Sunday, 19 April 2020

2nd Sunday of Easter Year A 2020

We are still within the Octave of Easter. The Resurrection is still fresh in the experience of the Apostles. It should be ours as well. Sadly, all around, we are reminded that we might still be in the tomb. So, let us focus on what the Resurrection is and what it implies for us.

Have you watched DC’s Justice League of 2017? There you get a glimpse of the “resurrection”. Superman has died and the world is deep in disturbance. Fuelled by the selfless sacrifice of Superman, Bruce Wayne, our Batman makes a stand against the evil forces of Steppenwolf bent on retrieving the three Mother Boxes. But then, Batman cannot do it without Superman. So, with his newly-formed band of superheroes—Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg, they devise a way to bring Superman back. Using one of the Mother Boxes, they managed to “resurrect” Superman.

That is where the analogy ends.

Superman was revived. He was not resurrected. Much like Lazarus when he was brought back to life. Both Lazarus and Superman are a type of Christ, but both needed to be revived. Even the mighty Superman who is formidable needed outside help to return. If anything, Superman’s revival shows us how stupendous the Resurrection is. It is beyond this world. 

Today we catch the Resurrected Christ appearing to His disciples behind closed doors. He alone is the Risen one because He rose through His own power. He fulfilled the challenge He issued to the authorities: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again”. The Resurrection was not the result of the Apostles’ faith. It was not because they believed in the Resurrection that it was so. Rather, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, their many experiences of Jesus after His death paved a path for them to embrace the reality of the Resurrection.

The Resurrection is ultimately a statement about the human body. It is not easy to accept that the human body can be raised to life. If Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter or even Superman have anything to teach us, it is that they are merely foretastes of the Resurrection.

However, our current cosmology is scientifically based. It is not established on a foundation of abracadabra or magic. There is no place in science for this possibility. Dead means dead. The truth is, then and now, ever since the Fall, humanity has struggled with the idea of the Resurrection. Man has grappled with the feasibility that fallen humanity can be raised from the dead. In one shape or another, we have contended with the practicality of salvation. One of the earliest forms was the Gnostics who rejected created flesh as a worthy vehicle for salvation. How could God take upon Himself fallen flesh? The Resurrection is not necessary for salvation, hidden knowledge is.

In our days, a subtle indicator of the rejection of the Resurrection is to be gleaned from the dystopian movies and series available. Dystopia is the unacknowledged stepchild of the Culture or Civilisation of Death. It is an apocalypse that projects despair and desperation into our future. Hence, in place of The Lord of the Rings, we have The Game of Thrones. In place of angels welcoming us, we have zombies falling over themselves trying to eat us alive. There you have it, a grim a picture of a future doomed to hell.

The belief in the Resurrection belongs to the cosmic battle that is taking place and if are unaware of it, then we are merely pawns. But if we are, then our task is to enrol ourselves as soldiers. Firstly, as soldiers, we do not die. No. it does not mean that there is no death. War memorials to the fallen soldiers are testimonies that soldiers live on in memory and in a way, they represent eternity. As a symbol of the Resurrection, a monument to the dead reminds us that death is not the end of our story.

Secondly, as soldiers, the cosmic conflict we are embroiled in, can be observed in the war on humanity that seeks to render humanness, meaning, that which makes us essentially human, a danger. We have been introduced to the ultimate anxiety of the 21st century, that is, man is the virus. In Gen 2;7, when God fashioned man out of dust, He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Today’s Gospel has Jesus breathing on His apostles. The human breath which stands as the biblical metaphor for life has become death. In Covid-19, everyone is now potentially my death. Ironically, social distancing, which seeks to preserve life actually proclaims rather loudly death’s potentiality: “Stay away just in case you become my death”.

The war on humanness has implications for our Sacraments as we see even now. The cancellation of Masses is just one of them. The Sacraments are ritualised expressions of the Incarnation. When God took on human flesh, He made it possible for us to receive Him through the instrumentality or mediation of creation—hence, water, oil, bread, wine, and the human person of the priest. Mediation is concrete and real. It is not immediate or virtual because humanness by its nature is “contactual”. For example, artisanal bakers or pasta/ramen makers and in our case, the roti canai man. When they make the bread or ramen or prata with their hands, what does that mean? Are we just eating bread, ramen or prata or could there also be some skin shedding from the hands of the person who makes them?

The whole idea of eating a piece of bread with the baker’s skin shedding or perhaps added with his dripping sweat is rather revolting. We might not look at the artisanal bread, ramen, or a roti canai in the same way again. But, if you think about it, there is that much of “cannibalism” involved in these processes that they make the Eucharist rather tame by comparison; eating the Body of Christ is not revolting as anti-Catholics would suggest. Not that we are eating the skin of Jesus or anything of that sort in the Eucharist but rather that there is humanness involved when we interact with one another. In fact, the Body of Christ contains the full humanity of Jesus more than the “humanness” that goes into making of bread, ramen or canai.

On Friday 17th April, the Pope warned of the danger that we may lose sight of the communal dimension of Christian life. What is this “communal dimension” if not the mass or sea of humanity? Life-streamed Masses are good because we seek a familiarity with God, but this familiarity is communal in nature. It is intimate, it is personal, but it is also communal. Otherwise, it is private and close to Gnosticism when detached from the community.

Covid-19 reveals that we may be living two separate lives. One which holds the belief in the Resurrection. It is official and we profess it. But, in reality, it functions like a social convention since Christianity is based on the Resurrection but it does not have much of an impact on us. The other life which is more central to how we behave is that we do not believe that there is more to life after death. We have become so afraid of dying that the Resurrection makes no sense at all. Whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is immaterial because there is no humanity to save.

Without denigrating the difficulties and the sacrifices of the men and women in the frontline who are battling with Covid-19, the ban on religious services, in the case of Catholicism, merely highlights this social veneer of the Resurrection. In this climate of suspicion of anything that is human, what meaning does the Resurrection have? It has none. Without our humanity, what is there to talk about the Resurrection?

Today is Mercy Sunday—a reminder that Christ entered the human situation in order to save it. We are worth His Incarnation. He did not die for rubbish. He died for man so that we can enjoy the Resurrection. We are worth His dying for as He is worth our living for. This war on humanity readily viralises man, the Church, and the Sacraments. Both the Church and the Sacraments are concrete expressions of the Incarnation and therefore they touch on our humanness. According to Pope Francis, “This is the Church of a difficult situation, which the Lord allows but the ideal of the Church is always with the people and with the Sacraments”. The Church was sent by the Risen Christ to the teeming masses of humanity; not to hide in the cave of the isolation. So, let us pray for the end to this seclusion so that we can come out of the tomb and once again, through His Church, be touched by the Lord in His Sacraments.