In this week’s gospel from Mark 16, we hear about the appearance of the Risen Christ first to Mary Magdalene, and then to the two disciples on the road. Mary and the disciples run to tell the others, but their witness is not believed. Later, Jesus appears to the eleven and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them who had seen him after he was risen.
Now, I’ve got more than a bit of sympathy for the eleven. If someone showed up and told me that a dead friend was resurrected and running around appearing to people, I might wonder. It reminds of a conference years ago, when a participant was breathlessly recounting an alleged angelic visitation. The elderly painter (and, IMHO, spiritual teacher) Anne Stockton turned to her and asked, “My dear, have you ever considered that this might be due to glands and such?”
I’ve been reading Richard Tarnas’ new book, Cosmos and Psyche. In it, he makes the point that we have a very hard time detecting realities which we have decided cannot exist. This is the case with the eleven, locked away in the upper room, just in case the authorities aren’t done with the crucifying. I am sure the Risen One was closer to them than their breath, yet they were sure it could not be so.
The epistle, from Acts 2, mentions the miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by [Jesus] in the midst of you. In our day, we tend to confine such matters to a more credulous past, or to our sisters and brothers in charismatic churches. Are we like the eleven, sure that God’s wonders, and the powerful presence of the Christ among us, are wishful thinking, or nice fables perhaps useful for moral instruction?
We don’t want to believe just anything, and we are right to question ourselves – it is just our glands? At the emergent cohort this past week, we discussed (among other things) the role of emotional manipulation in religion. Clearly, at times, churches work up people’s emotions in a superficial way which ultimately leads nowhere – and yet, as Dion Fortune liked to say, emotion can be the ass that carries the ark of God.
Without surrendering our intellectual integrity and healthy skepticism, maybe we can resolve to be a little more open to the wonders of the Divine, to the possibility that (to quote from Hamlet) “there are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in our philosophy” – even a Risen Christ.