According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus of Nazareth died on Good Friday, then arose on Easter Sunday. The narratives relate that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. In the New Testament, we find twelve instances of Jesus’ appearances from Easter Sunday until forty days later when we read of his final earthly appearance in Bethany, where the Gospels say he ascended into heaven.
When we read the exact descriptions of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances, we find a common thread. Most of the intimate followers who knew Jesus well while he was alive barely recognized him. Mary Magdalene, who first saw him, “did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn. 20:14). She thought he was a gardener! Jesus tells her, cryptically, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jn. 20:17).
Subsequently, Jesus appeared “in a different form” (Mk. 16:12) to two of his followers while they were walking from Jerusalem in the country. “They were kept from recognizing him” (Lk. 24:16) as they traveled on the road to Emmaus, and it was only at supper that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Lk. 24:31).
Then Jesus appeared before the eleven disciples, but “they were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (Lk. 24:37). He reassured them by showing them his wounds and eating a piece of broiled fish (Lk. 24:40-42).
Jesus also appeared out of nowhere inside a locked room where the disciples were staying (Jn. 20:19). Then he appeared “a week later” inside the same locked room and invited Doubting St. Thomas to touch his wounds (Jn. 20:26-28). Jesus again appeared to seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee, but at first, “the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus” (Jn. 21:4).
What is going on here? St. Paul provides an explanation: “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44). Paul elsewhere notes that Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).
The resurrected Jesus resided in his spiritual body, barely apprehensible to our human senses. He teetered in and out of this material universe, with one foot on earth and the other in heaven, until he dematerialized completely from this physical realm.
The Sufi mystic al-Hallaj was said to dematerialize and rematerialize at will. Documented reports exist of Maria Esperanza, the late Catholic mystic, bilocating; this phenomenon has been reported of other saints. Hinduism also holds that we possess subtle, non-physical bodies, as does Chinese medicine. Those who attain to spiritual illumination may appear to reside in this terrestrial world, but all the while nobody’s home. We at Explorations in Contemporary Spirituality readily accept that Jesus was an incarnation of God, known in Hinduism as an avatar, and as such he viewed and interacted with this world from the other side of the fence, opposite from where the rest of us reside. Time and space are mere playthings to such beings.
Humans are capable of perceiving a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum known as visible light, which appears from approximately 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers. This represents 0.0035 percent of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from dense cosmic rays at the lower end to the longest wavelengths at the upper end. This means, in practical terms, that we are unable to see 99.9965 percent of what is potentially apprehensible in the universe around us. Imagine being able to perceive everything that takes place around us, if we had but eyes to see.
The human range of hearing is likewise limited to those frequencies between around 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. We are incapable of hearing infrasound or ultrasound. Yet, audio transmissions occur everywhere constantly, if we had but ears to hear.
Philosopher Gerald Heard notes, “The observational construct (the way we have of instantly seeing the world around as being a series of separate objects) … is not, in point of fact, an accurate picture of what is out there. What is actually out there is an unbroken series of events in a variously accented panorama” (The Five Ages of Man, pp. 238-239). In other words, the choppy, partitioned interactions we have with the outer world, which we segregate into a series of separate occurrences, are in fact a singular, continuous occurrence with no actual points of reference, save our internal sense of “I”. Thus, because of our ego, we can’t perceive reality as it actually exists. Yet all the while, we are forever perched on the edge of Infinity.
Our ego serves a purposeful relational function, helpful us to distinguish “this” from “that.” This partitioning is useful for coping with the material world, but it proves a severe handicap when peeling back the artifice to encounter God in God’s unembellished form.
When Jesus appeared from Easter Sunday on, he vibrated at a frequency and scope that is outside our myopic sensory perceptions. He anchored himself as best he could in this infinitesimal slice of reality known as earth for as long as he could. But, as if being swept into the vortex of a black hole—a metaphor for the limitless God—his eternal, ethereal form finally lost its tenuous hold in this side of temporal reality, and away he went!
These conjectures, hypothetical as they may seem, nonetheless hold out a distinct hope for devotees of Jesus. If we could but attune ourselves to the same frequency as Jesus, then the spiritual form of Jesus—St. Paul’s “spiritual body”—into which Jesus transmuted on Easter Sunday, may be apprehended. Not with our physical eyes and ears, but through a direct soul-to-Soul communion, as has been reported by many accomplished Christian mystics. St. Peter also said, “God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen…” (Acts 10:40-41). Thus, Jesus could not—and still cannot—be seen by the vast majority.
This requires an inner transmutation so our soul will attain to an elevated spiritual level that we cannot now conceive. In so doing, we leave behind our limited ego and rend asunder the time-space fabric to behold the living God, either as a formless Being, or in the form of Jesus or whichever spiritual form most resonates with our soul. Once we cleanse our inner vision, this experience is always a heartbeat away. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
References: All New Testament citations except for 1 Cor. 13:12 (my own rendition) are acknowledged as follows: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.