The evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples met were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20.19).
Jesus was crucified. His disciples, loving him greatly, missing him terribly, grieve. Then Jesus, raised from the dead, appears. The disciples, initially stunned, rejoice. Their leader, teacher, and friend is back from the dead and with them. I imagine them saying, perhaps not aloud, for fear they may be dreaming, but with the silent, yet no less joyous words of their hearts: “If Jesus is back from the dead, then he won’t, can’t leave us again! He’s with us forever!”
But it’s not to be. Jesus appears, speaks a word of peace, and departs.
What peace is this? It’s not fair! It makes no sense! Yet, as another scripture counsels, this is peace “that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4.7).
What the disciples, at that moment, didn’t understand and perhaps couldn’t understand is that Jesus would be with them. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. No longer with them, face-to-face, side-by-side, but rather, by and through Spirit, in them. As close as a heartbeat. As near as breath. As spontaneous as thought and memory. As immediate as feeling and impulse. The disciples would experience hitherto unknown fellowship, oneness, peace with Jesus. A peace surpassing understanding; beyond human intellect to comprehend or human ingenuity to create.
Twenty years ago, next March, my brother Wayne died. I so loved and have missed him. I love and miss him still. O, how I wish he was back from the dead and with me.
That cannot be. But Wayne is with me. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. Wayne no longer talks with me in audible words. I do not see him face-to-face. We cannot walk side-by-side. But he is alive and lives within me. He comes to me as close as breathing. In the immediacy of thought. In the spontaneity of feeling. In the vivid imagery of memory.
I remember his impossibly broad smile. His riotous laughter. His beautiful music on piano and organ. His early Saturday morning wake up calls from St. Louis to Pontheolla and me in Washington, DC, gleefully shouting: “Get up and be productive! The day is wasting away!”
More than this, in my lively memories of Wayne, I have a living image of a genuine human being. One who dared to be true to himself and honest with others. A living image of authenticity upon which to model my life; a living image, an almost corporeal aura beyond my reason to comprehend or my ingenuity to create.
I remember Wayne’s generosity; giving himself and his substance to family and friends sometimes beyond prudent self-interest. His liberality guides me when my selfishness would suffocate the spirit of charity within me.
I remember Wayne’s kindness; speaking little evil of others, even those who hurt him, often holding his counsel, when to speak, however truthfully, would have been unkind and, hence, unhelpful. His compassion constrains me when my anger, even for the sake of righteousness about injustice, would burst into flames of vengeful speech.
I remember Wayne’s honesty; telling our parents, with candor and care, that he was gay and refusing to deny his anguish when our parents, perhaps predictably, did not accept him, and then laboring to live into healthy, unapologetic self-acceptance. His integrity helps me remain true to myself and with others when I, hungering for acceptance, am tempted, like a chameleon blending with my surroundings, to conceal what I think and feel.
I remember Wayne’s courage; living valiantly his final days and hours with AIDS. He didn’t want to die, but he seemed to accept his approaching end blessedly without shame, victoriously without alarm. His bravery encourages me when my fears would engulf me.
It’s odd, but I think that I think of Wayne more since his death than when he was alive in the flesh. Perhaps in my awareness that I don’t have the luxury, the possibility of being in touch, seeing him that he comes more to mind. More truly it is because of love. I so loved and have missed him. I love and miss him still. O, how I wish that he was back from the dead and with me.
Although this cannot be, Wayne is with me. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. He is alive and lives within me; the very memory of him helping me to connect to a spiritual strength beyond my power. I now know a fellowship with Wayne – yea, verily, with God – hitherto unknown.