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Resurrection, Part 2

 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Luke 24:36-37

It is ironic, though not intentional, that this reflection will first be published on Halloween. It may not be a coincidence, but I find it interesting. What follows could be considered a ghost story, but I consider it a hopeful tale of resurrection.

My Grandma Hildenbrand’s funeral was on the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 1982. Grandma was, and still is, a strong and inspiring influence in my life. She was an insightful and faithful soul who saw the good in me long before I could see it in myself. Her vision and example have been something of a thread running through my life, pulling me through my own blind stumblings, and encouraging me toward areas of light I could not see. The afternoon of her funeral was a grey, chilly day, and at her graveside service I saw her. She was not solid, as she had been a few days earlier. She was more like a silent mist passing among those she loved, assuring us of her continued presence and of her unfailing love for us. I felt her hug me. She was there in some sort of resurrected body. If I looked directly at her, I could not see her. She was only visible in indirect glances. Some might say it was an illusory product of my grief, but no one will convince me. Grandma’s form may have been ethereal, but her presence was unmistakable.

When I read the accounts of Jesus’ post-death appearances, I cannot help but be reminded of my grandmother’s post-death appearance. In Luke’s account, Jesus’ disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, and they were terrified. I think we need to reassess our perceptions of ghosts. We have too easily fallen for the tag line that sells movies and other media that non-physical beings are somehow unnatural, dangerous, and frightening. Could it be that they frighten us only because we do not understand their nature? I was not frightened by the appearance of my grandmother because I knew her. The disciples and followers of Jesus were not frightened of his resurrected appearances, once they understood who it was, because they knew him. Indeed, his first words were often, “Do not be afraid.” When we give in to our initial fears, we gain nothing from the experience except terror.

I believe one reason we do not have more frequent conscious encounters with non-physical beings is their understanding of and compassion for our uneasiness with such encounters. Even so, that doesn’t mean non-physical beings are not around us all the time. Many people recognize and name such presences as guardian angels. On the first Sunday of every November, churches celebrate All Saints Day, a recognition of family and church members who have crossed over in the past year, affirming that they remain with us in spirit. Christians believe in the Communion of Saints, which is an affirmation that those who have gone before us continue with us. These types of spiritual presences that have their being alongside ours are far from the Halloweenish stuff of nightmares and horror flicks. Rather, they are angels among us.

I do not want to be overly casual about the loss of those we love. Grief and loss are real, life-altering, pain-inducing experiences that never fully resolve for us on earth. We wonder how those who loved us so much could leave us so completely. In the months after my father’s death, I received a message in a dream that there would come a time when my time without him would seem no more significant than if he had made a trip to the grocery store. Clearly, that time is after our earthly passing.

When Mary recognized Jesus, she reached for him and he said, “Do not hold on to me” (John 20:17). He explained that he would be ascending to the Father. I understand this to mean that his physical embodiment, as Mary knew it, had ended, even though he was still and would continue to be spiritually present with her. I believe our loved ones never actually leave us, although they disappear from our conscious, physical awareness. In time, we learn to better let go and move on with our lives.

I will share additional thoughts on resurrected bodies next week.

This is the 7th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

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