Breaking death's barrier

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  • April 1, 2010

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

Simplicity and power often go hand in hand. In many of the accounts of the earliest days of the Christian community, life was indeed simple — not easy — but accompanied by what Acts refers to as “signs and wonders.” There were no creeds to give ascent to for the simple reason that they had not yet been formulated. The simple entrance requirement was faith in the person and mission of Jesus the Messiah and a belief that He was indeed God’s emissary.

An essential part of this profession of faith was a commitment to discipleship, fidelity to the spiritual path of Jesus and a willingness to share in the joys and struggles of the community that bore His name. It is also very striking that the initial attraction of the faith for outsiders was not liturgy, worship spaces or social standing. The attraction was the obvious signs of God’s presence working in and through believers for the good of others. It was this that led people to view the community with awe and respect.

In this time of great religious turmoil, disillusionment, soul-searching and confusion of identity perhaps we can turn to the apostolic church of the first century for a bit of guidance. It is not a time to be fearful, apologetic or defensive. What is called for is a proclamation of Jesus the Christ in a manner that is at the same time simple but demanding and to make this proclamation with a sense of joy and confidence that flows from an awareness of the spirit of Christ working through us. Nothing less than this will provide the healing and restoration that we seek.

Part of the reason for this joy and confidence flows from a knowledge of the identity and the significance of Jesus. In the enigmatic symbolism of the Book of Revelation, the seer of Patmos relates his own spiritual experience during a period of prolonged meditation. The seven sacred lampstands — each comprised of seven branches or candles — symbolizes divine totality and perfection. And it is the perfected one — the one who represents the completion and summation of the human experience — who speaks from the midst of the candles.

He is the beginning and the end — the old and new Adam — the first and the last. Not only that, He has broken through the barrier of death and now lives forever in possession of the keys of death. No wonder the figure said “Do not be afraid!” If this is the one who has gone before us and who is our elder brother, our teacher and the one who intercedes for us, then how can we ever be paralyzed by fear again?

Many people believe that the first generation of Christians belonged to a more credulous and naïve age and that their belief in the resurrection of Jesus reflected this. But the Resurrection was no easier to believe then than it is now. When you die, you die — no one gets up and walks around again. Our friend “doubting” Thomas is probably more representative of the average person both then and now. He is a realistic and practical man, not given to wild ideas or flights of fancy. And he knows what he has seen: the death of his beloved teacher, and he is still locked in shock and grief. He is naturally skeptical when his friends begin talking about a visit from the dead Jesus and claiming that He was indeed alive.

Thomas wants irrefutable proof and nothing less and that is what Jesus offers him a week later. Thomas, overwhelmed, can only exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” But Jesus offers him a challenge: Thomas received his proof, but what about all those who come after him?

It is far better and more blessed to break through cynicism and doubt and to ignore the corrosive waves of materialism, atheism, fear and violent anger that destroy faith in every age. Blessed are those who keep their minds and hearts open and who dare to hope and search for the love and the light that is God even in the midst of a dark and troubled world.

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