Easter and the dead man on the train

Easter reminds me of the time I brought a dead man back to life just by touching him. It was the most embarrassing moment in my life. I think it is the shock, surprise, and comedy of Easter that remind me of that day.

I was reading on the train, somewhere between Central and Rooty Hill. Taking a break, I glanced around. There, just two or three rows back and across the aisle, was a dead man. I could tell the old man was dead because his body was slumped against the window, motionless, with his mouth wide open. But his eye was the clincher. I say ‘eye’—singular—because I could only see half his face from my seat; the other half was pressed against the rattling window. The eye was wide open, staring blankly into the distance, not blinking. It is quite a shock to find death sitting in your carriage, so I gawked at him for a few seconds.

Jesus’ disciples also froze in shock after his death. They had followed their hero and listened to his radical words, yet now they had left his still, silent body in a tomb. The Bible describes them hiding, trying to make sense of what had happened.

I distinctly remember willing that eyelid to move, even halfway down, so I could get back to my book. They say a crisis reveals character; I mostly felt annoyed. I didn’t want to be a hero. Why did he have to have a heart attack on my carriage? But I felt burdened to act because a few years prior I had completed some first aid training.

The blink never came, so I decided to move closer. I stood and walked up to him, trying to remember my resuscitation lessons. Putting my left hand on his shoulder, I shook him gently and asked the most moronic question you can ask a dead man: “Are you okay?”

He immediately sat up and looked at me, startled. He was alive! We had given each other a terrible surprise.

Unlike the early disciples, I did not need the man to convince me he was alive. Jesus, on the other hand, had to insist on it repeatedly. Despite his earlier hints and outright predictions of what would happen, they just did not get it. Even as some of them came around, others did not believe them. Like many of us today, they were determined not to believe such a fantastical story. I am glad they did not edit out their embarrassing surprise.

When I saw the man up close, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. I had brought him back to life only in my mind. This is where Easter is very different from my experience. I had never seen a corpse; the soldiers who crucified Jesus were dead-man professionals. I saw a body from afar, but they were intimately close to their victim. They had probably held down the hands they hammered through with a rough nail. They passed the hours playing a game of chance within easy hearing of the man’s groans. At knock-off time, they speared him through to make sure the job was finished. No perspective problem here: Jesus was dead. Yet the disciples now insist, through their written records, that he came back to life.

But what about the train man’s unblinking eye? It was, once again, the clincher, confirming a mistake rather than a miracle. At that close distance, I could now see it was a fake glass eye. They don’t need blinking, apparently. He was just enjoying a nap, and I was the jerk who shook him awake. Distance had tripped me up.

Similarly, most of us see Jesus from a distance—a memory from long ago, viewed from a child’s eyes during a church lesson or bedtime story. Yet getting a closer look is as simple and safe as googling “Luke 24”. This report of the events is just shy of 1,000 words, taking about eight minutes to read.

As you can imagine, I felt terrible. I heard myself awkwardly say, “Sorry, I thought you were dead”. To make it worse, I probably said this with a stupid smirk, as my impulse is to smile when embarrassed. Feeling the whole carriage glaring at me, I returned to my seat and pretended to read my book. I was too ashamed to look back.

Any laughs are at my expense, not the poor man’s; he has suffered enough at my hands. Can you imagine things from his perspective? You are enjoying a nice commuting nap, bothering no one. You then feel the shock of being shaken, look up, trying to orient yourself in the woken world, and see a young man with a silly smile. He mumbles some inconvenience at your aliveness, then sits a couple of rows in front of you, opens a book, and starts reading. Perspective is like that. You need to move closer to see clearly. I wish we could meet again, so he could understand it from my side, and hear my second and more detailed apology. We might even share a laugh.

It may seem strange to discuss the humour of the resurrection, yet it is curious that such a foundational belief in Christianity—the whole shebang collapses if Jesus is dead—was first received in such a comical way by the disciples. Different parties ran to and from the grave. They confused Jesus for both a gardener and a clueless tourist. Even when Jesus stood before them as a group, they were still reluctant to believe it. I think the technical term theologians use to describe this episode is ‘kerfuffle’. You would expect the church’s founders would make themselves look a little smarter if they were going to make up an origin myth. I wonder how often they laughed together, remembering this hilarious surprise.

Even though I felt awful at the time, I am now glad I did not stay in my safe seat—I would still be living with the doubt. If I see another dead man on the train, I hope I once again have the courage to move closer and see for myself. Wouldn’t you want to be similarly sure about Jesus?

By Martin Olmos

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