Monday, April 24, 2006

2nd Sunday of Easter (A)
Because He Lives…

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pet 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Dear Sisters and Brothers, there’s a question that I think should have been occupying our minds and hearts this past week. Its the same question that many a professor is fond of asking students. Perhaps someone might have just presented a paper in class and the relief on the presenter’s face is plain to see. But the professor proceeds to demolish that look by asking: “So what?! What difference does it make?” A very important question to ask, don’t you think, even if it does generate discomfort?

As you know, we have been celebrating the octave of Easter, which means the same Easter Day extended over eight days. The lengthy celebration is, of course, because of the importance of Easter. It is the central feast of the church’s calendar. But the celebration is also extended because we need the time precisely to ask ourselves the “so what?!” question. So what if Christ is risen? What difference does it make in my life?

Most likely, our experiences of this past week will have been varied. Some will have felt something of the true joy of Easter gradually permeating their hearts and lives throughout this time. Others may have felt it only intermittently. Yet others may still be wondering what the fuss is all about, or may even be thinking: “Huh, we’re still celebrating Easter, ah?”

What are we to make of this diversity of experiences? And how might all of us come to experience Easter more deeply? As always, our prayers and readings help us in our reflection. In particular, they speak to us about two things: they tell us what Easter is about, and what we need to enter more fully into its spirit.

What is Easter really about? We know that Christ is risen. We may even be joyful on his behalf. Yet, it is not always easy to see what difference Easter might make in our lives. Many things remain the same even after Jesus has burst forth from the tomb. On Easter Monday, for example, our in-tray at work was probably just the way we left it, if not even fuller. And the same could probably be said for our school-work. The office- or school-gossip was probably still gossiping. Rush-hour traffic was just as heavy as before. The kids, or the parents, or the parents-in-law were probably as difficult to handle. The spouse… well, I won’t even go there. Did anything really change? Or is the author of Ecclesiastes not right when he says: “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)?

And yet Easter is meant to make a difference, isn’t it? We declared as much in our opening prayer this evening. You may have noticed the many times the word “life” was mentioned. We declared that Jesus “is alive and has become the Lord of life,” and that through our baptism, God renews God’s “gift of life within us.” We also asked God to “increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share in Christ,” to “help us to grow… toward the fullness of eternal life.” Isn’t this what Easter is about: not just a celebration of the risen Christ, but also a joyful participation in His risen life? But if Easter does indeed mean a new life for us, what is this new risen life like?

We heard it described for us in the second reading. Several characteristics stand out. First, in this new life we may still “have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials”. But, in whatever form they may come, these trials do not succeed in discouraging us. Instead, just as fire purifies gold from impurities, our trials help to purify our faith. What’s more, even in the midst of these trials, the risen life is characterized by “great joy” that is the result of a “sure hope”. We rejoice because we are convinced that, even as we continue to struggle, our ultimate destiny in God is assured. As Peter puts it, in Christ we have “the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for (us) in the heavens.” This is the risen life that we are celebrating, and which we are all called to live.

But, as we said earlier, not all of us experience this new life to the same extent, do we? How might we participate more fully in this new life? Again, our readings point us in the right direction. The gospel, especially, highlights what is the one indispensable condition for the risen life when it tells us that the things recorded in it are written “so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this (we) may have life through his name.” Belief or faith in Christ is what leads us to life.

But do we not already believe? Are we not already baptized? Are we not among those who are happy because we “have not seen and yet believe”? Even so, how many of us can say that we are already living the risen life in its fullness? What more can we do?

Again, several points stand out in our readings. The first thing is how the power to live the risen life comes through an experience of the Risen Lord. The disciples are fearful, and Thomas is cynical, until the Risen Jesus appears to them. In this experience we see the power of the Risen Christ to overcome obstacles. Even though “the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were… Jesus came and stood among them… (and) said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” And isn’t that closed door a symbol of hearts closed by such obstacles as fear and disillusionment, bitterness and cynicism? And isn’t it the same with us? Are there not areas in our hearts and lives that are closed in various ways and by various things? Things like anxiety and stress, anger and unforgiveness? Like Thomas, don’t we also need to lay bare these obstacles, to bring them before the Risen Lord, so that He may overcome them?

There is one other important characteristic to consider. Often, when we reflect on the gospel of today, our attention is focused on Thomas as an individual, and how the Risen Christ helps him to believe. But Thomas’ journey to faith does not take place apart from that of the other disciples. Thomas experiences Christ precisely when he is with the others. Indeed, in the gospels, even though the Risen Christ does appear to individuals, the experience of the Risen Lord is first of all the experience of a community. Our faith in the Christ grows only to the extent that we imitate what the early Christians did, as described in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “the whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” Faith comes from fidelity not only to the crucified and risen Lord, but also to the community that is His Body.

Dear sisters and brothers, Christ is indeed risen! And as we continue to ask ourselves, “so what?” we may take to heart the following words from an old but still popular charismatic hymn: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, I know he holds the future. And life is worth the living just because he lives.”

What difference does Easter make in your life?

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