SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER HOMILY
Acts 5:12-16, Rev 1:9-13, 17-19, Jn 20:19-31…. The Meaning, Wonder, and Result of Faith
How Much Can We Learn From Experience?; Making Real the Power of the Resurrection; The Presence of the Risen Jesus.…. Some teachers of creative art say that what an artist needs is experience, despite the fact that the class colours of the school of experience are black and blue. Artists are t live it up, see all of the world they can, and do everything to awaken dormant emotions.
St Thomas in today’s Gospel showed his high regard for experience when he refused to believe in the risen Jesus without probing his nail-marks and putting his hand into his side (v. 25). We may “see” mirages which don’t exist; we might “hear” sounds which aren’t there; likewise, all of our other senses can deceive. But when we touch something, we know it’s there. That’s why some call touch the sense of certitude.
Jesus accommodated himself to Thomas’ make-up. The result was the most profound profession of faith in the New Testament: Thomas’, “My Lord and my God”. More than an exclamation, these words are a prayer acknowledging Jesus’ divinity.
The experience of the risen Jesus by the Apostles, especially doubting ones like Thomas, is the basis for the whole of Christianity. But there are dangerous in too high a regard for experience. Jesus reminded Thomas of that in his beatitude, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (v. 29). If we believe that the verification principle of all of life is only what we can experience, the vast majority of us can’t believe in God or anything supernatural.
St John in his Book of Revelation, from which we have today’s Second Reading, received images from experience and then built upon them in this, his dream. Another title of this book, Apocalypse, means an unveiling, a glimpse at hidden things, things yet to come. Apocalypse, a special type of Jewish literature, are more common in the Old Testament. They’re not easy to understand. They often use the images of dreams. They were usually written to give encouragement to groups who were suffering persecution; such victims would easily have groups who were suffering persecution; such victims would easily have decoded the underlying message of comfort. The ultimate consolation is that Jesus will absolutely and irrevocably conquer, and we shall share in his victory if we are faithful to him. This apocalypse of John was just such a message to the young Christian churches, which at that time were beginning to feel the brunt of persecution.
The book’s author, John – who may or may not be the same person who wrote St John’s Gospel – wrote this work from exile on Patmos, a small rock island off the coast of modern Turkey. Rome had sent John there to the loneliness and pain of banishment because he was bearing witness to Jesus. John wrote essentially to console those who were suffering for their faith by reminding them that Jesus would absolutely and decisively conquer.
The hills of Patmos provide beautiful views of the glistening blue sea, and John’s book is full of the broad vistas of the far-stretching water. The word sea occurs in this book no less than twenty-five times. John used other symbolism – in colours, numbers, images, and language – from his intimate knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures as well as from his own experience. Parts of it we understand, others not. It is the most difficult book of the New Testament.
John introduces himself as a brother who shares with all reborn Christians distress and endurance (v. 9). He shares our distress because people won’t listen to someone who speaks of hardship from the comfort of an easy chair. He mentions endurance because he knows that the person who sits with bowed head in passive submission to whatever comes is not real.
For nineteen centuries John’s vision of the end of the world has shaken the imagination of Western humankind. John’s nightmare imagery has infused our art from the medieval representations of the Last Judgement, through the desolate horrors of Hieronymus Bosch, the poetry of William Blake, and the fiction of Herman Melville, to today’s doomsday evangelists and apocalyptic movies.
John tells us he was caught up in ecstasy (v. 10) – beyond space and time. He heard God’s voice, which sounded like a trumpet. Through that comparison, like every other comparison of this world to the heavenly world, is inadequate, both the Old and New Testaments often compare the voice of God to the commanding clarity of the trumpet. Examples are many. The account of God’s giving the Law on Mt. Sinai says that amid peals of thunder and lightning there was a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled (Ex 19:16). when Jesus spoke of his hard-to-imagine Second Coming, he said that God would send out his angels with a trumpet blast to gather His elect from one end of the heavens o the other(Mt 24:31). And St Paul said that at Jesus’ Second Coming the Lord himself with the trumpet of God will come down from heaven (1 The 4:16).
John goes on (v. 12-16) to give a symbolic description of Christ in glory. He is “One like a Son of Man” – an enigmatic First Testament (Dan 7:13) title of Christ. Jewish apocalyptic literature used the title to describe a unique religious personage endowed with extraordinary spiritual power. Jesus used it frequently of himself. It was well adapted to his purpose to both veil and reveal his person and mission. On the one hand, it emphasized the lowliness of the human condition, especially in Jesus’ humiliation and death; on the other hand, it expressed the triumph of Jesus’ resurrection which we celebrate through this Easter season, his return to glory, and his Second Coming as judge of the world.
When John – and the Church in this Easter season – sees most is Jesus’ glory. The combination of awe and fear caused in John the usual reaction of people before God or before a messenger of God – He fell down at his feet (v. 17). When there was such a great catch of fish that Peter the Fisherman finally got a glimpse of who Jesus was, he had fallen at Jesus’ Knees. The disciples had heard Jesus’ calm reassurance against fear on more than one experience – defying and imagination challenging occasion – when he had come to them across the water, for example, and on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Then John heard Jesus give nothing less than God’s description of Himself: “I am the First and the Last, the One who lives” (vv. 17f,; see Is 44:6; 48:12). These awesome titles synthesize the three stages in Jesus’ career – his pre-existence, his life and death on earth, and his exaltation to eternal life. Jesus went on to give John the sublime revelation: “Once I was dead but now I am alive forever and ever” (v. 18). This is the core of the Christian creed. It is the claim of one who has risen from the dead, is alive forever, and has conquered death so that he is death’s master. Because Jesus lives, we too shall live.
Faith in these truths of Jesus’ resurrection bears many fruits, one of which is our common life as described in today’s First Reading. It is the third summary portrait in the Acts of the Apostles, admittedly idealistic, of the Jerusalem community, creating an atmosphere of peace and fulfillment, but also of fear. God gave the early Christians the signs and wonders they needed as saving actions to spread the Good News. Among them were the Twelve’s charismatic power to heal, such that the people carried their sick out into the streets so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them (v. 15), and crowds from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also brought their sick, and they were all cured (v. 16). Now that Jesus has returned to the Father after curing a few people, the disciples seem to be doing even greater things than he!
But all of this provided also a note of fear – in those who didn’t dare join the early Christian community in Jerusalem, fear in those within the community who were undergoing persecution for Jesus’ sake, fear in the very first disciples huddled behind locked doors Such fear can be, and is, overcome in the Spirit of Christ.
Fear remains a very real issue in our world – fear of illness, of poetry, of loss of relationships, of humiliation, of loss of employment, of death. If we truly believe in Jesus’ Good News, though, fear is expelled. The essence of the good News, as we recall in the Easter Season, is that Jesus has conquered death. This victory over humankind’s last enemy is a conquest for everyone. What is there to fear from any of the others?
We are among those to whom Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We go beyond experience to be no less moved by this Easter Season than were John the Theologian and Thomas. The encounter, far from being tame, confronts us to the core of our being. We pray for deeper awareness of the blessings of Christ’s resurrection and our consequent new birth in God’s Spirit.