They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost (Luke 24:37).
This wasn’t the first time they mistook Jesus for something frightening. Once they were caught in a fierce storm in a small boat. They feared they would drown. They panicked when Jesus came to them by walking on the water. This they did not expect. They cried out in terror at what they thought was a ghost. When Jesus showed himself transfigured in the brightness of glory, Peter stammered out some senseless words about building shelters. In the Gospel of Saint Mark, we are told: “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (Mark 9:6).
And now we are looking in at the disciples on Easter evening. They knew the grave of Jesus was empty. Angels had told them he was risen. They should have been excited and happy to see the one they called Master. Instead, they were startled and frightened.
We shouldn’t be too hard on those disciples. We are tempted to act in the same way in times of alarm and stress. Jesus may not appear to us in bodily form, as he did back then. But he did promise that he will always be with us. We know that he comes to us in Word and sacrament. He also enters into our time and space with his loving care.
Many times, we aren’t aware of his presence. Sometimes we mistake him for something bad. Like those disciples, we have expectations of how and when he will show himself in our lives. We look for things like days of joy and success, or recovery from illness, things that lift up hope. We sense the hand of our Savior in such things—and we welcome them. When dark days dawn, when pain strikes, when a dreadful future suddenly looms—we don’t like what we see. These look like nightmares. We think, “This cannot be God at work.” We become frightened. Jesus knows that. That’s why he has told us in advance that scary things can happen to his people. His words are: “Fear not!” He is still our Savior God. To the disciples huddled in fright he said: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet” (Luke 24:38, 39).
We may be a long way from Jerusalem on the first Easter, but we can still do what he says. We can look at his pierced hands and feet. In his Word he shows them to us. Already in prophecy he had called out, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16).
So they did. In the New Testament we receive the details of his anguish at Golgotha. Roman hands drove the nails. Jewish voices called for it. By means of the Scriptures the Holy Spirit allows us to see this, too. If Jesus did this for us; if he loved us this much; then we need not be frightened if he startles us by acting in a manner we do not expect or understand. This is Jesus. He is not some scary ghost.
We pray: Lord Jesus, our eyesight is dim and our understanding of what is happening is often limited and flawed. Teach us to never be afraid of your presence in our lives. With eyes of faith we have seen the nails piercing your flesh. Remind us that this is proof positive that you are on our side. Stay there! Abide with us as we walk the path of life. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military