Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thursday in the Octave of Easter
From Agitation to Mission

Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Psalm 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9; Luke 24:35-48

Consciously or not, I think I often expect myself to greet Easter as I would a much-anticipated holiday destination. You know, sort of like how you would be quite spontaneously happy when, after a long bus ride, you finally set eyes on the sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi in Penang or Club Med Cherating in Kuantan. Yipee! We have arrived! After all, haven’t we spent more than forty days journeying through the discipline of Lent? And now, is it too much to expect that we should be happy to have finally arrived at Easter? Isn’t this a natural and spontaneous reaction?

And yet, if there’s one surprising thing in the scriptures, it’s how people greet the resurrection and its aftermath not so much with relief and joy but with surprise and even agitation. Notice the reaction of the people to the healing of the cripple in the first reading. Why are you so surprised?, asks Peter. Of course, Peter is only using the question as an introduction to the main point of his speech. Peter is saying that the people should not be surprised, because the man’s healing is a only the natural result of faith in the name of Jesus, whose suffering and death had already been foretold in the same scriptures that are read in the synagogues each week. All the prophets that have ever spoken… have predicted these days.

Still, aren’t Peter and the disciples themselves surprised when they first encounter the Crucified and Risen Christ? Not only are they surprised, but the gospel tells us that they are actually in a state of alarm and fright. It is only after hearing Jesus’ greeting of peace and his reassurance that he is not a ghost, that their shock and surprise is gradually transformed into joy. Even then they still could not believe it. They need to watch Jesus eat with them and remind them of the very thing that Peter reminds the people of in the first reading: how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.

And what about me? What about us? If this is how the disciples react to the risen Christ, is it reasonable or even desirable for us to expect to bypass the surprise of Easter and simply to enter spontaneously into its joy? Of course, we may indeed be privileged to have such an experience. But then, isn’t it also possible that we’re just too used to celebrating Easter every year? Could our lack of surprise be due to fact that we haven’t quite grasped the awesome implications of Christ’s rising for our own lives today? By consciously or unconsciously shielding ourselves from the shock of Easter, could we also be depriving ourselves of the true joy that is ours to experience? After all, is it not likely that, like the first disciples, we too need to allow ourselves to experience the shock of the resurrection and then to allow Jesus to reassure us by opening the scriptures to us and breaking the bread for us? Isn’t this why we are here this evening?

But how will we know whether our joy is authentic or not? Jesus presents us with an indication at the end of today’s gospel. An essential part of the Easter experience is when, as it is written in the scriptures, in Christ’s name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached to all nations. This is what we see happening in the Acts of the Apostles. And this is what we expect to happen to and through us as well. We expect to be moved from agitation and fright to commitment and mission. For it is only through the fruit that it bears in our own lives that we will know whether we’ve truly reached our Easter destination.

Have we?

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