A day after the crucifixion, the disciples lock themselves inside a familiar meeting place, reeling from their leader’s death. No wonder they are hiding: I imagine they are worried about what to do now and who could be next, where they might go and how they can make sense of it all. And suddenly, Jesus is with them. Their old friend joins them inside their makeshift prison, in the midst of their questions and grief, offering peace, but no explanation about how he got there. Interestingly, the disciples don’t know who he is, so he identifies himself by showing them his wounded hands and side. “Look at this,” he says. Absent that day, Thomas will insist on touching Jesus, too, to believe that he is the one he says he is.
This lack of immediate recognition is a common thread throughout the resurrection stories. Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for the gardener until he calls her by name. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus don’t recognize their companion until the end of their journey, when they share a meal. And Peter and John don’t put two and two together about the stranger on the shore directing how they might improve their angling until they haul in an astonishing catch of fish.
In some sense, engaging is believing.
“I hear your words. I see your face. I smell the rain in your hair, the coffee on your breath. I am inside me experiencing you as you are inside you experiencing me, but (we) don’t entirely meet until something else happens… Through simply touching, more directly than any other way, we can transmit to each other something of the power of the life we have inside us. It is no wonder that the laying on of hands has always been a traditional part of healing, or that when Jesus was around ‘all the crowd sought to touch him.’ It is no wonder that just the touch of another human being at a dark time can be enough to save the day.” (Fredrick Buechner) The kingdom of God is literally in our hands.
After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice: “Draw Antonio, draw Antonio, draw and do not waste time.” Now your hands may not be made for drawing, but they are certainly fit for touching, created to heal and help and hold. And your heart finds its purpose by envisioning sacred space: for loving the unlovely, for supplying encouragement, for offering forgiveness, for extending peace.
We can be like the disciples in the fearsome hours after Jesus’ death, locking ourselves away from our best selves and the people who so desperately need the touch of God’s love and care. Or we can bust out of every prison that the world or we have made. Courageous loving frees us, for giving and engaging and healing. And when we go to the places in us and around us that are wounded and weary, instead of hiding from them, we will find resurrection precisely there.