After the resurrection Christ’s bodily presence was puzzling, to say the least. The Lord’s risen and glorified body constituted a new type of reality not previously seen or known. The apostles had seen Him die and now He was with them once again, in the body, but strangely different. One major difference was that His glorified body was no longer constrained by spatio-temporal parameters. No wonder they were frightened, and it is not surprizing that they thought it might be a ghost.
It is difficult to deny that phantasms do exist, in some sense. Remember the Biblical episode of Saul and the Witch of Endor. Many people claim to have ‘seen’ something ghostly. Just what that something might be is difficult to say. Is it an echo from the past, that somehow intersects with our present, like the replaying of a disc? Is it a soul tortured by remorse and doing its purgatory on earth, like Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol?
Whatever they are, ghosts reportedly lack completeness and coherence. They seem to be only partly real, only partly there. They are shadowy wraith-like things, and their intrusion generally brings little benefit and conveys little meaning.
In the case of the risen Christ, nothing could have been less like a ghost. He was gloriously real. He ate a piece of grilled fish before their eyes, to reassure them. His glorified bodily presence was evidence of His new and unquenchable life. Life in all its fullness stood before them in the upper room. At first they found it difficult to accept that the impossible had happened, that somehow the Master’s death had been reversed, the tragedy cancelled. His bodily presence radiated peace and that peace changed their incredulity into faith and their fear into joy.
The Lord’s corporeal resurrection revealed the fuller purpose of His atoning death. It also revealed more fully (at the Ascension) the glory of His Kingship. It revealed Him supremely (at Pentecost) as the ever-flowing fountain of the Holy Spirit, the fons et origo of the Church’s indestructible dynamism and enduring mission.
The Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s dying/rising/ascending/bestowing the Holy Spirit is one integral revelation. This sublime and composite Mystery more readily discloses its inexhaustible riches when we let it address us in its totality.
It is a brutal error to try and wrench the Mystery asunder by focussing, in an externalist and reductive way, on the chronological and iconographical individuation of each component ‘event’.
The events happened. The Mystery is true.