After his resurrection that first Easter morning, something rather strange occurs; no one recognizes Jesus. Although Jesus had taught his disciples on various occasions how he must suffer, die, and rise on the third day, none of his followers were found waiting at the tomb holding a countdown to the day of resurrection. And then, just as he said, on the third day, the risen Jesus rose from the dead. He wasted no time before visiting his dear friends and disciples.
But Jesus’ own disciples do not recognize him. Jesus bids his disciples to come and see, to touch his wounds and know he is not a ghost but he is truly risen from the dead. He calms their fears and opens their minds to how the Scriptures proclaim the death and resurrection of their Lord and teacher. He then sends them out to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all people (Luke 24:45-47).
The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize Jesus. As they sat down at a table after a long day on the road to Emmaus, Jesus blessed bread, broke it, and gave it to them, and immediately their eyes were opened. It was no stranger on the road with them. It was the Lord, himself. And just like that, as joy overcame them, Jesus was hidden from them (Luke 24:30-31).
Even Mary Magdalene does not recognize Jesus as he stands before her. As Mary stood outside his now empty tomb, one singular word revoked her grief: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means teacher)” (John 20:16).
Jesus, her beloved teacher, the resurrection and the life, tenderly calls her by name. In one word, Jesus releases the grip grief has on Mary. One word from her teacher drowns her broken-heartedness. He is no longer in the grave. He is risen, he is risen, indeed!
But, then Jesus says something rather strange to Mary:
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17).
It all seems a bit unexpected. Why would our resurrected Lord physically present himself to his disciples and then, as their eyes are opened to his presence, vanish from their sight (Luke 24:31)? Why would our Lord tell Mary not to cling to him? And, why is Mary instructed to return to Jesus’ brothers, the disciples?
Jesus instructs Mary to go to the disciples, to go to his church. Jesus directs Mary to his chosen disciples, those whom he gave to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name to all people.
Although Jesus bodily ascended and is hidden from our earthly eyes, he is not far off. Our eyes and ears must be opened to see and hear our risen Lord.
Just as our Lord called to Mary, our risen Lord calls us by name. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the grip of sin, death, and the power of the devil on us is broken. With the words, “I baptize you,” our Old Adam is drowned and buried with Christ. With the words, “I baptize you,” Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, raises us also to new life. With the Word and Water, the Trinity grabs hold of us and clothes us in the righteousness of our resurrected Lord.
We recognize our Lord in the Supper he has given us, just as the disciples on the road to Emma’s recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread. We hear of Christ proclaimed throughout the Scriptures in faithful preaching as the Holy Spirit works and strengthens our faith in Christ. We see with ears of faith his holy body and blood, mysteriously in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Sacrament. Our resurrected Lord gives himself to us as he unites himself to us.
We see Jesus through our ears of faith in the absolution. We hear God’s forgiveness from our Pastor when he proclaims, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus continues to work, bless, teach, and comfort his church through those whom he calls and charges to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all people, to you.
The head of the church, Christ, is risen and dwells with his body, the church. The angels asked the disciples who came to the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). Jesus no longer lays in his grave. He dwells with us to bless us. We find our Lord and cling to him in the sacraments, in his Word and promises. He is risen, he is risen indeed!