Easter. Rebirth. Resurrection. Spring. It is also the time when we celebrate the Resurrection. Or, if you’re like me, puzzle over it, filled with questions and doubt: did Jesus resurrect bodily, or was it a mystical return from the dead? Had he fully died? Maybe he went into a trance or coma in those last hours on the Cross, and once buried came out of it – although how he got out of the closed tomb with its great stone rolled across the mouth of the cave, to be seen by Mary in the garden— that gives one pause.
I know people who are waiting for the Second Coming, convinced that He will return in bodily form, mature, having somehow skipped a childhood. I’m not sure what happens then, but I imagine, as the Grand Inquisitor says in Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” that we humans turn on Him and kill that exotic Other all over again. Meanwhile, I understand nothing.
Yet twice I have seen Christ, and nothing can convince me the visions were not real. Perhaps the Second Coming is happening to all of us all the time, and what is missing is recognition alone. Perhaps Christ is coming to us again and again, in tiny moments, reminders of kindness, in bursts of laughter, or enjoyment of wine and social company. He must have been fun when alive. I’m inviting you all, dear readers, to confide your own experiences. I need to know them. I want to know I’m not alone.
Some spiritual encounters are so fragile that you hardly know what’s happened. I remember one Easter slipping into Christ Church, Georgetown, onto a folding chair at the door, and suddenly bursting into tears, overcome by . . . what? Beauty? Flowers? Spiritual ecstasy? This, too, brought me no closer to church devotion. (I’m a hard case., it seems.)
Both of my Jesus sightings were similarly memorable. That is to say, I can’t forget them. Yet, curiously, both were so ordinary that nothing changed. I didn’t fall to my knees in worship of the Son of God. I didn’t become more devout, or “Christian.”
Here is one. I was living in my cabin in Taos, N. M. For weeks I had been praying to see Jesus. You see, I’m not a very good Christian (always doubting, arguing, ready with contemptuous and critical inner commentary).
So there I was that Easter morning, reading in my green tattered armchair by the fire, when I glanced up from my book , and out the window — I saw Christ walking toward me across the lawn. He was dressed in a long, white robe, like in the pictures, and he looked sort of as he’s depicted : a face, a beard, though I don’t remember his face, merely his arms opening in welcome and the smile of greeting as he strode toward me. The next moment he was gone. The whole vision couldn’t have lasted more than an instant, less than a second, and it left no effect on me whatsoever., “Oh, that was Christ,” I thought, and went back to my book. As if I’d seen my brother.
The problem was, the memory kept coming back, as now, writing about it. Was it real? I have no idea. But jut thinking of it fills me with joy. Did it change my life? Make me go to church more regularly, stop arguing, found hospitals, build orphanages, give all my worldly goods away and join a monastery? No.
But I can’t forget that sense of being loved. Or His joy, the absolute delight, at seeing me.
The other experience was totally different, and you can make of it what you will. I was walking up the hill on the street in Washington D. C., where I lived, when I noticed a man walking slowly on the far side of the street. He was young, perhaps in his twenties, dressed in dark, somewhat dirty and ragged clothing ,and carrying a backpack. He was pulling up the hill, slightly hunched, deep in thought, staring at the sidewalk at his feet, but what made him unusual was . . . some ineffable quality that drew me to him. He was utterly absorbed in thought (prayer?) eyes down, impervious to his surroundings. I hurried across the street behind him, hastening to catch up. Who was he? Why did I want to stand beside him? He looked destitute, orphaned, and content in lonesomeness. To speak to him. would be an intrusion. He didn’t need me. He didn’t need anyone. But my heart poured out toward him. I wanted to help. All of these thoughts occurred so quickly I was hardly aware of them. Walking past, I reached out to offer money. He pulled back, shook his head. “No, no.” Did he say the words aloud? I don’t remember, but certainly the message received informed me that he didn’t need money. I walked quickly on, forging uphill, curiously disturbed by him but careful not to interrupt his meditations. After a few moments I turned to look behind. He wasn’t there. Maybe he was someone’s son, who had just reached the front door to his own house.
Why do I think he was the Christ?
Here was a man, or prophet, or Son of God, who has been worshiped for 2000 years; who never wrote a word and yet influenced more people than anyone on earth. Yet I understood (with the vision) that I was “seeing Christ”. I have never forgotten those visions…They are part of the story of my life. Perhaps for me, that is the real meaning of the Resurrection.
© Sophy Burnham