Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Doubting Thomas, Suffering
Volume 7 No. 412 April 21, 2017

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22 NIV

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV

We have successfully completed this year's Great Lent and Passion Week. The resurrected Jesus was with the disciples and others for the next 40 days and then ascended into heaven. Ten days later, as promised by Jesus to His disciples, the Holy Spirit came into the world on the Pentecost Day, the birthday of the church.

Since we observed Lent for 50 days prior to Easter, there will not be any fasting for the next 50 days to Pentecost Day. It is the wedding season Kerala and elsewhere in the Malankara Diaspora.

This Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter, is called New Sunday. During the next few Sundays, we will remember selected appearances of Jesus to His disciples after His resurrection. An interesting thing to note about Jesus' appearances after his resurrection: During His public ministry, Jesus was available to anyone who want to see him; they were all public functions (except perhaps some dinner, etc.). But after his resurrection, Jesus carefully selected the person/persons He want to visit and see. So, we can call these as "private" visitations. Jesus was not going to evangelize anyone new; it was left to his disciples. What Jesus want to do was to strengthen the faith of His disciples and get them ready to face the world. They were shaken up during the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. They were also afraid of their lives. Jews were searching for them to kill them. Jesus also knew that they will face "the cross" and will face violent death. So, it was important that their faith in His Kingdom be strengthened so that they will gladly face the "cross".

This Sunday, we recall Jesus appearing to the disciples in the Great Room as described in John 20:19-31. This includes two visits. The first time Jesus came, Thomas was not there. Jesus made another appearance when Thomas was present. This is a well known event that earned Thomas the nick name "Doubting Thomas." You can also get another perspective from a companion Gospel from Luke 24:36-48.

What is interesting about today's reading is that Jesus was open for the disciples touching him. When Mary Magdalene saw him on The Easter Day and recognized Him, she want to "touch" or lean on Him. But Jesus discouraged her from doing so.

15 He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher").

17 Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.
John 20:15-18 (NIV)

Now, let us take a look at today's reading (skipping the last verse).

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"

But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

John 20:19-30 (NIV)

And now, let us take a look at Luke 24:36-43

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

Luke 24:36-48 (NIV)

It is clear that some of the disciples still did not believe that Jesus had resurrected from the dead. They thought it was a ghost that showed up. Certainly a ghost has no flesh; so you cannot touch it. Jesus wanted to clear this once and for all. He showed them the marks left from crucifixion on His hands and feet. He even asked for and ate broiled fish in front of them. (A ghost does not eat fish!) He encouraged Thomas to stick his finger into his wounds. He wanted to be absolutely certain that they believed in His resurrection without any doubt so that they will be ready to face the world without any fear. So, the touching, and eating, etc. had a great significance.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Montgomery, in an article titled, "It's Touching Time", explained this well. Let us take a look:

When we want to find God, where do we go? If the temple is gone and Jesus of Nazareth is gone, where do we find that situation, that place, that occasion in which we can center ourselves and our lives in the living presence of God?

Luke begins to answer that in this funny little vignette about Jesus showing his crucifixion wounds to his followers and inviting them to touch him and then eating fish with them. Broiled fish, no less. Note the specificity! Obviously, Luke is wanting to say that a resurrected Jesus is not a ghost or a spirit but a physical being.

You see, it was important, crucial, for Luke to make this point and to make it as strongly as possible because there were people in that day who believed that God did not really become a human being in the person of Jesus. ...

When Jesus was alive, not too many people physically touched Him. But, after His resurrection, that changed. He encouraged people to touch him. Is it that we are willing to let others touch our wounded body when it is not "whole"? Dr. Stephen R. Montgomery explains:

There was an article I read in a magazine a while back that began with the words, "Now that I have cancer, it's touching time." It was written by a Presbyterian minister who was diagnosed with cancer who noticed that now there seemed to be permission for people to touch him. He said, "It's funny that a broken body should somehow be more touchable than one that's "whole." Lifelong friends with whom he had only shaken hands were now hugging him. He made the point that in all the Bible there is only one story about Jesus being touched while he was alive. Now, Jesus touched others to be sure. And there was a woman who touched his garment. There was a woman who washed his feet with her hair. But this minister said that the one time someone reached out to touch Jesus was to betray him with a kiss. Maybe that's why all these resurrection appearances include touching. It's only after the breaking time of crucifixion that resurrection, the touching time, comes.

He concludes the article, "We seem able to touch one another in our brokenness in ways that we never can in wholeness. God likes to use broken things--broken flasks, broken bread, broken bodies, even relationships that are broken with a kiss. My body and spirit have been broken by cancer. That means it's OK to touch me. I'm thankful."

"Here, touch my hands and my feet," Jesus says to his disciples. "Get in touch with the physical scars, the bodily pain of human beings. Touch the hurts of real people, and you touch me."

I do not know about you; this gave me an entirely new perspective on Jesus' life before and after the resurrection.

Saint Ephrem's (c.306-373) poetry is used in our liturgy widely. Here is a hymn written about Jesus' resurrection:

Hymn 1 on the Resurrection

"No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven"

The Shepherd of all has descended;
he sought out Adam, his sheep that was lost.
On his shoulders he bore him and returned;
he made sacrifice of himself to the Lord of the flock (Lk 15,4; Jn 10,11).

Blessed be his coming down to us!

Life-giving dew and vivifying rain,
he fell upon Mary's thirsty ground.
As a grain of wheat he descended to earth
and rose up, a sheaf and new-baked bread (Jn 12,24).

Blessed be his offering!...

From the heights has power come down for us,
from the Virgin's womb hope has shone for us,
from the tomb has life appeared for us
and sits at the Father's right as king for us.

In the heights he flowed like a river;
he came from Mary like a shoot;
he hung on the tree like fruit
and returned as firstfruit to heaven.

Blessed be his will!

Let me conclude with 'A Prayer for Easter' from Brook Network:

Almighty God,
On this day we rejoice in the glory of resurrection.

The tomb is empty.
Death could not hold the Lord Jesus.
His body saw no decay.
His enemies did not win.
The earth could not contain him.

We are emboldened by the power of resurrection.
We are encouraged by the hope of resurrection.
We are enlightened by the truth of resurrection.

So help us, dear God, to have a daily expectation that we will encounter the living Lord Jesus wherever we live.
Help us to live in submission.
And empower us to bring this message of resurrection into every dark and desperate corner of this world.

In the name of the resurrected Lord Jesus.

Jesus Is Risen!
Indeed, He is Risen!!


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