|Incredulity of St Thomas -- Matthias Stom|
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. It is, so to speak, the 'proof' text of the Resurrection. Yet, as is well known, the episode ends with Jesus suggesting that faith does not need empirical proof, and even that we are better off without it.
On succeeding Sundays, the Gospel passages return to pre-Resurrection episodes. This serves as a helpful reminder that the bodily appearances of Jesus were a special gift to a very few disciples for a very short time. Moreover, it was only after these appearances ceased, that the followers of Jesus, even those who had personally witnessed his Resurrection, came to understand the full significance of the Resurrection, and all that preceded it. It was when Christ had disappeared from their sight (at the Ascension) that they were able to proclaim the Gospel. In the words of this week's Epistle, “what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” has a far wider implication than a merely miraculous event. The Resurrection is “the word of life”. It is about how we should live.
|The Apostles Receive their Mission|
One aspect of the way that early Christians revolutionized their lives is especially striking. The lesson from Acts recounts that they abandoned “private ownership of any possessions”, sharing their material goods 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 do so. 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 show the Gospel they proclaimed to be empty. On the contrary, it points to its vital double nature -- reality constantly renewed by hope. "If we say that we have no sin," John's Epistle tell us, "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Yet this is not a counsel of despair, because "if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." However mundane the Church temporal, Christians cannot relinquish the hope of the Church triumphant. There is a deep unity waiting to be discovered in the Risen and the Ascended Christ. When, Christians fail to realize it, as they inevitably will, their task is to return repeatedly to the reality that grounds it -- “Jesus Christ the righteous”, since is he is “. . . the atoning sacrifice for sins”.