When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, we read that the disciples were so filled with fear that “they all left him and fled” (Mark 14:50). This was not an ordinary fear that the disciples experienced, but the fear which was intense to the point of even a young man tearing himself out of the hands of those who arrested him, by leaving his linen cloth in their hands: “but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked” (Mark 14:52). He was more willing to run down the streets naked than to be arrested by the soldiers.
Cleopas and his companion were shaken by the witnessing of and the news of the Crucifixion that they did not know what to do. It had been extremely traumatising for them. They had staked everything on this person called Jesus, and now that he was presumably dead – Roman Crucifixions were engineered to kill the victim, the only way to cope with this terrible wound and seeming betrayal, was to run away from Jerusalem and return back to their families and homes. They had already embarked on the journey to Emmaus. Perhaps, the time had come to quietly sneak back to their home towns, and pretend that everything that had happened with Jesus was but a figment of their imagination.
Are we not like these disciples? We have seen the aftermath and the wonders surrounding the Resurrection, we have read intimately about the life of Jesus in the Scriptures. We have encountered Jesus tangibly in the sacraments. Yet, we are like the disciples, yet to be moved by our Lord.
The disciples while having had the experience of being at the side of Jesus, and witnessing first-hand the wonders and the miracles done by Jesus were not yet activated. Being with and encountering Jesus meant that their lives would be forever changed and could never ever be the same whatever trajectory it would have taken. Yet, they had not yet been transformed by the Resurrection. It would take the time spent with the Lord after His Resurrection and before His Ascension, that would remind the disciples of what Jesus had taught them. Nonetheless, the full impact of the Resurrection would only be felt with the outpouring and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Nonetheless, the disciples were filled with great joy upon hearing the news that the Lord was no longer in the tomb. The news was tremendous. Mary of Magdala ran to report the news to Peter and the other disciples, and upon hearing this Good News, the disciples ran to the tomb. “So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.” (John 20: 2-5)
It is significant that while the Lord’s passion unfolded, the disciples ran away from Him, but after the Resurrection, the seed of reconciliation sprouted, and this time, in a complete reversal of events, the disciples ran towards where they thought the Lord would be.
Of notable significance is Peter finding “the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” (John 20:6-7) This detail was picked up in John’s Gospel, because this tiny detail is important. Back in the time of Jesus, the Jewish People observed a custom that was practised by the Masters and the Servants of that era. After preparing his master’s meal, the servant would stand inconspicuously at the side, out of sight of the master, but attuned to whatever was happening at the meal. He would not return to the table until the master was done with his meal.
When the master was done with his meal, he would rise, rinse his hands and beard, and crumple his napkin on the table as a sign to the servant, that he had completed eating. If there was a need for the master to leave the table with an intention of returning, the master would crease his napkin into folds and leave it beside the dishes as a sign to the servant not to disturb his plate as he was returning to the table.
The burial cloths of Jesus found folded neatly in the tomb, was thus a subtle sign that the disciples would have picked up very easily, that Jesus, was not quite done, and that He had returned as He said He would.
Life, and not Death had the last word.
Some common threads have emerged in the examination of the Resurrection narratives:
1. It is Jesus who initiates the encounter. This manifestation is quiet, and simple – there are no fireworks, no grand fanfare. He stood so quietly beside Mary of Magdala, that she thought He was a gardener; He entered unobtrusively where the disciples were gathered and offered them peace.
2. He lets each encounter unfold and each person is allowed to encounter Him via their own time and understanding – this was seen in how he walked for some considerable time with Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, but they only recognised Him at the breaking of the bread. He did not force his disciples to recognise Him, nor did He trumpet aloud His identity.
3. After establishing His identity, He then proceeds to assure His disciples that He is alive and not a ghost. He eats with them and talks with them. He assures them that the disciples are not imagining things.
4. These encounters end with an activation or conversion of the person, and the person being entrusted with a mission – “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
The disciples ran because they were filled with immeasurable joy that their Master had returned. This joy was difficult to contain, and so it was expressed bodily with a different gesture, posture, and action.
As the People of the Resurrection, the question that we need to ask ourselves is: Are we running towards to Lord in Joy, confident that He has risen? Or our dispositions and postures, still stuck in the chaos, and despair of Good Friday?
Even worse, are we running away from the Lord just as how His Disciples ran away from Him at the start of his Passion?
It is interesting that the definition of the word, “run” could be taken to mean, “an opportunity or attempt to achieve something.” Have we missed an opportunity to encounter the Lord? Have we failed to run to the Lord?
Sources: David Mills, For the Apostles it had all gone to hell; Pope Francis, Death does not have the last word, life does!; Edifa, An Easter Meditation: Let yourself be surprised by the Risen Christ
By Brian Bartholomew Tan