The Absence of Regret

    The following was written for Nashotah House's collection of Lent and Easter reflections; it is for the Easter Wednesday Morning Prayer reading of Luke 24:13-35.


    Perhaps the most wonderful, certainly the most detailed, Easter story is this one. Two disciples, walking back home in ignorance of Jesus’ resurrection, have a conversation with Jesus on the road for, we’d guess, an hour or two, and they do not know it is Jesus. He explains from the Bible why the Messiah had to die and “enter into his glory.” They invite him into their home for supper. He takes bread. They recognize him. He disappears. They race back to Jerusalem with the news that they have seen him.

    Had I been one of them, I am sure my first word upon Jesus’ disappearing would have been unprintable. What a fool I was not to have recognized him earlier! Then for the rest of my life I would regret that I let him slip away from me.

    Like the dog who did not bark in the famous mystery story, so the absence of regret in this story is the clue to our unlocking a strange Easter truth. If any other beloved, good, significant human being had been with them, they would have felt regret. I think: What if my wife were to come back and be with me for a walk and a supper, and I enjoyed her presence but didn’t realize, until the very moment that she left me, that she was my late wife? I would think of a zillion things that I would wish I had said or asked her or done.

    But to the contrary, these two disciples have no regret. In fact, they race like crazy back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they have seen Jesus. What should the reader conclude? This: they grasped something about Jesus that was new, and it created in them new emotions. He had prepared them to understand this new revelation by the Bible study he had given them. Now they grasp in both head and heart that Jesus has entered into his glory.

    He has a body; he can be touched; he can touch bread and wine and sit and recline and walk; he has the physical apparatus needed to speak and see. The glory, however, puts this body on the other side of suffering. It need not open doors; it seems to be able to cross distance without lapse of time. Consider the detail: when our pair of disciples get back to Jerusalem, they learn that Jesus has already appeared to Peter.

    The physics of the resurrection body can be for us nothing but speculation, since so far the only resurrection body to be seen is Jesus’. But for me the feeling, what some philosophers would call the “quiddity,” of the glorified body is not speculation. It has gone through grief and come out on the other side. It is the “quiddity” of having no regret. Beyond sadness, beyond even the slight sadness of garden-variety regret, in the wake of the glorified body of Jesus there is naught but sheer joy.

The King

The dead man whose body we contemplate on the end of Good Friday has finished a day of extraordinary kingship.
    Pilate, in the middle of his interrogation, had him scourged; when he came back, in that ghastly beaten shape with thorns and purple upon him, still he was master of himself. Where are you from? Pilate asked, adding Do you not know that I have power to release you? His voice remained sure: You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.
    He remained strong to the end. Saint John says he carried his own cross—even scourged and beaten as he was. And with that strength of body there was strength of character. He knew what was happening all the way through. In fact, even though he was the victim, he seemed somehow to be in charge—as if, even though they were killing him, he was choosing to allow himself to die. Did he not end it all by saying, It is finished?
    He was calm and strong to the end, and although many of us ran away, not all of us did. He had said to Pilate, Every one who is of the truth hears my voice. Even there, nailed and hanging in the torture of drawn-out capital punishment, he was taking care of his mother and his friends. He made a new family, right there, right at the foot of the cross: Woman, behold, your son! And to the disciple: Behold, your mother! We had thought of his dying as isolation and abandonment, but now it seems quite the contrary: as he was dying, he created new community.
    His self-possession to the end, his strength, his loving provision for his friends: all this shows us that what we experience on this day is the effectuation of kingship. When they nailed him to the cross, they put him upon his throne. There he did what from the beginning he had been prepared to do: he became the ruler of the universe. Lifted on high, he became king, drawing to himself all who hear his voice.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."