When I was growing up, Easter was all about vivid colors, hand-made dresses, savory food, baskets of candy, and family gatherings. The celebration started in church where we sang “He is alive!” like we meant it. Resurrection Day was a reminder of life. But missing from my memories is the story of Jesus after his initial reappearance. The narrative seemed to culminate and end with the empty tomb, and we all went back to school and work the next day.
One of my favorite Christian thinkers and pastors, Ignatius of Loyola, saw beyond the empty tomb. He encouraged meditations on the life of Jesus after the stone had been rolled away. What did the glorified King of kings, Lord of lords, now enthroned Master of the Universe find fitting to do with his remaining time on earth before ascending? Ignatius recommended contemplation on these important post-resurrection scenes:
- Jesus’ interaction with Mary Magdalene and his other women disciples (Mark 16:1-11; Matthew 28:8-10; Luke 23:55-24:12; John 20:11-18).
- Jesus’ interaction with Peter (Luke 24:9-12).
- Jesus’ interaction with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35; see also Mark 16:12-13).
- Jesus’ interaction with the disciples gathered in a house (John 20:19-23; Luke 24:36-48; Mark 16:14).
- Jesus’ interaction with Thomas (John 20:24-29).
- Jesus’ interaction with his disciples that were fishing (John 21:1-23).
- Jesus’ interaction with the crowd of five hundred (I Corinthians 15:6).
- Jesus’ interaction with James (I Corinthians 15:7)
- Jesus’ interaction with the disciples on Mt. Olive (Acts 1:1-2).
- Jesus’ interaction with Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-19; I Corinthians 15:8; technically after the ascension but still included by Ignatius for contemplation).
Jesus hung around for forty days eating, walking, cooking, chatting, and teaching in his resurrected body. Ignatius suggested reading these scenes with all fives senses to really enter the stories and understand them. In fact, he said as sensory creatures we can become the human beings we were created to be by imitating the fully human Jesus. Even in his glorified state, Jesus did not lose his humanity. He is the model of how to live the sensate life both before and after his resurrection. That is certainly true of one of my favorite post-resurrection stories: Jesus making a meal for his disciples on the beach. It is worth taking a few moments to reflect on part of this scene.
It was dawn, light just beginning to streak across the dark sky. Several of Jesus’ disciples had been fishing all night. Water slapped rhythmically against the side of the boat as it rocked on the waves. The men were tired and wet. Their work had been in vain. No fish. The shore was not far, maybe 100 yards, but they didn’t notice Jesus standing on the sandy beach watching them. Then they heard a voice shouting advice across the water: “Throw your nets over on the right side. That is where all the fish are.” The disciples did not yet recognize him. Perhaps they thought him a friendly stranger and figured what the heck. They had nothing to lose. They heaved their nets to the other side with little anticipation. But the lethargy quickly turned into excitement. The nets were filling up. Ridiculously, filling up! It was crazy! They couldn’t even pull in the nets. That’s when John exclaimed to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”
After Jesus called out his miraculous advice, he had started a fire on the beach. He blew on the embers, stoking the flames. Fire crackled, warmth radiated, and the scent of smoke and charcoal wafted upwards. Jesus sat and waited. He watched his friends wrestling with the now heavy nets of fish. He heard John shout his recognition, “It’s the Lord!” He saw Peter throw off his work clothes and leap into the water, leaving the others to bring in the haul. No doubt Jesus felt delight, hearing and seeing their excitement as he anticipated eating breakfast with them.
Jesus knew how the scenario would play out. He had already started the fire with the intention of cooking for his tired friends. In fact, there was already fish and bread laid out when they walked up. Jesus asked for some of their catch to add to the flames. Then he said, “Come have breakfast.” It was a welcome invitation after a long hard night of work. They sat down and Jesus served them, handing each a piece of bread and fish.
I wish I had been there. The feel of the cool sand in my toes, the crackling sound and scents of fire, the sight of the sun coming up over the lake in vibrant colors. And most of all the feeling of elation sitting with my best friend who only days before I believed was dead. Such an ordinary moment eating breakfast after work, yet amazingly wonderful. The simple made glorious by God’s tangible presence.
Jesus could have done all kinds of things with his resurrected self. He could have taken revenge on those who tortured and killed him. He could have demanded everyone bow down to him. He could have shown off the wonders of his new body. But instead he made himself a servant. Jesus watched with care from the shore even when his friends did not see or recognize him. He took on the menial task of cooking and serving a meal. He shared his time and presence. Jesus was the same person after his resurrection as before. Humble and compassionate. And he is the same person now.
That is what the resurrection means to me. Not just a moment or day of joy remembering the empty tomb and the life we have been given, but watching how Jesus modeled how to live that life.