Exercise: Do Not Be Afraid

"First read this passage (Luke 24:36-43, NIV).

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

"Prepare for this period of prayer by doing a brief breathing or awareness exercise.

"First, imagine the overall scene. Picture the room where the apostles consumed the Passover meal with Jesus before his death. How big is the room? Is it circular, square, rectangular? Is the ceiling low or high? Where are the windows? Are the walls just plain or are they decorated? How big is the table? Is it made of wood?

"Now bring the scene itself to life. There are eleven apostles here. Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, has taken his own life. The remaining apostles are back in the upper room. They have been eating fish. Perhaps it is evening. Is it dark outside? Quiet? Are there candles burning in the room?

"Do the apostles talk? What are they saying to each other? Do they talk about Jesus? About the past? How do they feel? They have heard that Jesus is risen, but have not yet seen him for themselves. The Risen Lord has already appeared to some female disciples, and also to two disciples walking along the road. The apostles used to be the special ones, but now they seem to be the only ones not to have seen Jesus. How do they feel about this turn of events? Embarrassed? Mortified? Do they see it as a just reward for having been so cowardly as to run away when Jesus was arrested?

"What is their morale like? Do these men really want to see Jesus? Or, now that they know he is full of majesty, are they afraid of encountering him? After all, three fell asleep during Jesus' hour of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. One betrayed him and came to a horrible end. The other, their leader Peter, denied three times that he even knew his Master. What about Peter? Does he look upset? Are his eyes red from weeping?

"When they hear sudden noises from outside, how do they react? Do they exchange frightened glances?

"Now Jesus appears in their midst. What does he look like? Listen to his words: 'Peace be with you.' Now look at the fear in the eyes of the apostles: they think they see a ghost. The last time they saw him, his hands were tied like those of a criminal, covered with the filth of the world. Do they open their mouths to say anything or stay silent?

"Put yourself in this scene. Where are you? What are you doing? How do you react to Jesus' appearance? To his greeting of peace?

"Listen to the next words of Jesus: 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'

"What is it that Jesus reads in their minds? The struggle between doubt and faith? Between fear and trust? Are their old selves still alive, full of anxiety and suspicion? Have their new selves risen to life yet with Jesus?

"What is going on in your mind? Can you trust? Do you feel afraid? Can you see the new and risen Jesus? How often do you miss or not recognize Jesus in your daily life? If not, do you want to see and believe in this Risen One?

"Watch the apostles' reaction as Jesus tells them he is truly Jesus, the same Jesus, not a ghost, but the One who is risen from the dead, just as he promised. What do they do when Jesus invites them to touch him, when he shows them the wounds on his hands and his feet?

"Look at Jesus as he turns to you and tells you he is not a ghost, but real, with a body. What do you feel when he invites you to touch him? Do you dare approach him? If not, does he approach you? Does he lay his hand upon you? What does his hand feel like?

"Look at the joy in the apostles' eyes. They are utterly fascinated and yet still uncertain. So Jesus asks for something to eat. Jesus has sat down to eat many times in the past with his apostles. Who brings him the piece of broiled fish? Watch Jesus as he eats the piece of fish.

"As you come toward the end of this time of prayer, what do you want to say to Jesus? If you are fearful, focus on Jesus' kindness to you, and it will help you pluck up courage. Speak to Jesus with confidence. He knows what is in your heart. He is still a human being like you, and yet now it is obvious how much more than a human being he is: Jesus is the Lord, the Son of the Most High.

"Do you want to be more than just a human being? Do you want to be a child of God? Do you want to cast out fear? Invite Jesus into your heart. Ask him to help you love, for perfect love casts out fear."

Anthony de Mello in From Fear to Serenity with Anthony de Mello by Anthony de Mello, Margaret Brennan Hassett, Thomas G. Casey