APRIL 3RD, 2016: SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
Many signs and wonders were done among the people
at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon’s portico.
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.
Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets
and laid them on cots and mats
so that when Peter came by,
at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.
A large number of people from the towns
in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered,
bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits,
and they were all cured.
I, John, your brother, who share with you
the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus,
found myself on the island called Patmos
because I proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.
I was caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day
and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, which said,
“Write on a scroll what you see.”
Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me,
and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands
and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man,
wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest.
When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead.
He touched me with his right hand and said, “Do not be afraid.
I am the first and the last, the one who lives.
Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.
I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.
Write down, therefore, what you have seen,
and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.”
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
I frequently quote Fr. Ed Hays’ insightful comment, “Jesus’ original followers imitated him long before they worshipped him.” It would seem many of his modern followers are content simply to worship him, and never think of imitating him. Yet as we know from the earliest biblical account of the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 11, taking from the cup at that meal originally committed the person to carrying on Jesus’ ministry. The historical Jesus went to his death knowing at least a handful of his disciples would continue the work for which he was giving his life. They had bought into his value system.
We must always keep this in mind when we read the Christian Scriptures. They weren’t composed for people mining for Scripture proofs. They were written to help people reflect on what actually happens when one tries to become another Christ.
That’s why, for instance, today’s Acts passage was composed. Though Luke’s helping his community look more into the future than reflect on the past, he’s also trying to point out that when they actually live their lives with Jesus’ value system, they’ll achieve some of the same things the historical Jesus achieved. “Signs and wonders were done among the people.” In this case, people were cured of demons which not only brought disorder in their lives and the lives of others, but also affected the environment in which they lived.
Of course, as Luke mentions, because of the effect they were having, some dared not join them. As Jesus quickly discovered during his earthly ministry, there will always be those who thrive on the evil which such disorder brings at the same time he and his followers are trying to eradicate it.
Afraid the apocalyptic genre of our second reading doesn’t fit well into the general idea of people using the Christian Scriptures to reflect on their experiences. That’s why, for the next few Sundays we really shouldn’t get too excited about our passages from the Book of Revelation. (Some scholars, like Dominic Crossan, actually question why this writing is even included in our biblical canon. He points out that many of its passages – like those talking about taking revenge on our enemies – totally contradict the rest of the Christian Scriptures.) Yet we can appreciate why the persecutions which many in the early church were enduring forced some individuals to ignore the present and project themselves into a future revolving around visions, messages from heavenly creatures, and assurances that one day the risen Jesus will see to it that things get better and our persecutors will suffer the consequences of their actions.
Meanwhile, today’s pericope from John – proclaimed every year on the Second Sunday of Easter – leads us to reflect on what happens when we’re open to Jesus’ Spirit working in our forgiveness of all around us. Instead of being content to live in a world in which people labor under the guilt which comes from the sins we’ve retained, we actually create a totally new environment by our forgiveness.
In some sense, our forgiveness of others is the most practical way we make Jesus’ wounds our wounds. Every day we surface occasions to do so. Since scholars commonly believe no one who ever knew the historical Jesus ever wrote anything about him that we possess today, Jesus’ remark about “those who have not seen and have believed” becomes quite significant. Not only must we the readers deal with just the risen Jesus, so did the author of John’s gospel! We’re in the same boat.
It’s both encouraging and disturbing to realize that neither of us are exempt from always reflecting on being other Christs.