Obeying the urge during this Coronatide felt by many, Doan and I have been purging the rectory of things we never use and things that would serve others better. We haven’t had a DVD player in years, and so why do we still have all my old DVDs? In stacking them up to give away, I saw my old copy of City Slickers. Billy Crystal is an unhappy Manhattan yuppie on the verge of turning 40, and he’s roped into joining his two friends on a cattle drive in the southwest led by Curly, Jack Palance, in all his rough and gruff glory.
Billy Crystal didn’t want any of this to begin with, but after meeting Curly he’s legitimately frightened. In one of the best scenes, Crystal is trying to talk his friends out of the trip. His friend Ed says,
“This guy, Curly, is a true cowboy. One of the last real men. He’s untamed, a mustang. It’ll do us good to be in his world for a while.”
(All the while Curly is approaching them from behind Mitch)
Crystal says “Do us good? Didn’t you guys see? The man was hanging the hired help! And, did you notice his eyes? He has crazy eyes. He’s a lunatic! We are going into the wilderness being led by a lunatic!”
At that point Crystal notices everyone’s terrified faces looking behind him, and Crystal says, “He’s behind me, isn’t he?”
“As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them.” He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” Luke records that the Apostles were “were startled and frightened,” and why wouldn’t they be? Would you not be afraid of the man you saw brutally murdered on Friday standing before you on Sunday night?
There was another reason to be afraid. They had, as a group, performed about as badly as they could have in the preceding three days. One of them, dead already, had betrayed Jesus into the hands of His killers. They all had abandoned Him, took off to save their own skins. John at least snuck up with the women to watch his friend die. Peter, remember, three times denied even knowing Jesus, finally cursing and swearing up and down that he had nothing to do with Him. Jesus died the worst death imaginable, all but alone, and the best His followers could do afterward was huddle for fear in an upstairs room.
Then the news of the unimaginable. Jesus had talked about rising on the third day, but what did that mean? How to make sense of what the Magdalene was saying? And then Cleopas and his friend arrived, telling their story of talking to Jesus on the road to Emmaus, finally recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread.
It was this story that was being told, by the way, when Luke referenced “As they were saying this.” So as they were coming to grips with the unimaginable joy that would be the Resurrection, some of them, at least, were coming to grips with facing a resurrected Christ despite their unimaginable shame.
He’s right behind me, isn’t He? Yes He was. “”Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Jesus surely knew they were troubled, afraid, and confused. So He literally ate with them, a sign of peace if there ever was one. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, to understand the things of God that we have so much trouble understanding, and then He told them “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Repentance and forgiveness of sins. If anyone needed to be forgiven for directly, personally sinning against Jesus, it was the majority of the group in that upper room, and not only did Jesus forgive them, He sent them to proclaim that forgiveness is not only possible, but on constant offer. We too are to be witnesses of these things, witnesses to the unimaginable joy that is the risen Lord; witnesses to that Lord who is not just behind us, but as St. Patrick wrote,
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Whatever you’ve done, whatever your shame, even if you’ve denied Jesus three times and cursed Him up and down, He is behind you, lifting you up, proclaiming you forgiven, proclaiming you His.