THEY talk about Christian values, but the most appealing and lovable part of the Christian faith is that at its centre is not a system of values. At its centre is a person. The most important of the teachings of Christ is the life of Christ. When we read the gospels, we are put in contact with a person. And so the most wonderful part of these Resurrection appearances about which we read in the gospels for the Sundays after Easter is the real, distinctive and recognisable person of Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, his disciples can hardly believe he is really risen from the dead. So, what does Jesus do? He does that most ordinary and human thing – he asks them for something to eat. Forget the Cross and the Resurrection for a minute. Can you not see and feel the love of Christ as he turns his face to them and asks for something to eat? He is not a ghost or a vision. See, he says, it is I, myself.
Concentrate and think about it. You see his face. You look into the face of Christ. You hear his voice. Or recall that perfumed garden scene when he says to her: Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? There is a silence and you’re standing with her in that garden and he says the one word, Mary.
Well then, put your own name in there.
Sit quietly in the April evening and read the stories at the end of St Luke’s gospel and St John’s. And then close your Bible and shut your eyes. Enter into each one of the stories in turn and you will feel the reality of Jesus. You will know that he is beside you. This is what his love is. This is what prayer is. It is to enter Christ’s reality, just given to you as a gift. His face. His hands. Behold, my hands.
Speaking of the April evening, recall the story of the walk to Emmaus. There is something enchanting about the April evening – it’s the first month in the year when it stays light. There’s a calm in that late evening light. A softness. As after a struggle. And he meets the couple on the country walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. In the last of the light, all in the April evening. Think of the Lamb of God. Think this story is what William Cowper was thinking about when he wrote O for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame.
The couple don’t recognise him but they ask him into their home. They are a married couple. And what they say has given rise to one of the best-loved hymns of all time: Abide with us: for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.
You can feel the quiet and peacefulness of their room where they take him and prepare some food. St Luke’s words: And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread and blessed it and brake and gave to them. And their eyes were opened. And they knew him.
Just that. Simple. Where had he done that before? We remember In the same night that he was betrayed . . . he took bread and blessed it and brake it. They knew him in the breaking of bread. What goes for that couple in the Emmaus house goes for you too. Jesus is the bread which is broken for you. So you can recognise him and you can know he is beside you, within you. He saves you by his love. And his love is just as much in that small act of breaking bread as it was when his body was broken on the Cross. All you need to understand this is to draw close to him. All you need is to give the gospel story your full attention, to enter into the story in your mind’s eye, in your imagination. That is prayer. And prayer makes real what you allow your imagination to play on. The gospel stories are not past and gone. They are alive for you. They invite you in. They invite you to enter them.
You can take a single verse from these Resurrection stories and feel in it the whole reality of Christ’s presence. Think of: And he led them out as far as to Bethany and he lifted up his hands and he blessed them. What is that like? Well, Bethany is just two miles from Jerusalem. It’s the same walk that Jesus did many times in the days before Good Friday, to and from the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. You come down the steps from Temple Mount and cross the little brook called Kidron. Then you walk up the Mount of Olives and past the Garden of Gethsemane with its olive trees.
If you pause here and look back down over Jerusalem, you’ll see it just as it says in the hymn Jerusalem the Golden. The houses glow like gold ingots in the evening sun. You walk on and soon the city is behind the hill and in the distance you see the little white houses of Bethany village: And he led them out as far as to Bethany and he lifted up his hands and he blessed them. You read this verse and you realise that he still holds out his hands and his blessing is for you as well.
This is how Christ saves you and you come to know it beyond words. You know it in these stories that really happened. They are real still. You are invited by Christ to become part of them.
And so we come to today’s gospel in which Jesus invites Doubting Thomas to put his finger into the holes in his hands and to thrust his hand into his wounded side. It is at once so macabre and so tender. The appearance of the risen Christ is not for the squeamish. For here is no ethereal spirit, no Gnostic emanation from a heaven so remote that it’s no earthly good. Here is our strong Christ, risen in the flesh. And our only response, with Thomas, is realisation, ‘My Lord and my God!’
You don’t need much theology. You just need to walk into that upper room all in the April evening. You need to stand on the hill just over Gethsemane with the little white houses of Bethany coming into view. There you receive Christ’s blessing. It could happen just as well . . . well, anywhere from Walsall to Walsingham.
Then shall your walk be close with God; calm and serene your frame; so purer light shall mark the road; that leads you to the Lamb of God.