Have you ever seen the face of Christ?
He must have had a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about him. History refers to many men in power who, regardless of whether loved or reviled, had charisma. Jesus must have had it. He was a carpenter who quit his day job and had multitudes trailing after him. Even kids were drawn to him. I wish I could have seen it.
I wish I could have seen it, because I find it hard to wrap my head around his life story. Chronologically, it’s so remote. But his death is even harder to understand. Every Easter I have to force myself to think historically in order to find meaning in a simultaneously familiar and foreign event.
Yeah, yeah, the crucifixion – bloody, gory, in threefold. A little over the top, isn’t it? Actually, it’s not. It’s what they did to criminals back then.
Resurrection? He was dead. Then he wasn’t?
Can you imagine this? I find it tough. Even the people who were actually there when it happened found it hard to believe. The women at the tomb, who were given the first gospel, were flabbergasted. When they went and told Peter, he had to run back to the tomb to see the shed linen cloths for himself. Thomas still didn’t believe it, until Jesus showed up and proverbially whipped him upside the head.
But I’m here and now. I don’t have the privilege of having lived it. When I look for the face of the risen Christ, anno 2012, I have to look harder. But like the women at the tomb, Jesus surprises me.
There was the time my husband came back from the West Bank. He went as a man on a mission – in obedience of a hunch – and returned a man of God. Through the silent glass on the other side of baggage claim, he looked transfigured. His features were soft. His posture, though tall and ever upright, was humble. Seeing our welcome sign and balloons, he kissed his hands and extended them in our direction. In that gesture, I could see that he had been cared for by people generous in spirit. He had seen suffering at the checkpoints, but had recognized the face of Christ. Now he was wearing it.
There was that Palm Sunday at the church we’d been visiting a couple weeks. My daughters, with their Sunday School class, had paraded down the church aisles with palm branches. Even Lena, two years old, was singing “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to the King of Kings!” When all the children in all the classes stood assembled on the steps of the altar, waving and singing, I saw him. The hair stood up on my arms and my eyes filled with tears. It was like Jesus had been there all the time, but made manifest in the children. They were puzzle pieces of a Messianic mosaic. In their conglomerate, Christ became someone I could plainly see, as he had stood among children in his own lifetime.
Finally, there was my mom. For a year and half, she’d suffered through operations, chemo and radiation. The cancer came back. Her move to hospice, once decided on, was swift. Palliative care pulled her into a medicinal morass, one in which I could hardly recognize her. I held her hand and head when she died, watching her chest take its final, arduous breaths like a fish struggling to breathe out of water. When that stopped, all was quiet.
Then her face changed. Sun spots faded, as did the lines of pain and fatigue. She looked soft and still. When her minister arrived, an hour later, he saw her and turned to me in astonishment.
“She’s smiling.” He looked at me, his mouth hanging slightly open.
“Her mouth – it’s turned up, here.” He gestured with two fingers to the side of his own mouth.
I had seen it before he had walked in, but now I knew it wasn’t just me. My mom had not died with a smile on her face. The shell of her had simply stopped shuddering. That had been her death. Yet something had happened after the ceasing. Something had brought the peace that now flooded her features.
Doubt is inherent in faith. My husband reminds me of this when I come to him with my questions about Jesus. I have lots of them. I spend a lot of time imagining how Jesus must have been, and wondering if all the things I fill in about God are proof that he’s just a figment of my imagination.
I also imagine heaven in this vague, cumulus-cloud, frilly angel kind of way.
But when my mom died, I knew it was all real. She had clearly, clearly, gone to a “better place.” Wherever the ever-after was, she was in it, and it was good. Heaven was real.
He is real.
© 2012 Anastasia Hacopian