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MAY 1,2011: SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 2:42-47
I Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Our sacred authors aren't historians in our sense of the word. Though at times they seem to narrate events just as they happened, they're much more interested in conveying faith than history. Because it's at the center of our faith, our Christian biblical authors are especially trying to give their readers the implications of the risen Jesus present among them.

Without employing our modern terms "historical Jesus" and "risen Jesus," they presume their communities know there's a difference in the way we perceive Jesus before and after his resurrection. The I Peter author, for instance, is obviously speaking about the Jesus who lived between 6 BCE and 30 CE when he writes, "Although you have not seen him you love him." But he's referring to the risen Jesus when he states, "Even though you do not see him yet you believe in him." The historical Jesus could have been experienced by anyone who lived during his earthly existence: the risen Jesus, on the other hand, can only be surfaced by those who believe in him.

John parallels this teaching by having the risen Jesus state, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Scripture scholars always remind us there's nothing in our Christian Scriptures written by anyone who knew the historical Jesus. Whatever we know about Jesus comes from people familiar only with the risen Jesus. That's one of the reasons our sacred authors constantly praise people of faith. On many levels, they're hoping we're sharing their own faith experiences.

This explains why death so often constitutes the background against which someone comes into contact with the risen Jesus. The connection is obvious in our gospel pericope. Thomas insists on "seeing the marks of the nail in his hands, and putting my finger into the nail marks and my hand into his side." One can't be certain Jesus has risen unless he or she is first certain he died.

Luke implicitly demonstrates the same death/life connection in our Acts passage. Notice how he describes the early Jerusalem Christian community. "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need."

Only those who die enough to themselves by sharing what they have with others will rise to a new life, as Jesus their mentor has. But in the process, they'll also experience the risen Jesus as an essential part of that life.

The author of I Peter seems to be referring to the same kind of self-giving death Luke demands of his Jerusalem community when he writes, "In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith ... may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." As we know from many other early Christian writers, the "trials" which Jesus' followers are expected to endure aren't usually inflicted from "outside." They come from "within;" inherent in the act of giving ourselves to others.

The risen Jesus becomes evident only when we attempt to open ourselves to others, in whatever way we can.

That's why it's no accident that John connects Jesus' Easter Sunday appearance with his command to forgive others. "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." The consequences of not offering forgiveness isn't just that people's sins aren't forgiven, it's also that the risen Jesus isn't experienced.