Holy Face of Jesus Icon by Anna Chapin OCDS
For what it's worth. It's been a long weekend, I hope this makes sense.
Homily for the Easter Vigil 2015
The Holy Face of Jesus III: His Glorious Face
One of the most intriguing things about the accounts of the Lord’s resurrection is that some of the disciples did not recognize him. He stood in their midst but they thought he was someone else, a stranger. They knew what he looked like, they knew his particular features, they had often read his Face to understand what was going on in his heart and too often they failed to read as deeply as they wanted – the Heart of Christ was an unfathomable mystery, but his gentle Face was familiar and expressive.
But in the resurrection accounts the Face of Jesus is itself for some, at first, an unfathomable mystery. And indeed it is, for now his Face reveals the glory of his divinity and the effects of the resurrection on his humanity. The Face of Jesus is transformed because he has been transformed. His disciples do not recognize him yet because they have not yet understood the resurrection; they still do not understand who he really is. It is when he calls them by name, or breaks bread in their midst, when he draws them to himself again, that their eyes are opened and they know him. Some like John, though, can recognize him from the distance.
The resurrection of the Lord is an unfathomable mystery, but to those with faith, who have entrusted themselves to Christ, it is the vision of his Face which leads them to understand and to plumb the depths of this mystery. It is through Christ that we not only come to understand the resurrection, but that through him we will come to share in it. In contemplating the Face of the Risen Jesus we come face to face with the reality of our redemption and our proposed transformation (I say proposed because God always leaves it up to us to accept it or reject it).
The human Face of Jesus, glorified in the resurrection, tells us that this event is no myth, it is real, it is physical, no mere spiritual phenomenon. Gazing upon the Face of the Risen Jesus we look on the reality of God, on his work in the universe, on his presence among us and his plan for the human race; as St Paul reminds us in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “the glory of God is seen in the Face of Jesus Christ”. Gazing on the Face of the Risen Jesus we see the full thrust of the Incarnation, a mystery that stretches from all eternity in the heart and will of God, enters time and gathers us up to the Cross and the empty tomb to the throne of the Eternal One. Contemplating the Face of the Risen Jesus we look right into the mysteries of God, into his life and we see what he has prepared for those who love him.
In Face of the Risen Jesus we also see what our humanity really is, what it was meant to be and what it can be again thanks to Christ’s sacrifice. In his Holy Face we now see our future, our eternal life, a restored humanity. Perhaps one of the reasons many did not recognize the Risen Lord, and why many today do not know him, is because they do not know what humanity is, what God intended it to be. We misunderstand our existence, its purpose and its eternal destiny – we underrate it. When we encounter the fullness of humanity, which we see in Christ, we do not know how to cope with it because it challenges us, turns our lives upside down, we realise that we might have got it wrong. The Risen Christ tells us not to be afraid – we can get right and he is the one who can help us – he has already laid the groundwork for our transformation. When he appears before us in glory he invites us to embrace him and his work for a renewed humanity. So when we gaze on the Holy Face of the Risen Christ we are to see him in all his glory, but also see ourselves renewed and sharing in that glory.
There are some who see that instinctively, like John who immediately saw and believed, who recognized Jesus from the distance; and then there are others who will struggle but in the process lay up a crown for their determination to surrender to Christ. Tonight we are to see that the veil has been lifted once again, the Face of Christ is revealed to this and we are now called to enter into that holy place where Christ is so we are changed and our world is changed. This holy night is a night of light, of mystical encounter, of praise and joy, because the glorious vision of the Risen Lord is offered to us, let us open our hearts and our lives to it.