|Christ shows himself to Thomas -- mosaic by M Hildreth Meier, National Cathedral Washington|
The Gospel readings for the ‘octave’ of Easter -- the eight days immediately following Easter Day -- recount the post-Resurrection appearances of a bodily Jesus. They conclude with the story of ‘doubting’ Thomas, which provides the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter in all three years of the Lectionary. Shortly thereafter, however, the readings return to pre-Resurrection episodes, and even to occasions when Jesus is anticipating his crucifixion.
This pattern serves as a helpful reminder that the bodily appearances of Jesus proved to be a special gift to a very few disciples for a very short time. Moreover, it was only after these appearances ceased that the strange fact of the Resurrection, and the significance of its redeeming power, really took hold on the disciples. It was then that they were led to start proclaiming (in the words of the Epistle) that “what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” has a far wider implication than a miraculous event. The Resurrection is “the word of life” – which is to say, it is about how we should live.
One aspect of the way that early Christians revolutionized their lives is especially striking. They abandoned “private ownership of any possessions”, Acts tells us, sharing their material possessions so that “there was not a needy person among them”. This admirable arrangement did not persist, and given human beings as they are, it could not. Yet, its fragility does not render the gospel they proclaimed empty. Indeed it points to its vital double sidedness. Christians should never relinquish the hope of a deep unity waiting to be found in the Risen and Ascended Christ. And when they fail to realize it, as they will, “Jesus Christ the righteous” remains the place to turn to, since is he is “. . . the atoning sacrifice for sins”.