One might think that ghost stories could not be found in our scientific culture. Some residents of a writer’s camp in New Hampshire testified that sometimes they see a ghost of a long dead writer by the fireplace of their recreation room. In a TV show about the occult, audiences were treated to what were supposed to be pictures of ghosts. While no one seems to be scared by these appearances, they seem to be fascinated by them.
Our Gospel today begins with a kind of ghost story. Appropriately, it is nighttime, the night after the terrors of Good Friday. One might also expect a thunderstorm outside. The apostles are afraid not of ghosts, but of visits from the authorities who executed Christ. The room is filled with fear and with the shadows cast by the oil lamps. Jesus suddenly appeared before them. Now they are doubly frightened because they think they are seeing a ghost. But they are dealing with more than a ghost. It is Jesus, risen from the dead.
Jesus calmed their fears with a greeting of peace. Now their mood changed from fear to doubt. They had every reason to believe. The women had reported his resurrection. They heard of the empty tomb. They had listened to the testimony of the Emmaus disciples, also the stories of what the angels had said and the record of Peter’s meeting with Jesus.
Jesus uses three devices to dispel their doubt. He shows them the nail marks. An old legend says that Satan once appeared to a saint and said, “I am the Christ.” The saint said, “Where are the nail marks? Jesus attempts to show them that he is the same person who walked with them in Galilee and Judea. Secondly, he has a meal with them, just as he did with the disciples at Emmaus. He did not eat out of need, as a plant draws moisture from the earth. It was like the power of the sun that draws from the air. By communicating with them at a meal, he drew them to belief and love.
In John’s Gospel account of this appearance, Jesus performs the ceremony of the breathing (John 20:22). As the Father had breathed into Adam the reality of human life, Jesus now breathes into the apostles the reality of the spiritual life. Adam became an image of God after the divine breathing. The apostles became images of Jesus after the Easter breathing. This was gift of the Holy Spirit. The Father created humans. Jesus recreates humans as missionaries of the message of love and forgiveness.
At our Mass, the risen eucharistic Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. Come home. All is forgiven. I can bring you life.” Our parish church is an upper room. We gather with fears and doubts and our shattered dreams. The risen Jesus helps us to go out less fearful, less doubtful, much more hope filled.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.