I’ll never forget the first time I saw Pope Saint Paul VI in person at the audience hall now named after him in Rome. I had arrived in Rome on 10 October 1975, a Friday, and went to the papal audience the following Wednesday, 15 October. The excitement was high, the anticipation electric and, when he then came in, I felt such a rollercoaster of emotions that I could not describe them: joy, tears, disbelief and even a sense of unworthiness. I remember wanting to tell everyone about it, and phoning home and writing letters with photographs to all and sundry.
I could not help thinking of that when reading today’s Gospel. When Jesus appeared in front of them, the company of his disciples went through a rollercoaster of emotions. It tells us they were alarmed, in fright, agitated, doubtful, overwhelmed with joy, incredulous and dumbfounded. Now, if they had seen only a ghost, you might think they would just be alarmed, frightened and agitated. But their joy tells you that they were seeing more than a ghost. It was Him! It was really Him!
Imagine the thirty plus people I have buried from St. Mary’s over the past eighteen months all suddenly appearing here on the sanctuary with me. The intake of breath by all of us would be deafening. We, too, would all go through a spectrum of emotions, ranging from disbelief to panic and, hopefully for some, to joy. Questions and doubts would rise in our hearts and minds. Surely, this can’t be real? It must be some kind of trick or optical illusion. They mustn’t really have died; it can’t actually be them …
But if then they were to start speaking with their familiar accents and tones and turn of phrase and invite you to inspect their hands and feet and touch them; if they were then to eat fish and chips brought from along the road; if then they were to call you by name and reassure you, “yes, it’s really me”? Some might still not believe, but some will. And some will begin to think: but if this is true, then it changes everything. It turns death inside out and upside down; it means that death is no longer final. But then, how did this happen, how could it happen? What or who has made this possible? How can I be part of this myself? It will revolutionise humanity and history. It means that grief and pain and sorrow are only for a short time. It changes the meaning of life, of my life, of everyone’s life.
Then you would be texting and taking pictures and phoning: people need to hear about this, we’ve got to tell everyone. This is an incredible hope for humanity. It is a new humanity, a new beginning, a new life.
In today’s Gospel, St. Luke is trying to proclaim precisely this to the world. By telling of Jesus appearing in flesh and bone, by having him speak in his familiar Galilean accent, by showing that he knew who these people were and where they were, by having the disciples touch him, by having him eat grilled fish, by describing the emotional earthquake of the disciples, St. Luke is hammering home the message that the Resurrection of Jesus is real, more real than any other reality. In fact, the event of the resurrection, the life and world of the resurrection is the new reality, the true reality, the ultimate reality. The reality we now live is old and on its way out.
Jesus explains this to the disciples by opening their minds to understand the Scriptures, that is, the will of God revealed and written down over millennia before Jesus to foretell his death and resurrection. The disciples are witnesses to it and are sent into the world to proclaim it. Men and women become part of this new reality by repentance from sin and by the forgiveness of sin flowing from Jesus.
One last point. At every Mass, the same risen Jesus who stood in the Upper Room makes himself present again in the Eucharist. He again seeks to open our minds through the proclamation of his Word. And there’s more. With Jesus, united to him, are not just those thirty or so parishioners who have died, but the whole of redeemed humanity up to this point. Yes, Jesus is hidden behind the sacrament and the Word, and his saints are present to him in a way we cannot see with our eyes, but herein lies the glory of our faith which lays hold of the realities of eternity beyond our senses and makes it possible for us to touch the Body of the Risen Christ and know that we are in loving communion with all his saints.
Brothers and sisters, we are witnesses to these things. We were confirmed to go and witness. Ours it is to tell others in the joy and strength of our faith, without fear, without favour and without doubt that the Lord is Risen, He is truly Risen!