Friday, 1 April 2016


The disciples of Jesus returned to Galilee, to a place of safety away from the controversy surrounding his death, just as he had told them, and returned to work as fishermen, with no idea of what the future would hold for them. He comes to meet them at work, and at first they do not recognise him in the early light of day, but they hear his voice across the water, suggesting to them where their efforts at catching fish might be fruitful. Perhaps because this is not the first time he has made this kind of intervention, Peter realises it's not any bystander calling out advice, but the Lord. They trust and act upon the advice and yield an impressive catch. When they come ashore, they find he has prepared a meal for them.

In Jerusalem he came to them when they were hiding behind locked doors, but here he comes to them in the open, where they live and work. The experience of meeting the risen Jesus is not restricted to one kind of place or another. It can happen while blessing God for their bread, while talking about life as his disciples, in places of work, in places of sorrow and joy. And when he finally takes his leave he says:

"Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the ages."   (Matthew 28:20)

The importance of remembering, and especially remembering and praising the works of God as part of the story people tell about themselves is deeply embedded in Hebrew spirituality:

'O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make know his deeds to all the peoples.
Sing praises to him sing praises, tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name, let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles and the judgements he uttered.'
(Psalm 105:1-5)

St Paul recalls being told of all the appearances of the risen Jesus

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Cor 15:1-7)

He doesn't elaborate on any of them, however, apart from that of his own conversion 

"Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me" (1 Cor 15:8)

His story appears twice in the Acts of the Apostles, once as narrative (Acts 9:1-30), then in his own voice as personal testimony (Acts 22:1-16), and again in Galatians 1:11-16. 

"I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being."  

Paul's story gets so much coverage not just because he is such a key figure in the emergence of the Gospel of Christ as Good News for the whole world, but because his encounter with the risen Jesus comes despite his rejection of the story proclaimed by the Apostles. There are instances of early public preaching meeting a response, with many being converted at one time, where the revelation follows the hearing of the message. As Paul himself asserts.

'So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.'  (Romans 10:17)

Paul's experience causes him to reassess what he had rejected. He has to re-interpret his own Jewish faith anew before he has anything to say to the world. This is decisive for the development of Christianity, and apart from the opening chapter of the book of Revelation where John the Divine speaks of hearing and seeing the risen Lord, there is little else to compare with it in the New Testament. Yet, such unbidden experiences have continued to shape the life of some Christian converts down the centuries since.

One may pray for a lifetime and never have such a life changing decisive experience. It is given by God where it is most needed, so it is not necessary to crave for it or to seek it in order to grow in faith. Those to whom such experience is not given need only to learn how to follow, just like the rest of the disciples, trusting and obeying the message received and understood.

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