“Whatever we finally come to think God means, it must include life, more life”
- John D. Caputo
The post-Resurrection story in St. John’s gospel is a rich and detailed reminder of how life is an eternal equation, a kind of life-after-life experience that intersects with our quotidian humanity, reinforcing the divine mandate of human flourishing. Front and centre in this narrative are the three big personalities of Mary, Thomas, and Peter, who create a backdrop for how resurrected life seeks to reach deep into the core needs of our life. They breathe fresh spirit into our claustrophobic existence; a type of second wind scenario.
Upon reaching the empty tomb Mary becomes distraught and emotionally overwhelmed by a sense of separation and abandonment, grief her only companion. Someone once said that “Grief is the price we pay for love’”, which I think is a rather morbid way of approaching moments of separation. Maybe Winnie the Pooh is more on to it when he says, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” The role of grief as a companion helps us move through to the hopefulness of life-eternal; the divine interjection that eventually arrives to remind us that death and dying, while daunting and loaded with mixed emotions, are not the end of the story.
The remarkable and unexpected appearance of the divine is an up-close and personal moment of animation; an invitation into a new way of being.
This first stage mystical appearance of God is an instinctive and intuitive feeling of emotional subjectivity, distinguished from reasoning or knowledge. It’s a gut feeling and inclination that brings us face-to-face with the fragility of our self, the neediness of our conscious experience, which always involves a high degree of pleasure or displeasure. “Mary”, Jesus says; a reminder that he knows who she is and why she feels the way she feels, that it's ok to be overwhelmed. Human flourishing starts at the core level of our deepest-felt needs, caressing our soul’s hopefulness, reminding us that while grief is our reality, hopefulness must have her say for futurity’s sake.
The account of Thomas, who was fashionably late to the appearance of Jesus, is a beautiful reminder of our rational mind’s inability to grapple with transcendent mystery in the everyday experience of our secularised lives. His refusal to believe without seeing, mirrors our cyclic journey of doubt and faith; comparatives that seem to need each other like friends who fight and squabble, but always kiss and make up. Thomas gives me courage to be faith-full and faith-less on my trust pilgrimage, being ever careful to avoid the cynicism and skepticism that I naturally lean into. The incredulity of Thomas is a reminder of the non-judgemental acceptance of the divine; an open-handed invite to bring our doubts and fears to the table and lower the bar of what we think God expects of us. 'Doubting Thomas,' as he is affectionately known, became an amazing pioneer and influence in helping his gospel story become an international bestseller, especially in India.
Then there was Peter, the impetuous fisherman whose larger-than-life character features in so much of the gospel narrative, providing us with some cumbersome moments of authentic human-divine interaction.
After a frustrating and luckless night of fishing, Peter and his friends approach the shore to see someone gesturing to cast their nets onto the other side of the boat (a rather obvious thing to do if you were a fisherman, I would have thought?).
Feeling compelled to trust this stranger’s instruction suggests that when we are desperate and tired we long for serendipitous meetings, trustworthy associations, people who can supply us with fresh perspective in the midst of our need. In the moment of our scarcity, provision often shows up to feed our desperation, like a providential advocate that arrives just in the nick of time.
Jesus comes to our scarcity with the sustenance our humanity requires; a fireside table of invitation to those who would come and sit a while, to eat and drink in a Eucharist moment.
Life is about grief and hopefulness, faith and doubt, scarcity and provision, and as we hold these realities in paradoxical tension we open ourselves up to the wonder of divine interjection.