|Christ appears to the disciples at table Duccio, Siena (1308-11)|
If there is a single idea that unites the readings for this Sunday it is ‘astonishment’. We often describe something that astonishes us as ‘unbelievable’. On the other hand, we also explain the fact that some things fail to astonish us by saying that they aren’t believable. This is how it is with the Resurrection for many modern people; they aren’t astonished by it, because they can’t believe it happened -- physically .
Luke's Gospel shows that in this respect, people today are not so very different to the disciples. They too were skeptical, and thought that the Jesus who seemed to appear among them was more likely to be a ghost than a resurrected person – hence the physical touching and eating that Jesus uses to convince them. As contemporary readers, we can either accept the written record of this testimony, or we can go on saying that it must have been the result of some strange delusion (or even pure imagination) on the part of the disciples. Yet, even if a physical resurrection were proven, other ‘astonishing’ elements would remain, and in many ways these are much more important, spiritually speaking.
First, could it really be true. as the Gospels proclaim, that a crucified non-entity turns out be the very Messiah the Children of Israel had long yearned for? Could it really be that Jesus’ resurrection promised immediate forgiveness for the people who demanded his death, and preferred that a proven murderer be released into the community? Can it be (as the Epistle tells us) that they, and we despite our ordinariness, have a Christ-like future ahead of us? These are the truly astonishing claims that the disciples make.
There is a preconceived idea, widely held, that people in past times were able to believe things that a modern, scientific culture like ours cannot. Today’s Gospel shows that Christians have good reason to combat this assumption. Despite enormous economic, cultural and technological changes, people then were not so radically different to people now. Yet while we should be open to their having witnessed a physical Resurrection, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that it is the religiously, and not merely the scientifically, astonishing that it is essential for our times to recover.