Monday, 31 March 2008

2nd Sunday of Easter Year A

Every year, after Easter Sunday, whether it is Year A, B or C, we are treated to this Gospel passage. It is a multi-focused passage. At first glance, it focuses on the theme of peace. They are fearful and are locked behind closed doors. Jesus comes and stands in their midst. He calms their fears: “Peace be with you” [Jn 20: 21]. Jesus the Prince of Peace by his blood on the Cross reconciles humanity with God. He is our Peace. Therefore, it is such a great greeting that a Bishop, instead of saluting, “Good morning brothers and sisters in Christ, the Bishop, by virtue of his ordination, exercises what it means to be truly another Christ: Altus Christus when he stands before you and confidently greets you with the very words of Christ Himself: “Peace be with You”.

Or, at second glance the Gospel could very well refer to the ministry of reconciliation. Here, Jesus gives the Apostles the power to forgive or not to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” [Jn 20:22-23]. We often point to this passage for the foundation of our Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Or at third glance, we could also focus on Thomas’ incredulity or disbelief at so stupendous or amazing a miracle such as the resurrection. Thomas couldn’t believe that the Promised Messiah would return to life. He asks for physical proofs which Jesus was only too pleased to supply.

But a closer examination of the passage may yield a bit more for our reflexion and understanding.

The beginning of the Gospel passage is our clue as it makes a reference to “the evening of the same day of the week, the first day of the week”. According to the Catechism, “Jesus rose from the dead, ‘on the first day of the week’. Because it is the ‘first day’, the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eight day” following the Sabbath, it symbolises the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians, it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day” [CCC2174]. Perhaps, it becomes clearer why we go to Mass on Sunday. We do so not because of “obligation” but because we honour the Day of the Lord, the Day when Creation is renewed.

The Resurrection recalls us to the event of Creation. In effect, Jesus in rising from the death has offered us a new Creation. It is in this context that the giving of the Spirit is so important. If you recall Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep and God’s spirit hovered over the water” [Gen 1:1-2]. Now, the Spirit rests not on water but on the Apostles.

Thus, Thomas is not really “doubting Thomas” as tradition likes to paint him; a man with doubting faith asking for concrete proof in order to believe. If you recall, Thomas was also the Apostle who said, when Jesus was about to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus: “Let us go and die with Him too”. Here is an apostle whose general personality is not characterised by timidity or pusillanimity[1]. Instead, Thomas’ doubt is rather indicative of unexpressed or un-formed faith. A doubter is not one who does not believe but rather one whose heart is searching for someone to believe in. So, given the context of the Resurrection as New Creation brought about by Christ, given that Christ gave the Holy Spirit that hovered from the abyss to the Apostles, then Thomas’ exclamation is his search fulfilled; it is the birth of his true faith in the Christ who is always more that what He seems: My Lord and My God. The doubter becomes the greatest believer for Thomas is able to recognise the Risen Jesus as the Lord and Saviour—the one through whom the world was created and the one in whom creation is renewed.

Creation is renewed in the Resurrection. The problem is we are like Thomas getting lost asking for proofs of the resurrection instead of asking if our hearts already know that in Jesus Christ, creation has been renewed. This Sunday is a challenge to some of us whose faith is waiting to be born. It is not that we are faithless. A person whose faith is lukewarm is not because of unbelief. Rather, in the onslaught of killing, corruption, and lies etc, how are we to believe that creation has been renewed? In the face of evil where is the Resurrection? Unfortunately, for many of us, the Passion of Christ is easier to understand because we can relate it to the sufferings that we find in the world. That is why people disbelieve the Resurrection; not because it is not true but because it is too good to be true.

But, the truth is the Passion is not Passion without the Resurrection.

The first reading provides us with practical clue as to how/why it is possible to believe in the Resurrection. “The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood or community, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” [Acts 2:42-43]. Outside these characteristics or stipulations of the great Apostle, that is, if we do not keep close to Apostolic teaching, the Church, the Eucharist and Prayer, then we will be reduced to seeking for proofs of the resurrection. In fact, history, science and philosophy have tried to find historical, scientific and philosophical evidence to justify that the Resurrection is not possible. Yet, beyond all these attempts, we find that our hearts strain to tell us that there is something which we cannot explain away... no matter what. Let me give a couple of examples: If Jesus were just a prophet. He died on the Cross. As such, then there is nothing to explain anymore. Why? He died like any other person. But, yet, the Jews made sure that Guards would stand guard of the tomb and they paid people to spread the rumour that the Disciples stole the body of Jesus. Islam believes that Jesus was switched on the Cross with Judas. Da Vinci Code believes that Jesus escapes to marry Mary Magdalene. Have you ever wondered that all throughout history one after another elaborate theory is formulated to explain how the Resurrection could not have taken place?

All the attempts to disprove the Resurrection must mean that there is something which cannot be explained away. In fact, when they try to disprove the Resurrection they have already tacitly accepted it. Thus, it is not a question of believing what we haven’t seen. It is believing because the proof is already found according to the Acts: in the whole community remaining faithful to Apostolic teaching, the Church, the Eucharist and Prayer.

Today, let us examine our approach to what the Acts of the Apostles ask of us. If people are slow to believe in the Resurrection, it is perhaps our hearts have not truly embrace what is necessary for the Resurrection to be true for all the world to see: that we have not kept close to Apostolic teaching, we have stayed away from the Church founded by Christ, we do not really appreciate the Eucharist and finally we do not pray enough.

[1] Of course, the Passion of Christ proved otherwise because the Apostles were described as deserting Jesus or described as following him from a distance. That is why I used the term “general” characteristic of Thomas’ personality.