Christ appearing to his disciples after the Resurrection, by William Blake. Public domain
It’s easy to be convinced of the power of death. Watching the news reports of the war in Ukraine leaves all of us with a feeling of helplessness. Reports of the discovery of mass graves in Bucha of men, women, teenagers and children whose hands were tied behind their backs leave us enraged, but at the same time, feeling helpless, wondering what to do. Two years of pandemic revealed painful sides of ourselves: our racism, our political divides, our tendency to hoard simple things. We live in a world where death seems to have the upper hand and can feel like the final word. The temptation is simply to live for comfort, to try to cocoon ourselves from death.
The experience of the early disciples was similar. All they knew on Good Friday was the horror of public torture and the painful execution of the One they were hoping would bring redemption to Israel. They ran to the tomb of the Beloved, only to find it empty, and as John’s Gospel tells us, they did not understand. Yes, they gathered together, but probably with the feeling of “every person for himself,” our world has been wrecked beyond repair. Death won.
That afternoon, behind fearful locked doors, they were interrupted by Jesus, now luminous, offering His Shalom, showing His wounds, sending them with the breath of the Spirit back into a violent world. They were also changed, transformed, given new courage, speaking across the boundaries of language, race and nation. His love, His forgiveness, His assurance made them joyful, willing to risk all to be witnesses to the Resurrection.
This Easter we too will gather, with our hopelessness and despair over our world’s tragedies. But if we will allow it, also with all our potential, we will become witnesses to the Resurrection. This is not painting a “fragrant lily, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps” veneer to our sadness and despair. Rather, it is a time to allow the Christ to “Easter in us,” to transform us into joyful missionary disciples. When Christ touches our pain and the pain of the world with His own wounds, we are empowered as agents of change and hope.
I’ve seen it with the friars. Realizing the pain of the homeless during winter, they courageously opened the doors of St. Francis Seraph Church to their care. Other friars heal the wounds of our common home through legislation for the betterment of our environment. The friars of New Orleans helped people whose roofs and walls collapsed during last year’s hurricane. One friar used his legal skills to resettle Afghani refugees, giving opportunities for self-reliance. And all our Franciscan churches have programs to help those who fall on hard times with food, clothing and utility assistance. They are dispensing hope and new opportunity because of Christ.
These bittersweet times are an opportunity for all of us, changed by the Risen Lord into joyful disciples, to touch the wounds of our weary world with hope, love and faith in the power of the Resurrection. And yes, we will see Him, in our well-worn Galilees, in our fraternities, our world. We will see Him.
(Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM, is the Provincial Minister for the Province of St. John the Baptist.)