalene as she sat weeping at His empty tomb. At first she thinks He is the gardener, but when she hears Him say her name, “Mary”, she immediately knows that it is Him. She recognized Him by His voice reminding us of Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice.”
Later on that Easter morning, Mary Magdalene tells the apostles that Jesus is risen. Peter and John run to the tomb to see for themselves. When John looks in and sees the linens rolled up at the side of the tomb, he immediately believes. Though John had not yet seen Jesus, he believed He was alive because of His love. It was through love that John, who is known as the beloved disciples, believes in and recognizes the Risen Lord.
When He appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they also fail to recognize Him. However, when He sits down to eat with them and breaks the bread, their eyes are opened. They remembered how He had broken bread to feed the five thousand and how, just a few days earlier, He had broken bread at the Last Supper. Just so, when we gather to break bread every Sunday, the Risen Jesus is in our midst.
In today’s gospel, when Jesus appears, how do the disciples come to recognize Him? He shows them His hands and His feet which still bear the nail wounds of His crucifixion. Though the rest of His flesh had been healed, He still bore the scars in his hands and feet which were nailed to the wood of the cross and in His side which was pierced with the soldier’s lance. Those wounds are now the signs of His great love, that He had given His life to save the world. They no longer are a mark of defeat but of victory - victory over sin, suffering and death. As the Prophet Isaiah says, “By His wounds we are healed.”
Our Risen Lord is still in our midst and is still alive and active. Many times, we fail to recognize Him. But by His grace, He reveals Himself to us from time to time. It might be when a passage from the Bible speaks right to our heart and gives us a new insight into His love for us. At those times, like Mary Magdalen, we recognize His voice. It could be when someone out of the blue goes out his or her way to help us. Like John the Beloved Disciple, we recognize the Risen Lord at those times because of love. Many times it is during Mass when we are overwhelmed with the awareness that Jesus is really present in His Body and Blood just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus did. Those are precious times when we feel God’s love holding us close.
However, we can also experience our Risen Lord at negative points in our lives. When we sin and fail to live up to His commands, we can repent and turn back to Him to experience His mercy. At those times, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance, we come to know that His love for us has no limits, that He can love us even when we let Him down. Also, when we are suffering either physically or mentally, we can experience Him standing by our side, holding our hand and carrying us through it all. We remember how He suffered for us and still bears the scars of His execution so that we can find comfort in Him.
Finally, we can recognize Jesus still alive in the poor and needy all around us. Our Risen Lord identifies with them in a special way as He says in the gospel of Matthew, “Whatever you do for the least among you, you do for me.” When we feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the afflicted and pray for others, we experience our Risen Lord in a new way. As we know, Jesus has not yet put an end to poverty, suffering or death. But He has promised to be by the side of those who suffer and He has promised that we can come to know Him when we come to their aid. That is why He still bears the wounds of His crucifixion because He is still alive in those who continue to bear His cross.
Throughout this week, in light of today’s readings, it would be good for us to reflect on three questions: How do I experience the Risen Jesus present in my life? How do I come to recognize Him? How do I witness to others my experience of the Risen Lord? He wants to show Himself to you and to me, particularly through the Eucharist we are about to share. Let us pray for the grace to truly see Him and to be changed just as He was changed until we too come to His Heavenly Kingdom when we will be able to touch His wounded hands, feet and side ourselves.