There’s been a tree out the back of my new place, a gnarled, moss-covered tree, looking half-dead. It has had its own beauty, I suppose, but I’ve never paid much attention except to wonder, once, what kind of tree it was.
Then one recent morning I walked out the back, and overwhelming, full-to-bursting, can’t-be-contained bright white life had pushed its way out through those seeming-dead twigs, right out through the trunk itself, and there’s no wondering now what kind of tree this is.
It’s not for nothing that He’s called a shoot from the stump of Jesse, this One who had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him but startled even His closest friends when He burst forth with surprisingly uncontainable life.
It’s the first year I’ve heard it, that in the church calendar Easter’s not just a day, but fifty days; not a single Sunday of joy, but a whole seven weeks of wonder, of watching, of learning to live.
I’d missed them, somehow, those words that span the time from the first few days of new life to the moment that Jesus ascended to heaven:
“He appeared to them over a period of forty days. . .” (Acts 1:3)
The words whisper three things:
1) The power and the promise of the resurrection is for now, not merely for the future hope that we will be raised.
2) The full-of-life Jesus wants to be known by His followers in His life-flowing-over state. (Of course! He’s still the same God who has wanted to be known since before time’s beginning. . .)
3) And Jesus knows that the transformation of His followers isn’t automatic. Jesus was alive and Mary was still weeping sad tears, the disciples had locked themselves out of public sight because of fear, Thomas was in a prison of hopeless doubt, and the travelers were putting their heads together trying to figure out where it had all gone so badly wrong.
Jesus knows better than we: It is not the fact of the resurrection that changes us; it is encounter with the living Jesus. And so He invites us to stick around.
Only encounter, repeated and real, can overcome our inability to recognize Him. And this, for most of us, is the real struggle:
“She did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn 20:14).
“They were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).
“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (Luke 24:37).
It’s almost always why I fear: I fail to see that in every new situation stands Jesus offering Himself to me in a new form.
“[After He appeared to Mary who thought He was the gardener], Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking. . .” (Mark 16:12)
In a different form.
I wonder about this.
Maybe the life in Him is so vibrant, uncontainable, alive, that a single form can’t contain it all. Perhaps, then, He shows Himself to us in different forms to let us glimpse a little more of the fullness of who He is.
Maybe, sometimes, He conceals himself for a time so He can heal us in ways otherwise impossible.
Other times He comes in the way He knows we will most easily be able to receive Him.
It was so for me at yesterday’s end. I sat aching for Him as I had ached all week, sad that even this day of rest was now over and I still hadn’t soaked long in the Presence I longed for. I wondered how it’s possible to ache so for Him and still run from Him. But as I sat, He quieted me with the whisper that I hadn’t run. He had been with me all day, giving Himself to me in the scent of the Balm of Gilead trees, in the soft breath of the baby asleep in my arms, in the giving and receiving in loving conversation with others. He had offered Himself to me in the tangible, edible bread and wine, offered Himself freely, His fullness into my emptiness. And as I had savored and rocked, eaten and listened, I had welcomed Him in the ways He chose to offer Himself to me in that day. And I received Him again as I welcomed His gracious Presence in the quietness of the evening.
His Life is so large, so vibrant, so surprisingly tender that it encompasses all that we, in our limitedness, think opposites, meeting us in fear and faith, thirst and fullness, guiding sorrow toward fullest joy. Everywhere, in everything, He offers Himself to us.
This, I think, is the invitation of these fifty days of Easter: to see and welcome the full-of-life Jesus in whatever form He chooses to come to us.
Watch with me, will you?
Jesus, we can’t see you unless you open our eyes. Please do it. Show us in what form, today, You are offering Yourself to us, and free us to receive You without hesitation or fear.