Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. (John 20:19-20 NRSV)
This past January, I was preparing for a transition retreat I was scheduled to facilitate for a synod staff. While reading a book I’d selected for the group to discuss, I had a jarring palm on the forehead moment. I put the book down and recognized the fact that I, myself, was in transition and I hadn’t really been paying attention to it. A number of things had changed in my life and I hadn’t fully acknowledged those changes and their effects.
One was as simple as naming, and claiming, the fact that I’m now the mother of two college graduates who are also both attending graduate school. Neither is the uncertain and somewhat insecure college freshman we dropped off many years ago. (Face it, when we go to college we are all insecure.) But now they are both young women making their own decisions and charting their own directions in life. Their earnest careers preparations signify an ending for me—and that’s not a bad thing. The lives I gave birth to have been set free to make their own decisions. It needs to be acknowledged that now my husband and I aren’t the only adults in our family anymore. Their new beginnings do indeed signify an ending for us. It’s a change in our identity as parents and requires us to be and act differently.
In Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, author William Bridges, points out that every transition begins with an ending. Something changes—sometimes dramatically, sometimes not but the ending prompts confusion in identity and direction until new beginnings are discovered.
The disciples who have hidden themselves away after the events of Good Friday are in a transition set-off by their despair. Their painful moment was ushered in by the devastation of seeing the palms of their teacher and friend, Jesus, nailed to a cross to hang and die. With Jesus’ crucifixion, everything changed for his followers, and they were left lost, confused, and terrified. What was their identity now that Jesus is dead and gone? How would they define themselves? Fearful, they hide, as we often do when faced with unsettling change.
But this cataclysmic ending has a surprising turnaround for God’s relationship, not only with the disciples, but with all of humanity. Jesus isn’t dead as they believe, he’s alive and he stands before them and shows them those same palms once outstretched on the cross. Previously his palms were signs of a violent ending, but now they are signs of God’s glorious and unimaginable new beginning.
This Easter season, Jesus stands before us, too. With nail-scarred palms outstretched he is indeed the embodiment of God’s love for us. He shows us that endings, even the jarring palm on the forehead ones, really can have miraculous new beginnings. Each death leads to resurrection. That’s true for the many changes in our lives, too.
This year, I plan to spend time pondering the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection and what it truly means for all the endings in my life—both those I’m happy about and those I’m not. The Risen Christ is a reminder for me that even changes that appear dismal at first can have surprising turnarounds. And he welcomes you, and me, to dwell in the reassurance of his continual peace.
Scripture quotation is taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.