Chaplains’ Corner: Something new

Valerie Bailey

The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the two most important events in the Christian calendar (Christmas being the other), is both wonderful and challenging. For many, the theological challenges of who Jesus is (Son of God, Incarnate Christ, teacher, prophet, healer) are difficult enough. But raising someone from the dead, well, that’s also its own challenge and even more difficult to believe. Our understanding of resurrection in the modern era has more to do with coming back from the brink of death. Mostly dead, but not dead, seems to be more acceptable.

Resurrection of the soul is embraced by many faith traditions, including Christianity. But resurrection of the body has always been a challenge. For some of the early Christians, there was an expectation that a resurrection required something to have died and to have been completely dead. The Good Friday readings contain detailed explanations of the drama of the collection of Jesus’ body from the cross.

In John’s gospel, this moment features two of Jesus’ secret disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. This scene is the set up for the resurrection, when Jesus reappears alive before his friends and disciples. During the 50 days after the resurrection, Jesus is making appearances, hanging out with people and teaching about this mystery they were witnessing, his death and resurrection. After these 50 days, Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples are told to take care of each other and tell others about the good news of Jesus Christ, contained in the stories of his teachings, recounting events such as healing the blind man, confrontations with religious leaders and more personal stories about Jesus from his friends. The Good News – the world and its people are loved by its Creator.

However, it’s hard to process the happy ending of the resurrection when the world is still in its Good Friday moment of the coronavirus pandemic. We are going into the fifth week of the new normal. We know one day this will pass, but what will it leave behind? Who will we be after this period is over? I don’t know, but this question makes me think of one of the sub narratives within the resurrection story: found in Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:13–35) and in Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:12–13). Both accounts depict Jesus walking somewhere and joining other persons walking on the same road. These walkers do not recognize Jesus. In both accounts, the walkers tell Jesus about the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. While the gospel of Mark does not include a destination for the walkers, Luke’s gospel describes the walker’s destination as the town of Emmaus. These walkers invited Jesus to come along with them to Emmaus and to stay for dinner. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus remains unrecognizable to walkers until he broke bread with them. Then they recognized him as Jesus. This scene is depicted in two paintings by Caravaggio: Supper at Emmaus (1601, London) and a second by the same name five years later (1606, Milan)

My favorite is the 1601 painting where the appearance of Jesus is so different from how he had been depicted in art for centuries. For the most part, Jesus has been depicted as having a thin gaunt face (like in the 1606 painting.) However, in the 1601 painting, it was as if Caravaggio had changed Jesus’ depiction to emphasize how his physical difference had been altered. The 1601 painting depicts a cubby-faced Jesus, looking more like a cherub than an itinerant preacher and healer living on the run on a diet of fish and bread. This painting is a reminder that after death and loss, there is change. And this change may be different from what had been there before. This painting is a reminder to me that our world is not sinking into an abyss, but it is changing into something different and something new.

In this Easter Season, I leave you with this hopeful thought, that as we are in a time of change and loss, we will also be changed, we don’t know how, but I am hopeful that this change is into something new. Some things will remain, but some things will be lost. But something new will come, something new like a new morning, or new day. Regardless of what you may believe about Jesus, the resurrection, COVID-19, the celebration of Easter, I hope that you can live in the moment, review what has been and look forward to something new.

Happy Easter.

Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer is Chaplain to the College and Protestant Chaplain.