The other day, a former high school English teacher of mine had sent me a picture that had appeared in a bunch of different newspapers around the world. It was from South America in a town in Colombia where a group of people at night time were gathered looking up at a tree. They were all pointing at what appeared to be a figure of Jesus Christ in the trunk of the tree. The sight had attracted both local and international attention. This came a day after people in Argentina snapped pictures of what appeared to be the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing in the sky… many excited onlookers saw it as a miracle which moved one woman to write “Thanks Mother for protecting us, for interceding to God for His mercy to protect your people.”
Believe it or not, I get a lot of these types of articles, pictures, news reports… thank you Facebook. Sometimes it will be from someone I haven’t spoken to in over 20 years or someone I don’t even know but they’ll see it, say to themselves “I know a priest” and share it. Their sharing’s often range from either being excited and wanting to make sure I hadn’t missed what they consider a miraculous sight to being really skeptical and wanting to know where I stand on the report. To a lot of them, they think I kind of cop out without taking a strong position one way or another. The one asking curiously “You think it’s a miracle?” the other far more skeptically almost with disdain “You don’t think it’s a miracle, do you?” And they’ll both be disappointed when I say – I don’t know. Some of these sights are curious, interesting…. some seem really more miraculous then others do – some I don’t see something that obviously a lot of other people very emphatically do. But I don’t know. Which I don’t really have a problem with because to me it’s not important that everyone sees exactly what someone else does – particularly when it’s not something contrary to what we believe as Christians. Because how God will somehow speak into people’s lives and experiences reminding them of His love, His presence, pointing them back to Him, shaking them out of lukewarmness or indifference – and that they will hit people in different ways none of that surprises me… What is more important to me is that God does these things and that we need to receive them
Because as Christians, we believe in a God who is incarnational – who in Jesus Christ, God became man, became one of us and one with us. We also believe that’s relational. We believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life – so that’s a Universal message and Hope for all humanity. But He cares about me and you and each and everyone of us on a personal level. So if we take a look around at that whole of humanity, it might have occurred to you that we’re all very, very different people. How God is going to going to catch the attention of someone in Colombia or Argentina is probably going to be a little bit different than how he might do that to a priest in New Jersey. How God is going to reach you is going to be different than how He reaches out to me. The important thing is recognizing that He is meeting each of us where we’re at, providing what we need to encounter and have a deeper relationship with Jesus.
You can see and hear that in the Easter Gospels including this one we just heard today. Here we are on our third day of celebrating the central event, the defining thing for Christians – that Jesus was raised from the dead. Yet the Gospels demonstrate how different people encounter the Risen Christ in different ways.
This passage we just heard continued the one we heard proclaimed on Easter Sunday morning from the Gospel of John which had Mary Magdalene discovering the empty, open tomb – running to get Peter and John who return to investigate and find it as she had reported. Those two – Peter and John have just left. John had told us that simply seeing the empty tomb was enough for him. He writes of himself that he saw and believed. He kind of throws Peter under the bus saying he didn’t quite understand. They have gone back to the Upper Room to be with the other disciples.
Mary Magdalene stays there. Mary who when she first met Jesus was when he healed her – casting out 7 demons that had tormented her – that was obviously a different encounter, a different experience then the apostles whom Jesus had called to leave their nets and follow Him. So she’s at the tomb somewhat inconsolable and then sees the angels and is wondering who did what to Jesus’ body. Then He appears and she doesn’t even recognize Him, until – until He calls her by name. For her that’s all she needs. She knows it’s Him… everything clicks that He has in fact risen from the dead and now she is able to go forth and proclaim this great news. For Peter, it will take several interactions and encounters with the Risen Christ before he’s ever able to not just believe this truth but to become the bold, confident and charismatic Peter that we heard in the first reading.
The point is that our God is so good, so loving that He continues to pursue us, reach out to us, meeting us right where we’re at and calling us into a greater, deeper more meaningful relationship. That’s going to look and feel differently for each of us but it will be exactly what we need. Especially in this time where we’ve been forced into being a bit more reflective, had some of our daily lives and routines upended to ask ourselves – How is God speaking to me, trying to get my attention, calling me into a deeper relationship with the one who not only conquered death Himself, but wants to raise you and I into new life with Him?