by Rev. Dn Philip Mathew
Christ is risen!
Orthodox Christians greet each other throughout the Paschal (Easter) season with these joyful words, first uttered by an angel to mourning women on their way to anoint the body of Jesus of Nazareth. And while these words are joyful for us, since they announce the triumph of life over death, of light over darkness, of good over evil (and if we are honest with ourselves, they also mean to us the return of our regular diet and an easing of our penitential practice), for the women disciples these words were not only joyful, but frightful, as the Gospels bear witness. After all, if you went to a tomb while it was still dark, fully prepared to embalm a corpse, and it wasn't there, and a spirit appeared to you and said your loved one was alive and on his way to Galilee, you would probably be creeped out too. But, as the Gospels also tell us, when Jesus does appear to the women, fear is replaced by joy, and they believe and announce the good news (i.e., 'evangelize') to the apostles.
When they tell the Eleven that 'Christ is risen', however, they feel neither joy nor fear. Instead, they are astounded to find out that the body is not in the tomb, but stories about a resurrected Jesus seem like foolishness to them. They saw him betrayed, they saw him tried, they abandoned him as he suffered the Passion, as he died, and perhaps as he was buried. If they knew anything about this Jesus over their three-year association with him, they knew he was crucified, dead, and buried. What the rest of it meant they didn't quite know, but they knew one thing for certain: Jesus was dead.
It is easy, then, to sympathize with St Thomas, who wasn't there on the evening of that first day of the week, when Jesus appeared to the other apostles in the upper room even though the doors were locked shut (Jn 20.19-31). If they didn't believe the women when they announced the resurrection of Jesus, why should he believe when the women AND the apostles told him about it? His declaration that 'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe' (v. 25) is not the stubborn denial of a skeptic, but the honest reaction of a normal human being.
But hidden within this statement is an important truth; namely, that the Passion is the singular identifying mark of Jesus, the 'Christ, the Son of the living God' (cf. Mt 16.16). Immediately after St Peter confesses that Jesus is Messiah and God's Son, Jesus tells the Twelve how he must suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. When the centurion sees Jesus die on the cross, he confesses, 'Truly this was the Son of God' (cf. Mt 27.54, Mk 15.39). When Jesus appears to the apostles in today's Gospel, it is only after he shows them his hands and his side that 'the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord' (Jn 20.20). Indeed, in St Luke's Gospel, Jesus instructs the doubting Eleven to 'Behold [his] hands and [his] feet, that it is [he himself]' (cf. Lk 24.39). And when St Thomas finally sees the hands and side of Christ, probing the marks in the hands, and sticking his finger into the side of Christ, touching the beating heart that the beloved disciple only leaned next to (cf. Jn 13.23), he becomes the first to confess the divinity of Jesus.
The suffering and death of Christ, in the form of the wounds that remain evident on Christ's body, become the only identifying mark of the real Jesus. The Jesus of the Jews is dead and buried in some unknown location; there is no question of verifying the wounds because by now he's a pile of dust and bones. The Jesus of the Muslims never suffered, but is a glorified prophet. The Jesus of the Gnostics was an enlightened teacher of secret wisdom. The Jesus of our secular society is one of the great philosophers and moral exemplars of the Western tradition. The Jesus of the 'MTV generation' is a killjoy that doesn't want us to have fun and lead happy lives. What all these Jesuses have in common is the absence of the cross AND the resurrection. One without the other makes no sense, but when both are present and acknowledged, Jesus becomes more than all of these things. He becomes the reality that impelled illiterate fishermen and carpenters to confess his divinity and travel throughout the world, suffering and dying horrible deaths for their conviction. He becomes the reality that they, and their followers, and Christians throughout the ages base their lives around and put their hope in him who is revealed as Reality Incarnate. Any other Jesus is a fake.
We have the opportunity to believe in the real Jesus, in spite of not physically seeing the wounds on his resurrected body, through the gospel that has been handed down to us ultimately by those who had this opportunity, through the Scriptures which proclaimed this in advance, and through the sacramental life which manifests it here and now (cf. Lk 24.13-35). And so the words 'Christ is risen!' should be a cause of joy and hope for us. But if we hear these words and respond in a perfunctory way or with skepticism and disbelief, without our hearts burning within us, without that reality being the lens through which we see, the reason by which we perceive, and the motivation by which we act, we need to ask ourselves which Jesus we believe in, which Christ is alive to us, and pray more than ever that God will pour forth his Spirit to guide us into all truth (cf. Jn 16.13).
Devotional Thoughts on New Sunday (First Sunday after Easter)
by Rev. Fr. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil
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by Fr. Dr. George Palackapilly, sdb
Jesus' Appearance to St. Thomas
by Very Rev. Dr. Yohannan Sankarathil Cor-Episcopa
Devotional Thoughts for New Sunday, First Sunday after Easter
by Rev. Fr. M. K. Kuriakose
Devotional Thoughts for New Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
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