To the two men walking along the road on the way to Emmaus, to the eleven in an upper room, to the disciples on the sea shore, the early Christians had the experience of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. To them, He appeared, and they knew him as a living being, a real entity. They knew him in the breaking of the bread and the eating of fish along the sea side. This resurrected Jesus they knew was an extension of the human life of the one whom they called teacher during his earthly life. For them, the resurrection of Jesus was no abstract concept. It was a living reality that colored all aspects of their daily life.
But why do we act as though the presence of the Lord Jesus is an abstract concept? As though he were more an idea than a person? For where those early disciples struggled with the idea of Jesus’ divinity, we seem by contrast to struggle with his humanity. And when we lose sight of our Lord’s humanity, we also lose sight of his compassion for us and for our estate.
We do not know him as he was in his earthly life. Yet, we do know him through the breaking of the bread. We do not know him in those physical attributes of being a person in the world, and yet, we know him as cosmic Lord and Savior. We may not be able to sit and have a conversation with our Lord over coffee at Dunkin Donuts, yet we do know him through the practice of prayer. And, if we pray and worship rightly, then we will indeed know him a real person, not just abstraction from history’s dusty and remote corridors.
We do not know the corporal, that is to say the bodily presence of the Lord Jesus as he appeared to his disciples in the post-Easter season. While we may lament that it is so, the New Testament makes it very clear, and the tradition makes it very clear through the Ascension of Jesus. The Ascension of Jesus marks the ending of that season of Eastertide appearances so as to usher in the next phase of God’s plan of salvation—that is the outpouring of his Spirit upon all flesh, that day we know and celebrate as the Pentecost or Whitsunday.