Contemplating the human experience of Christ’s first followers can help us to better understand his ministry. I find that we often take the lives of the apostles for granted whenever we recount a scene in the New Testament, be it via religious art, scripture studies, or liturgical readings. Such reflections fail to capture the humanity of those involved, and as a result, many Christians are unable to fully appreciate the Gospel stories. Sometimes, the only way to understand this human element is through similar experiences of one’s own. Lately, I have been contemplating the first Easter Weekend, when Christ was entombed between his death and Resurrection. We recite in our Creed that he descended into the underworld where he liberated the souls of the just, but I think we need to pay more attention to what everyone else was enduring during that period. It was something all of us are familiar with in some manner: despair. In fact, I consider my own recent experiences as a gift that helped me to better understand the true magnitude of Easter.
2022 proved to be an incredibly trying year for me. I attempted to start a legal career and quickly discovered it was not a good match for me (I often prayed during the morning commute to get fired so I would have an excuse to immediately end the experience); the mother of a dear friend of mine finally succumbed to a brain tumor; I lost my own grandmother; and my attempt to get back into an industry for which I was more qualified failed. And to top it all off, I relapsed with a drinking problem. Adding insult to injury, I attended four weddings within a single month, which always draws out my insecurities as I reconnect with friends and loved ones who go on about their careers and introduce me to their spouses.
But my faith was always present. I made the effort to constantly keep myself in a prayerful state of mind. One night, it finally occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to contemplate Christ’s Resurrection. Good Friday is given its title in light of Easter Sunday, but on its own, it would be considered the worst day in the lives of Jesus’ companions and followers. They had witnessed his humiliating execution arranged by their own religious leadership and carried out by the Romans, all of which had been made possible by the betrayal of one of his closest followers. I had long thought about the brutality of his crucifixion leading to the joy of his Resurrection, but I had not considered until this moment what his disciples were experiencing in between those events.
Eleven men sat huddled in the room where they had just celebrated Passover with their leader and friend, still perplexed by the strange discourses he gave along with his institution of the Eucharist, and now unsure of what to do going forward. He had died the death of a common criminal, soon to be forgotten like all other victims of the Roman occupation. What was there to do now? They had left behind all sense of security by renouncing, not just their businesses, but their families as well. Was there any way they could return without experiencing the utmost level of shame? Would they be accepted on their return? They were also likely under the surveillance of the Scribes and Pharisees, who sought to eliminate any remnant of the threat that they believed Jesus posed to their social status. Surely they were to meet a fate similar to their friend at some point down the road? How many hours were spent weeping and screaming at each other? At some point along the way, did they drown their sorrows with alcohol as a coping mechanism? Not only the apostles but also the many friends of Jesus would have experienced such despair, including Cleopas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus.
Unlike them, we know what is coming: Easter Sunday, when everything as they know it will change. Luke’s Gospel has what I consider to be the greatest recount of Jesus’ first risen appearance to the disciples. They thought they were seeing a ghost, possibly coming from beyond the grave to seek vengeance on them for abandoning him. Simply think of any supernatural horror movie or ghost story to get a taste of the terror they experienced at that moment. Can we even imagine, however, what they felt and experienced as he confirmed his humanity, blessed them with peace, and explained the prophecies that foretold the paschal mystery? The same Gospel simply states that they were amazed and filled with joy, but does that summary truly do justice to their responses? We have all lost someone close to us and spent the initial days mourning inconsolably. How would we react to see them suddenly standing in our presence again, coming back to join us? How tightly would we grip them while sobbing, in addition to ecstatic laughter and confusion? But the apostles were not merely seeing a friend return from beyond the grave, but a man whose return has confirmed everything that they had hoped for from him. They had not abandoned everything in vain.
Much can be written about how these men and women were changed following the Resurrection; at times, they were still scared and uncertain about their futures. These were real people who were no different than we are, but the Resurrection was a decisive turning point in their lives. As Holy Week begins, let us reflect on our own moments of despair and remember that in such moments God will come to us and bear all our sorrow with us, and that we will eventually experience the joy of Christ’s Resurrection in our own lives.
Image: Magdalene runs to the Cenacle to tell the Apostles that the body of Jesus is no longer in the tomb, James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Exhortation to the Apostles (Recommandation aux apôtres), 1886-1896. Image from the Brooklyn Museum, no copyright restrictions
Raised in Connecticut, Kevin has spent the last five years living in the Boston area. During his education at Xavier High School in Middletown, CT by the Xaverian Brothers, Kevin took an interest to theology, ranging from simple apologetics to existential literature. He is a passionate cinephile and baseball fan, anxiously awaiting the return to movie theaters and baseball stadiums, above all: Fenway Park, which is his Heaven on Earth.