Sometimes, you panic for a good reason.
Sometimes, you panic because the other people around you are panicking.
Either way, you need someone to calm you down.
We’ve spent some time looking at the story of Mary Magdalene, a woman who should be remembered for her faith and devotion. She was a grateful and stalwart disciple of Jesus who stood near the cross as her Master died. By John’s account, she was a woman of “firsts”: the first to visit the tomb on Easter morning, the first person to whom Jesus appeared, and the first apostle, sent to the other disciples with good news from a risen Christ.
Yes, she could be criticized for not figuring out why the tomb was empty, and for not recognizing Jesus sooner when he appeared to her. But that hardly makes her different from the other disciples.
Listen, for example, to John’s account of what happened later that evening:
It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. (John 20:19-20, NRSV)
Part of Luke’s account is similar. If he and John are narrating the same appearance of Jesus, then the group gathered included more than just Peter and the rest of Jesus’ inner circle; the two disciples from the Emmaus Road were there (Luke 24:13-35), as were others (vs. 33).
John tells us that the doors were closed, and presumably locked for protection; the disciples were afraid of what the Jerusalem leaders might do. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in their midst. Neither Luke nor John says directly that something strangely supernatural happened, but it’s clearly implied. That explains why Luke says that the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost rather than a resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:37); it apparently took some effort on Jesus’ part to calm them down.
Remember, this was after the disciples had heard the report from Mary and the other women (Luke 24:9-10). This was after Peter and the beloved disciple had gone to the tomb to see for themselves (Luke 24:12; John 20:3-10). This was after hearing the amazing report of Cleopas and the other disciple who had walked and talked with Jesus along the Emmaus Road.
Then Jesus showed up, and they started screaming, “It’s a ghost!”
Well, maybe Mary Magdalene wasn’t screaming with them.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said when he appeared. It was in some ways a common and unremarkable greeting. But in that context, with the disciples hiding in fear and jumping at ghosts, his bestowal of peace surely meant something more than just, “Hi, everyone.”
In his last long conversation with the Eleven, before his arrest, he had tried to tell them of the coming trouble so that they might have peace (John 16:33). But they neither understood nor believed. Post-resurrection, they still didn’t believe. So Jesus showed them his wounds, as if to convince them that it was really him, and that he was not a ghost (Luke 24:38-39). No scolding. No criticism of the littleness of their faith. Just some solid empirical evidence for those who still couldn’t take it all in.
For the disciples who had not witnessed the crucifixion, the sight of Jesus’ wounds must have been their first tangible encounter with what Jesus had suffered. But that gruesome revelation quickly turned to joy, just as Mary had rejoiced when she finally realized that the man speaking to her wasn’t really the gardener.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus said, and then proceeded to calm them down so they could believe. Then he said it again — and this time, the peace Jesus gave would be for the benefit of the world. More on that in the next post.