Seeing and believing

April 13, 2009

On Easter Sunday we proclaim the resurrection. But the second Sunday of
Easter gives us an opportunity to reflect on the nuances, contradictions
and implications of this central event.

The epistle echoes the
better-known Gospel ("what we have seen with our eyes...and touched with
our hands"). Reading it now, the passage also connects the Easter
miracle with the postmodern world: just as the earliest Christian
communities needed to relate the truth of the gospel to their own lived
experience, so do we in our own time. "We declare to you what we have
seen and heard," confesses the epistle, giving us a model for
proclamation. Rather than looking beyond ourselves for illustrations and
anecdotes, we can search our own lives for parables of death and
resurrection and then speak from this experience with confidence.

The
Acts reading summarizes the common life shared by those who were
witnesses to the resurrection. Echoing Acts 2:42-47, this passage
concisely lays out the difference that the revolutionary Jesus makes in
the lives of his followers: they sell their possessions and lay the
proceeds at the feet of the apostles, who then disburse them to any in
need.

After witnessing protestors questioning the monetary
policies of the G-20 nations, we might go more deeply into our own
tradition: Jesus told the rich young man to sell his possessions, give
the proceeds to the poor and follow him. His followers remembered this
teaching and were called to retain this practice. Perhaps the most
faithful response to the current recession might be to embrace radical
simplicity, with its relinquishment of material comforts, in order that
we might become more generous. While relinquishment might ultimately
mean a kind of death, in generosity there is surely resurrection.

The
Gospel lection is the most integrally related to the proclamation of
Easter Sunday, since it functions almost as "the rest of the story."
Thomas was not among those who witnessed the risen Lord. "Were you there
when the crucified my Lord?" the others ask Thomas.

"No," he replies, "I wasn't."

"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?"

"Well, no."

Thomas
needs to experience the resurrection. He can't take Peter's word for
it, or James's or John's or anyone else's—he wants to see for himself.
The gospel is not something that we can impose on others. People must
discover it for themselves, like a treasure hidden in a field. We cannot
live off the experiences of others, drawing down the spiritual capital
of the past.

Thankfully, the disciples allow Thomas his quest.
History has referred to him as Doubting Thomas, but in his skepticism he
represents all of us who come to faith and continue in it with
perseverance and struggle. Thomas is a seeker, someone in extended
conversation with Jesus about the faith (see John 14). That faith
includes struggle and doubt. Here two of our readings exist in tension:
while the Gospel blesses those who have not seen and yet believe, the
epistle gives voice to those who have seen with their eyes and touched
with their hands.