As I mentioned last week, in dealing with Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, it's essential to remember the distinction between the historical Jesus and the risen Jesus. His resurrection wasn't a resuscitation. Many of us falsely believe that the person who came out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning was the same person put into the tomb on Good Friday afternoon: a 1st century CE Palestinian Jewish carpenter.
When a person rises, he or she morphs into a new creation. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Galatians, they're no longer bound by the limits which restrict non-resurrected individuals. In the case of the risen Jesus, he/she is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.
The distinction between the historical and risen Jesus is important to readers of Scripture because our sacred authors know only the risen Jesus. Contrary to political commentator Bill O'Reilly's assertion in his two recent books on the historical Jesus, no one who experienced Jesus between 6 BCE and 30 CE. ever wrote anything down about him that we possess today. If someone actually put any of his or her reminisces into written form, they've been lost.
That's why Jesus' gospel comment to Thomas is so significant. "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." Scripture scholars are convinced this statement applies not only to readers of John's gospel, but also to the author of John's gospel. Both know only the risen Jesus.
The big question for us today is, "How do we surface the risen Jesus in our midst?"
The unknown author of I Peter believes that process has something to do with our dying and rising with Jesus. Those who imitate Jesus also go through a death and resurrection, symbolized by their being immersed and then raised up in baptismal water. They also become new creations even while they're waiting to encounter Jesus face to face, beyond how they experience him/her right here and now.
It's clear from our first and third readings that our dying and rising with Jesus has something to do with living our faith in the context of communities. As far as we can tell, there were no "Lone Rangers" in the early days of our faith. Our Christian sacred authors presume it's in the act of giving ourselves to one another that the risen Jesus becomes a tangible part of our lives. To pull that off, we have to relate to and with others on a daily basis.
Next week we'll see how that self-giving especially revolves around our frame of mind during the Eucharist. But today it's enough to reflect on Luke's ideal picture of a perfect, loving community, one in which "... 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." Such a situation only happens when a lot of people are willing to die to themselves.
It also happens in John's gospel when the risen Jesus proclaims, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you retain are retained." Forgiveness always involves a dying. If we don't forgive the sin remains, and our lack of forgiveness is added to it.
The building of Christian communities not only leads to a better world, it also leads us to experience the risen Jesus in that world.