Whoever goes to Christ goes from fear to love.Saint Augustine (Confessions, IV, 14, 22)
As we continue our journey through Easter, we see the early disciples often struggled to recognize the risen Lord as He appeared to them. In Luke 24:35-48 the risen Lord enters and the disciples are startled, terrified, and confused. They thought they were seeing a ghost! Jesus asks, why are you troubled? Why do you have questions? After all, we too might ask how in the world they could be confused after all that had been promised to them in Scripture and all they had witnessed as they followed Jesus through his ministry.
However, perhaps when we reflect on our own journey of faith we too can relate in some way to the questions and confusion they experienced. Have we ever struggled to see and trust in the power of the risen Lord who stands in our midst?
Perhaps there have been times when we experienced God in an answered prayer one day only to find ourselves struggling to trust Him when a new difficulty emerges the next day. Perhaps we have experienced a time when we felt freed of our sins as we walked out of the confessional one day only to find ourselves laden with temptation, guilt, or regret the next day. Perhaps we can relate to a time when we attended Mass and felt joy and a renewed commitment to follow Christ and His commandments only to lose that motivation the minute we left the Church.
I recall a trip I took to Afghanistan several years ago as part of my former career with the U.S. Army. I was quite nervous about the trip because I knew the danger involved with travel into an active battle zone. The morning of my travel day I prepared by going to confession followed by Mass. After Mass I spent some time before the Blessed Sacrament reflecting on Scripture. This led me to write down a few of God’s promises on a piece of paper that I would keep in my pocket throughout my trip. As I left the Church that morning I felt assured of God’s presence and His protection over my life.
Yet later that evening, as I arrived at the airport for my overseas flight, I suddenly found myself paralyzed in fear and anxiety. The consolation I had experienced earlier in the day had vanished. I felt alone, vulnerable, and confused. Feelings not unlike what we all experience from time to time when we face a scary, dangerous or risky situation. Feelings most likely similar to what the early disciples felt following Jesus’ death and burial. I felt locked in a tomb of fear.
Why had my own faith been shaken? As Easter people, we believe in the power of the Resurrection, yet how quickly we join the early disciples in learning that it is not always easy to fully understand or trust all that God has been promised to us, even when He is standing in our midst. This holds especially true in the face of difficulty or danger.
Thankfully our God understands our struggle. The same Jesus who Himself cried out from the cross, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) at the height of his agony is the same risen Lord who appears to the early disciples in the midst of their fear and confusion and says “Peace be with you.” That same Jesus Christ appears to us today.
On the long flight to Afghanistan, I had many hours with little to do as we inched closer to the source of my fear. In those sacred moments of silent stillness, I found myself reflecting on the consolation I received at Mass that morning. I reflected on the many promises of God that I had written on the piece of paper in my pocket. As I did so, God led me to remember how He had helped me though dangerous situations in the past.
Suddenly, I felt a sense of peace. As I became conscious of the God I had previously come to know in past difficulties, I came to see the God who was present in my new difficulty. At that point the risen Lord and His promises ceased being an abstract idea in my head and became a presence that was truly there. The promises from Scripture I had written that morning became more understandable and more trustworthy.
Perhaps as the early disciples heard His voice, saw His wounds, and observed Him eating, the risen Lord ceased being simply a set of words for them. They would be able to see Him no longer as a ghost but as the fulfillment of the risen Lord that they had been promised. It is only after Jesus relates to them in this very personal way that He explains the Scripture to them.
We experience the risen Lord in a very personal way in prayer, in music, in other people, in the Sacraments, and most especially in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, the Lord once again proves He is risen and He is present just as He promised. Yet, just before we receive Him (in between the Our Father and before the Lamb of God) we ask Christ to send us His peace as we recall His words to the Apostles, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you.” Jesus Christ offers us His peace as we prepare to receive Him in the Eucharist and He unites us more closely to Him as we do.
Next time we receive the Eucharist, may our trust in the presence of the risen Lord be strengthened and help us continually discover anew that His love has no bounds. The same Lord who met us in the past meets us today. The same Lord who meets us today will meet us with whatever we may face tomorrow. This is because He meets us where we are at, in the good times and the bad times. In the times when we feel safe, and in the times when we feel vulnerable. Hence, in the words of Augustine, when we go to Christ with that which causes our fear, we go to love.
When He does meet us, He does so in love. Just as he prepared the disciples for their mission, so too He prepares us for ours, whether that mission takes us to Afghanistan, to a particular career, to family member in need, to a difficult decision, or to our neighbor in our own backyard looking for hope.
Jesus Christ is risen today, may His peace be with you as he calls us out of our tombs of fear to Himself.