Sunday, April 19, 2015

For Real

   Third Sunday of Easter   B 
At Mass on Easter Sunday,
my 5-year old niece, Abigail,
heard the deacon start to read the gospel
and said in a “whisper”
(loud enough for half the church to hear),
“I know what’s going to happen next!
Jesus is going to rise from the tomb!” 
She’d done what in most other cases
would have been an unforgivable sin:
she gave away the ending!

The Resurrection of Jesus is, of course,
the central mystery of the Christian faith—
the very heart and soul of everything we do and are and stand for.
Yet if you look closely, stories of the risen Jesus
make up a very small part of the New Testament.
Out of the four gospels combined,
there are only five chapters devoted
to what happened after that first Easter morning.

Why should that be so?
Why should something so crucial be so little written about?

Two reasons come to mind….

The first: to keep the Resurrection real for you and me.

You and I will never walk the roads of first century Palestine.
What Mary and Joseph, what the twelve Apostles,
what the people of that land experienced—
the miracles and teachings of Jesus—
will never be experienced in the same way again.
Therefore they recorded them all carefully,
to preserve them for future generations.
But starting that first Easter Sunday ,
things would be radically different than they were before.
Jesus may have died on a certain day,
at a certain time, in a certain place…
…but Jesus now lives on forever and ever.
The Christian faith isn’t so much that Jesus was raised
(though that’s a matter of history,
just as how he once taught and cured the sick),
but that Jesus is risen.
From Easter onward, Jesus will remain with his disciples
always and everywhere in a completely new way—
not a figure stuck in the past,
but a Savior who is eternally present.

The Apostles have a tough time
getting their heads and hearts around this new reality.
In this Sunday’s gospel reading,
we hear again about Easter Sunday.
This is the evening gathering from which “doubting Thomas”
was unlucky enough to be absent.
To be fair: the other Apostles come off
looking just as uncertain as he does.
They’re “startled,” we’re told,
"amazed" and “incredulous for joy.”
They want to believe…but how can they?
This man they’re seeing
appears to be the same Jesus they’ve known—
right down to the wounds of the crucifixion.
But he comes and goes—literally!—out of nowhere.
Since he can walk right through walls and locked doors,
they think he’s a ghost, a mirage.
But then he joins them in eating a bite of fish for supper,
proving he’s not a figment of their imaginations,
but a living man of flesh and bone.
He’s real! 
It’s just that he’ll be with them now in a whole new way.

We’re in the same boat as those apostles, aren’t we? 
We want to believe that Jesus is alive…but how can we?

We need to let Jesus amaze us…just as he did them.
We need to allow Jesus to be real for us—
to play a real and active part in our everyday lives.
We say that Jesus still speaks to us
through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church…
…but we have to listen as if he’s really saying something that matters.
We say that Jesus still touches us through the Sacraments…
…but we have to give him the space to work
because we actually expect him to.
We say that Jesus still moves within us in moments of prayer…
…but we have to be open as if something’s really going to happen in us.
This is not wishful thinking!
Jesus may no longer be bound by space and time,
but he’s very, very real.
This is something that all comes together for us in the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus continues to make himself known in the breaking of the bread.
No, we cannot touch the wounds in his hands and feet…
…but Jesus touches us very personally
when he places his Body, his Blood, into our hands.

That the real-life experience
of the presence and action of the risen Jesus
might be just as immediate and true for you and me
as it was for Peter, James, John, Thomas, and all the rest—
that may be one reason why the gospels all end so abruptly.

The second reason:
so that you and I will make the Resurrection real for others.

We live in a world where people
are just as likely to believe in ghosts
as they are to believe in Jesus—maybe even more so.
Now, you can’t force faith on anybody;
not even Jesus could do that to the men and women of his time.
But you can speak and act in a way
that makes it clear to people around you
that Jesus is, in fact, a real part of your ordinary life.
Just look at Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.
He who had been locked away for fear with the others
is now out and about speaking rather boldly:
“Here’s what I know about Jesus…
Here’s what Jesus has done for me…
Here’s what I think Jesus can do for you…”
The world needs us to be witnesses for Jesus like that:
those who speak firsthand—
sharing not just what we’ve heard from somebody else,
but what we know for ourselves.

Yet also consider what John says in his first letter.
It’s not enough for us to say, “I know him.”
We must also keep his commandments,
must avoid sin, must keep his word—
living the way that Jesus lived,
living the way of life Jesus taught.
To do otherwise would be to give false testimony:
to be a hypocrite, a liar.
How could anyone come to believe that Jesus is real
if his followers are living a lie?

Why is the New Testament so short on post-Resurrection accounts?
Maybe it’s because the book isn’t finished.
My niece may have given away the ending…
…but the story is still unfolding.
Jesus is real, and he’s still risen from the dead:
still helping others—helping us!—to rise with him
to new and everlasting life.

May the Lord’s face shine brightly upon us,
that we might experience his real and living presence
in each of our lives.
May the light of the Lord’s Resurrection
also shine brightly through your face and mine,
that all the nations might come to believe
that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
He is risen, indeed!

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