2nd Sunday in Eastertide
Acts of the Apostles 5: 12-32
Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.’ When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.
When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, ‘We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. Then someone arrived and announced, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’ Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’
Revelation 1: 4-8
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
GOSPEL| John 20: 19 - 31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
April 24, 2022| 2nd Sunday in Eastertide
Every year, during the Easter Vigil, following a very ancient custom, we light a new Paschal Candle to represent the risen Jesus. This one was beautifully painted by Jeff Paulus, who adorned it with shapes of purple and gold. These colors in our liturgical tradition are the colors of weeping and mourning (deep violet) and of glory and joy (gold). It seems especially appropriate to me that the two are juxtaposed this year. On one side, we seem to have overcome a deadly world-wide pandemic, while on the other side we feel plunged into war. But perhaps these extreme opposite sentiments (weeping and rejoicing; mourning and exultation; dejection and glory) are coexisting not only this year. They are indeed somehow somehow connected, in a deeper and mysterious way, in the Paschal mystery.
We blessed the new Paschal Candle at night, after a somewhat long vigil of reading and prayers, because that ideally is the moment when the shadows of darkeness, the deep dark violet shadows, are already pregnant with the light of the new day. We also insert five grains of incense on the Candle, to signify the five wounds inflicted to Jesus during his Passion, and we trace with them a cross on the Candle itself. Thus this Candle, the symbol of the risen Christ, bears the signs of the Passion, just as the risen Jesus shows his wounds to the apostles. We take incense, the symbol of imperial and divine glory, and we use it as nails to mark the living body of Christ. Quite a complex symbol there, and one that defies simple explanations.
All of this can help us in asking a fundamental question: Is the Christian story a golden story, a happy-ending story? After all, Jesus – who was rejected by the leaders of the people, nailed to a cross, and died a shameful death – is now risen. Yet I think that when we perceive this our basic identity narrative as a happy-ending story, we miss something important. Maybe we even miss the gist of what we are celebrating and what Christianity is all about. In typical happy-ending stories, the protagonists go through all sort of troubles but, at the end, they win and live forever, happily. They simply don't die. Jesus, instead, is hung on a tree, and there he dies, covered with insults. There is a tragedy at the center of this story that cannot, and should not, be forgotten, subsumed, or in any way disposed of. We remember it every Sunday in our narration of “the night before he suffered.” If we take the Resurrection to be a victory that takes this tragedy out of the picture, we are betraying the memory of Jesus Christ. We get a risen Christ without wounds and a very sappy holiday.
The early Christian announcement always kept together the death and the resurrection, the crucifixion and the glory. The communities that sprung up around the Mediterranean, whose stories and witnesses we read, for example, in the Acts of the Apostles, placed Jesus at their very center of their life as their crucified and risen Lord. Theirs was a life of plenty. Not plenty of resources, but plenty of sharing of such resources, plenty of energy, plenty of conviction that the Way (as they called their manner and structure of life) was of divine origin and was worthy to be pursued, leaving aside all other claims to glory and success. So even when they were persecuted, they would not stop proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, Leader, and Savior. It is quite a strange thing, if you think about it, to claim that a dead person is all these things, even as he appeared to you alive. The Messiah, they had supposed, was to be a king and a deliverer in a very real and concrete sense: somebody who would get rid of the Romans. But the point of the book of Acts is that the mission of Jesus--forgiving sins, giving peace, and restoring humanity to a new and much higher level of life, a life beyond violence and sin--was not ended with his death. It continued through those who claimed allegiance to him. For the apostles, to proclaim that “God has raised Jesus from the dead” meant essentially that God declared that Jesus was right, and that his work could not be stopped. The death of Jesus was only a beginning. Jesus was a seed who somebody thought could be killed by stamping it into the ground. Again, they did succeed in killing the prophet Jesus. His resurrection was not like the resuscitation of a corpse; he did not come back to his human life as before. But a beautiful tree grew out of the dead seed: the church, which is called to be the risen body of Christ in the world and for the world.
The book of Revelation, which we started reading today together with Acts, was written during a bloody persecution by the Roman Empire against the Christians, at the beginning of the second century. It is replete with glorious titles for Jesus. The one who was killed by the Empire on a cross like a criminal is called “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” The faithful witness: that is, one who sees the healing and peace that God brings into the world, and does not falter in his witness, does not ever stop to say what he sees. The firstborn of the dead: that is, not an isolated hero or a resuscitated corpse, but the one human being through whom God initiates the resurrection of all those who follow his lead. The ruler of the kings of the earth: that is, the one to whom God gives the true power, the power of the forgiveness of sins. This last title, in particular--the Jewish title of Messiah extended to the whole world--is a mockery of the pretense to power by those who think they own the earth. Choosing to place this person, the crucified and risen Jesus, at the center of one's life; recognizing that the stone which the builders rejected as defective or unimportant is the cornerstone of one's community; taking to heart the values of Jesus and not the values of the Empire, was a shocking and powerful thing to do in the first century, just as it is now.
“All the tribes of the earth will wail” and those who pierced him will recognize him. They will understand how awfully wrong his death was, and they will be shocked to discover that all the values on which they have built their life are worthless. But this is a vision of the future. Now, the lordship of Christ is not recognized by everybody. It is not recognized by those who refuse to see the tortured body of Jesus in the victims of human violence. It is not recognized by those who refuse to believe in healing, those who don't see the risen Jesus when he comes to us and sits with us at the Eucharistic table. We are blind to the lordship of Christ, or we misinterpret it, for many reasons. Let us then be guided in this Eastertide by the witness of the early Christian communities, by what they did, and felt, and hoped, as we read their stories in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the book called Revelation. Let us keep asking ourselves, “What does it mean to trust in our crucified and risen Lord, during this time of our mortal life?” Blessed are those who have not seen the wound in the side of the risen Christ, and yet believe. AMEN