Bob was visiting a friend in the countryside. The area had once been known for its mining operations. One day Bob went out for a hike alone. As the afternoon wore on Bob realized he was lost. He had noticed a few days before there was a large area of the countryside that was pocketed with holes where the old mining shafts were located. It was dangerous because some of these shafts had no barriers blocking the openings. Bob reminded himself that he should be cautious trying to find his way back.
As he walked along the sun started to go down and it was getting colder. He realized that he was in the area of the mine shafts. He considered staying the night outdoors but quickly abandoned it due to the cold. He would have to find his way back. With great care he started to make his way through the fields. Despite his care, he ended up falling into one of the shafts. Grabbing a large stone that was protruding from the shaft he stopped his descent down the shaft. He was about 10 feet from the opening. He held tightly to that rock fearing if he let go he would plunge into the abyss and darkness of that shaft, probably to fall to his death. All he could do was to hang there in the shaft.
The walls above were smooth. There was nothing he could grip to lift himself up. After about 10 minutes his arms started to strain. After 15 minutes the muscles were beginning to spasm. At 20 minutes he was sure he was going to drop to his death.
Then came relief. He saw a glimpse of light coming from above. He called out for help. Soon his friend and some neighbors where there flashing a light into the shaft. As he looked up Bob heard his friend say “Let go, let go.” The flashlight was pointing to the shaft so Bob looked down. Here he was only about a foot from the floor – the mine shaft had been filled in.
Sometimes in life we might feel like Bob hanging in the shaft, holding on for dear life. He was dangling there in the dark unable to see that safety was only a foot away. Many times when people have a traumatic experience they feel like this. Other times some of the pressures of life might make someone feel like they are “dangling in the darkness.” The reasons can vary: loss of a loved one, dealing with a long-term illness or disability, a broken relationship, inability to find a job, personal struggles, dealing with addictions, difficulties or fears associated with raising children, and so forth.
The disciples most likely had an experience similar to this after Jesus’ crucifixion and death. They had placed all their hope in him and now he was dead. Hope began to be rekindled when they heard of the empty tomb and his appearance to Peter. This was further engendered when the two disciples returned from Emmaus and told of their encounter with the Risen Lord. It is these two disciples who are mentioned in the opening of the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy.
After they recall coming to recognize Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.” Jesus, the Risen Lord, appears in their midst saying: “Peace be with you.” He greats them with words of comfort and strength. Nonetheless they are shocked. They see Jesus who they know to have died. “Is it a ghost? Is this a phantom?” or thoughts like this arise in their minds for Jesus says to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?”
Jesus then goes on to reassure the disciples that he is really present, he is really alive, he is real: “Look at my hands and feet, that it is myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” As he shows them his hands and feet they are filled with joy. The Lord is risen! And the disciples believe.
The belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, fills the disciples with courage and fortitude to continue Jesus’ mission. Throughout the public ministry Jesus has been preparing the disciples to continue the proclamation of the Gospel after him. He called the first disciples and told them he was going to make them “fishers of men.” He appoints the Twelve as apostles. He speaks to Peter as “the rock” upon which his church will be built. He “sends out” the Twelve and the 72.
Now after the resurrection Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” so that they would understand “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
We see in Acts of the Apostles that the apostles and disciples take up the mission of Jesus and begin the proclamation. The first reading from today’s liturgy recalls one of the speeches Peter gives as he bears witness to the Risen Lord. He proclaims the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and calls the people to repentance so that they could experience God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The disciples move from fear and shock to joy and proclamation because of their faith in the Risen Lord. Jesus risen from the dead restores them to life and fortifies them for living their lives. He does the same for us.
Jesus’ victory over the grave is the victory over fear, over anxiety, over illness, over suffering, over evil, over hatred, over injustice, over pain, over sin and death. This does not mean that fear, anxiety, illnesses, suffering and so forth do not exist. We know they do. Yet when we allow our faith in the Risen Lord to shed its light on these situations then we see the Light and are filled with courage and peace.