We live in an age when we still see in a glass darkly, when our Father’s good gifts still sometimes squirm like serpents and crunch like stones between our teeth, when our vision often fails and our hearts grow faint, when we mourn and long for comfort. We are people like the discouraged, would-be believers walking with Jesus along the Emmaus road who only saw an uninformed stranger, and like Mary on Easter morning who thought she was addressing the gardener.
But we serve a God who longs to reveal Himself to us. He may allow our misperceptions to stand for a moment, but He has promised that we will see and know fully. We may at first timidly address the gardener, but we will boldly proclaim with Mary, “I have seen the Lord.”[i]
As we approach Easter, I have found myself dwelling on these moments of tension in the Bible between God appearing and God revealing Himself, between God speaking and us hearing. There are many.
Even Samuel first heard Eli when God spoke. Revisiting the story of Samuel as I pondered, I was struck by the dense symbolism leading into the story:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.[ii]
How appropriate that Eli, who had broken faith with God, should find Himself with dimming eyesight. No wonder visions from God were infrequent when even His priest had ceased looking for them. Yet, all was not dark. The lamp of God had not yet gone out. And who did God choose to visit but the boy Samuel who rested in His presence? What a beautiful reminder. Even when I don’t see Him, even when moments of vision are infrequent, even when other voices seem to drown out God’s, I, like Samuel, need to rest in His presence ready to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”[iii] And when he does speak, like Samuel, I need to “let none of his words fall to the ground.”[iv]
The contrast of Eli and Samuel, of blindness and vision, recalls another moment of vision in the temple. Simeon also treasured God’s word to him, a revelation that he would not die until he had seen the Christ, and he was one of the few who immediately recognized Jesus on sight—even when “disguised” as a forty-day-old baby. When Mary and Joseph brought Him to the temple according to custom, Simeon caught Him up in his arms, saying:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”[v]
Simeon speaks of revelation, of vision, of light, and He speaks in praise of a God who glories in revealing Himself.
What joy it must bring Him when we finally see, when Mary’s tear-stained face lit up with recognition, when the travelers on the Emmaus road broke bread with him and knew that, “The Lord has risen indeed,”[vi] when our vision clears and we know Him more fully.
I love the echoes of Easter morning in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when Susan and Lucy come to care for the sacrificed Aslan: “The rising of the sun had made everything look so different—all the colours and shadows were changed—that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did….There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again)…stood Aslan himself.”[vii]
How often do we miss the important thing? That there stands our Lord Himself.
At times, the hope offered by the resurrection can feel insignificant or at least secondary in the face of the sorrows and sufferings of this life. This has sometimes been true for me this year. My circumstances have been overwhelming and blindingly exhausting. I have been desperate—for rest, for relief. I confess that I have searched the Scriptures for hope and for help, but not always for God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenged my increasingly self-centered Scripture reading with these words:
It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day.[viii]
He, like Lewis, urges me to believe that the glorious revelation of a risen savior calls me to a larger vision. Together they invite me to take courage. To recognize that, “At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it.”[ix] To fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, so that I can say with Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord,” and know that He is enough.
Yet, Mary didn’t murmur these words in isolation. She rushed to share them with others, as did the travelers to Emmaus. They became the hands and feet of the living Lord as they brought the good news to others, and they worshipped and marveled in community.
Lately, God has given me the same privilege afforded to Thomas. As members of my family, church, and Classical Conversations community have come around me—sitting with me in hospital waiting rooms, bringing meals, offering rides, caring for my children, and ministering to me—I have had the opportunity to see Jesus’ hands and feet, to feel His side, to experience His living body loving and serving me. In the community of those who have seen and recognized the Lord, He is revealing Himself to my veiled eyes yet again, inviting me to taste and see the risen Lord and to know that He is good.