Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener. Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus mistook Jesus for a fellow traveler until he broke bread with them. When Jesus stood on the shoreline and called out to his fishing disciples, Peter and the others could not recognize him. John writes that when the eleven first saw the risen Jesus, they believed they had seen a ghost.
And then there is that passage from Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus promises his followers that when he reappears it will be as the beggar, the stranger, the sick person, or the prisoner. In these cases, it will not be the church that brings the risen Christ to the world. Instead, it will be the world in all its broken messiness that teaches the church how to recognize Christ.
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again, and again, and again, and again. But you probably won’t recognize him when he does. Instead you might see a person who feels like nothing more than a distraction, an obstacle, or a burden. An outsider you don’t have time to let in.
This is the repeated message of the Easter story. Jesus is already out there in the world, waiting for his followers to catch up and recognize him. The Holy Spirit and God’s love are bound by no human structure, no conventional limitation.
How appropriate it is that this Holy Week, one of the biggest current news stories is one of Christians claiming and celebrating their right to exclude those with whom they disagree. We still don’t get it. We still think we’re Peter, holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Luckily for us, even though Jesus supposedly handed over those keys, he also has no problem ignoring all our locked doors. He comes and goes as he pleases, takes whatever form he sees fit, and consistently reminds us, “Do not fear.”
I love that about Jesus. I marvel at his complete disregard for human convention and limitations. I am grateful that every Easter we hear once again how untamed God’s love really is. As limited human beings, we try to bind, beat, and destroy God’s unsettling presence in our world. We look upon others who are different, knowing the Bible tells us they are made in the image of God, and still we fail to see Christ in them. But God can’t be bound, beaten or destroyed. And Christ will always show up in those faces we look upon with fear or disgust.
Easter reminds Christians to be humble. It retells that story of how we human beings tried our hardest to kill off the ultimate example of God’s love on earth. It shows us that even our best attempts at denial and destruction end up looking feeble in the light of God’s ever-present, life-renewing love for this world. Easter stories also recall how much trouble even the faithful had with understanding God’s redeeming work. We seem bent on underestimating God. Thankfully, God is just as intent on defying our expectations.
(Special thanks to Professor Thomas H. Troeger for introducing me to Jesus the stranger.)Like this? Click to subscribe!