Each year during Easter Week, we hear stories of Jesus’ appearance to His followers after the resurrection. But even His closest companions did not recognize Him. Mary Magdalene thought He was a gardener; Cleophas and his companion took Him for a fellow-sojourner; the Apostles, locked in quarantine, thought He was a ghost; the Disciples on the lake also failed to identify Him initially. Probably the reason they did not know Him is because they were in shock at the very idea of resurrection; or maybe it is because, in truth, none of us is very good at recognizing the Lord, even when standing right in front of us.
A spiritual director once warned me that when we get to heaven, we might discover that God looks just like that person on earth that we hated most. It would certainly be sobering for me to find my chief critic or most irritating parishioner occupying the throne of God. How do you suppose you’d deal with it if the Almighty Judge took the form of your ex-spouse who dragged you through the courts, brainwashed your children, and left you high and dry? If you’re a staunch democrat, how would you respond if you found the Omniscient Creator in the image of Donald Trump wearing a MAGA hat or, if a fervent republican, you get presented to the Omnipotent One in the body of Nancy Pelosi tearing up your report? What if self-righteous ecclesiastics were greeted by those they condemned as intrinsically disordered or the one to whom they denied communion?
Though I hope that my spiritual director is wrong, he offers us something worth thinking about. As we think about it, we should also think about the final feast of Easter Week: Divine Mercy Sunday. Rather than the face of those who startle us, I hope that Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, are more accurate in their depiction: that the Face of God is Mercy. Perhaps the King of kings will appear as an undocumented foreigner, a disabled beggar, or repentant criminal—none of us knows. But we do know this: as Easter People, we are to act as apostles, walk with saints, and entertain angels. We are to see the face of God in the faces of those we encounter, even the crippled, blind, outcast, and marginalized souls in our path. It was probably very tough for the first century Christians to proceed daily in the name of Jesus; but by doing so, their touch helped and healed the suffering, and it redirected the world.
I think that if we truly become Easter People and see Christ in those we meet—if we break through our entrenched ways like Jesus broke through the tomb, if we rise above our petty partisan skirmishes like He rose above those who condemned Him to death—then we may not need to recognize Him. He will recognize us. If we see in others the face of God, God will see our face and show us His loving mercy.