He is always with us

  • April 17, 2007
Second Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 15 (Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118; Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31)

Many in the crowd were thrilled at what they saw happening in the midst, but still they hung back. Some were afraid of persecution if they joined this strange band of miracle workers, others perhaps did not want to be let down or disappointed.
But there is something else that may have been at work: feelings of unworthiness and fear of rejection. Being rejected by people is painful enough, but that is nothing compared to a divine rebuff.

In this story, desperation and hope trumps fear and many come forward not only to be healed, but to join their lives with that of the Risen Lord. The growth of the early Christian community was not the result of apologetics or rational arguments, but the power of God working in people’s lives in very visible and dramatic ways. In our own time, many stand at the religious margins for a variety of reasons. It is not that interest in things spiritual has declined or that people no longer believe in God. Every survey tells us the contrary: people are yearning and searching for they want to be spiritually fed.

A good number drift away from organized religion because their experience of it has been characterized by a lack of joy and enthusiasm, platitudes, tired ritual, as well as moralistic and judgmental attitudes. In short, they do not feel encouraged or spiritually nourished and they vote with their feet. Who can blame them?

There is much that we can do to inject life into our church. Creating joyful, accepting communities in which the presence of the Risen Lord can be felt is number one on the list. When people sense the “real thing,” they come in droves. We don’t have to work miracles, just help each other to experience the divine in ourselves and in community. That is miracle enough.

The Book of Revelation is the most puzzling and mysterious book in the entire Bible. It can even be dangerous in the wrong hands and interpreted in a literal fashion. It is not a peek at the end of the world, nor is it a cast list of heroes and villains in our own world. But focusing on today’s passage from Revelation gives us the essential message that we can carry with us. There is nothing to fear. Christ is alive; not only that, He has power over death itself. We can bear anything and everything with patient endurance, for He is always with us.

In an earlier chapter, Jesus offered as an authenticating sign the assurance that if the temple were destroyed, He would rebuild it in three days. Many were incredulous and mocking, but the evangelist tells us that Jesus was referring to the “temple of His body.”

Now Jesus completes the building of that new temple with the gift of peace, wholeness and new life by the giving of His own spirit. The resurrection is not merely an event but a way of life for all who will receive it. True peace can only come when the sense of separation and exile from God is overcome and when one experiences unconditional love. This is truly possible when the divine spirit dwells in one’s inner heart and soul.

Why is this a relatively rare experience? It is no accident that this account is immediately followed by the doubts and vehement denials of the absent Thomas. He plays the eternal game of “Yes, but” and “What if?” to talk himself out of a leap of joyful faith. It is that same doubt, the same closed mind and heart that stifles the action of the spirit within us.

It is so easy for anyone — even religious people — to become deadened and numbed to the presence of God. A mixture of despair, bitterness, cynicism and doubt can do the trick nicely, especially when the icing on the cake is a driving need to figure everything out and have all the answers. The divine spirit that dwells in us unites us to God, to Jesus and to one another.

In some meaningful way God — defined by John as love — should be evident in our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions. And that is Newman’s “catching force” and “sympathetic influence” that will bring others into the household of God.