|Jesus appears to the Disciples -- National Cathedral mosaic|
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, though, the readings return to pre-Resurrection episodes, and even to occasions when Jesus is anticipating his crucifixion.
This pattern might suggest that as Easter recedes, so does the message of resurrection. Obviously that is not right, but the return to pre-Resurrection episodes does serve 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 followers of Jesus. It was following Christ's Ascension 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.
|Christ and nails|
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”. Something like this admirable arrangement is extolled in the very short Psalm that follows. But it did not persist, and given human beings as they are, it could not have been expected to last. The heady days of the early Church, as Paul's letters confirm, were soon displaced by the emergence of a 'human, all too human' institution. Yet, the fragility of the kind of life that the first Christians embraced, does not render the Gospel they proclaimed empty. On the contrary, it points to its vital double sidedness -- reality constantly renewed by hope. However mundane the Church temporal, Christians cannot relinquish the hope of the Church triumphant -- that deep unity waiting to be discovered in the Risen and Ascended Christ. And when, again and again, they fail to realize it, their task is to turn repeatedly to the reality that grounds it -- “Jesus Christ the righteous”, since is he is “. . . the atoning sacrifice for sins”.