2009 Easter Messages
Monday, April 13, 2009
Most of the Resurrection stories in the four Gospels tell us that the disciples of Jesus failed to recognize him when he first appeared to them.
I have often wondered why this could have happened. After all, there were a very short interval of time between the Last Supper and the various occasions when he appeared to them after his resurrection from the dead. Had he changed that much? True, it was no longer a mortal body that they saw but the glorified body of the Risen Lord. But then, did not Peter James and John have the special privilege of getting a glimpse of the Risen Christ when they saw him transfigured on Mount Thabor. It was an ecstatic experience. Peter declared that they should remain there on the top of the mountain. Master, let us build three tents….it was just like heaven on earth.
Then as they came down the mountain, Jesus told them to say nothing about what they saw ‘until after the Son of Man had risen form the dead’. They had that wonderful experience, but they failed to see the message when the hour had come. ‘Something prevented them from recognizing him’. This is how Luke describes the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. For them, there was something final and definitive about the death of Jesus on Good Friday.
He was gone forever and there was no future for them around Jerusalem. Perhaps the ‘thing’ that prevented them from recognizing Him was due to the fact that their minds and hearts had become numb with grief. They were in no condition to think of the possibility of the miracle that walked along the road with them that Sunday evening. And that was understandable.
Whenever we look at people we know (or think we know), we tend to see what we expect to see. Man judges by appearances, but God sees the hearts. Very often, we are looking only at the cover of the book; we cannot see the treasures that are within as well as the baggage that we carry with us. The brave smile we try to put on in order to keep going can sometime conceal a lot of pain or sorrow on the inside. Jesus knew how to help people to see more clearly. He was patient enough to allow the two disciples to share their sorrow and disappointment. Love is patient, love is kind, love is gentle.
Then he spoke to them reminding them of things he had said before a number of times: ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer?’
Finally, they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. And when he had vanished from their sight, the two disciples could say to each other: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the way’. During Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament we sing the ‘Tantum Ergo". It reminds us that ‘Sight is blind before God’s glory, faith along can see His face’. There is a proverb that says: ‘The heart has its reasons that reason itself cannot understand’. The wisdom of such a ‘secular’ proverb shows us that faith and reason often go hand-in-hand.
- In Europe today, people ask or question the idea of a life after death; is there such a thing? For so many Africans, it is the exact opposite: is there life before death? The suffering of these people is so widespread and complex that we can feel helpless in attempting to address the situation.
Two years after his election as Pope, the Late John Paul II made his first pastoral visit to Africa. The first country on this tour was Burkina Faso. He describes how horrified and appalled he was when he saw the severe drought and desert conditions of the country as the plane was landing at the airport. From that very moment he spoke: ‘From this place, launch a solemn appeal to the entire world….
I raise my voice in supplication… I make my voice the voice of those who have no voice, the voice of the innocent’. And this voice crying in the wilderness was hard. He wasted no time in setting up a special foundation to combat the effects of the spread of the desert southwards. The Sahel Foundation (as it is called) was formally launched by the late Pope John Paul II in 1984. This year, we celebrate the silver jubilee of the Foundation. It includes nine countries south of the Sahara which are affected by the desertification process. The Gambia is one of these. Over the last twenty-five years, we have received financial assistance for ten projects each year.
The policy of the Foundation focuses especially on small project activities at village level. This helps to restore a sense of dignity to men, women and children across the country as they develop the skills and experience to provide for their basic needs.
- Like the Good Samaritan, Pope John Paul came and saw and took action.
He opened a door to alleviate the sense of helplessness that has paralyzed the lives of so many in this region of the world. His voice was compelling; his determination has been infectious. While it is true that what has been achieved so far is quite limited in terms of the magnitude of the situation, it is also true to say that the dry and barren land can be changed into a fertile garden. At least some people have now seen that a better life is possible and that there is a life before death.
For God has promised that He will be with us always. This becomes possible through the faith, hope and love of all those who collaborate in this great initiative in various ways: the generous benefactors, the trustworthy administrator and the hard work of the people in the village communities.
Risen Lord, given us eyes to see and ears to hear, so that we may no longer be prevented from recognizing your presence and your word among us, in the joys and hopes, in the sorrows and the sufferings of your people.
‘May the light of Christ rising in glory Dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds
‘Lumen Christi gloriose resuregentis, Dissipet tenebras cordis et mentis.
May our celebration of Easter be a time of peace, joy and many blessings Amen
Author: Robert Elison Bishop of Banjul