A friend of the Owl wrote to ask, What does the resurrection of Jesus really look like? The Gospels give various answers. Jesus joins two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus; it looks like they are going back dejected to their old jobs. They don’t recognize him until he breaks bread at table with them (Luke 24: 13–35). Jesus comes into a room whose door is locked (John 20:19). Jesus eats fish on a beach with his men (John 21:1–14). Thomas, at first incredulous, can actually touch Jesus’ wounds (John 20:24–28). Not one of the Gospels describes Jesus actual rising from the tomb. All the resurrection appearances in the scripture take place away from there.
The wording of our friend’s question is revealing: What does Jesus’ resurrection look like. The actuality of the event is important. There are paintings like that of Piero della Francesca in Borgo Sansepolcro that depicts Jesus stepping out of the sepulchre, to the amazement of the soldiers on guard. He is heavy, tired, and still bleeding. It is meant to show that he was really dead.
The story of Thomas’ amazement ends with a particular blessing on us who have not seen. Some modern critics take warrant from that to speak of the resurrection a subjective event; a change of understanding goes through the disciples’ minds. They knew Jesus was alive, and they know he died. Now he is such a powerful memory—or what?—that it seems he is alive again. QED: He must have overcome death. This logic can’t hold water. It is too clearly a subjective impression in those critics’ minds: the subjective event in their minds projected upon the disciples’ state of mind.
It is not too unusual for people to have a vision of a deceased family member. It is a blessing to them when it happens, and does not disrupt their lives. But the evangelists have been careful to make Jesus’ appearances tangible: putting fingers in his wounds, eating fish with him (Luke 24:39–43). They purposely defy subjective interpretation. Let us not comfort ourselves with a wholly arbitrarily excision of the world-defining event, to replace it with ordinary self-deception.
There we must leave the matter until Jesus speaks to the questioner.