Repetitions of Joy

Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’s appearance to the disciples as a group, when he appears to them and shows them his hands and feet and eats a piece of fish , in response to their question as to whether he is only a ghost (Luke 24:35-48). The reading parallels the reading in Acts, in which Peter and the other apostles are curing the ill, and those around them are incredulous (Acts 3:11-26).  Both express the surprise and wonder that the resurrection inspires, both the historical event of Jesus’s Resurrection and all the healings that follow later in time, even to our own lives today.

It is a wondrous thing when we are kind of blindsided by healing or moments that feel truly redemptive. Often we easily enough notice the way in which evils can befall us suddenly and unexpectedly, like the moment last year that a woman pulled out of a drive, and despite my slamming the brakes and honking my horn as I sat motionless in the middle of the road, she just kept coming and we collided. But joy can happen in just as unexpected a way, too. We can be blindsided by love and healing, too. Perhaps problem that had been plaguing us whether externally or internally is suddenly just “lifted,” unexpectedly. Ignatius calls this “consolation without cause” because it’s not something we have personally willed or acted to change, but a grace given from beyond any of our own power. It’s God’s power alone.

A detail that I had not noticed before in this reading is the author’s note that Jesus’s appearance is immediately after his appearance to two disciples on the way to Emmaeus. The disciples are not even finished talking about their the first appearance when Jesus shows up again: “While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ ”   Here we see grace upon grace, the activity of a God who is so generous with giving joy that the disciples are not even done processing one experience of joy before another one breaks in again.

This sense of the repetitive, ongoing, unstoppable breaking in of God’s redemptive joy is communicated well also in the structure of Morning Prayer in the divine office for the Easter Octave. Every day the same hymns and antiphons are recited from the first Sunday in the cycle, because the entire octave is a celebration of the first day of Easter, the first day of Christ’s rising from the dead. The effect of praying this for me is that there is a sense in which time is “stretched out” and one gets a little taste of the “eternal now” in praying the same songs over many days. It’s a repetition of joyful praise. That’s the ongoing invitation for the Octave: to continue to give joyful praise.