Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Does the Resurrection Make You Shudder?
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April 11th, 2021: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32 – 35
1 John 5:1 – 6
John 20: 19 – 31
Reflection by Marianne Seggerman
Forgive me if I shudder a bit: at the thought of that scene in today’s gospel, when Jesus invites Thomas to put a finger into the nail marks, to put a hand into the wide cut left by a soldier’s sword. I shudder at the thought of such an intimate action and the visceral response it surely caused. Surely the gospel writer meant for us to shudder at that story, at the reality of Jesus raised from the dead, raised not as a ghost, but raised with a body (recall that later in the story, Jesus eats with the disciples). And yet not a body exactly like ours either, as the Risen One enters rooms through locked doors and disappears into thin air. When I learned of this story in parochial school, it came with the lesson that “true” faith meant that we should not question the Church’s teachings. Ironically, it was only through questioning that Thomas was offered this intimate invitation to touch the risen Christ’s body.
I shudder too at the first reading. It does not suggest anything so intimate as touching Christ’s body, but it does suggest that the first Christians took the idea that we are the one Body of Christ much more seriously than we do. This reading presents a picture of an early Christian community with seemingly socialist practices. I use the term socialist in its historical meaning – a moral code that views the equitable distribution of wealth as a goal to strive for – since today that term has been used as a bogeyman by some. It is a sad irony that one major change wrought by Christianity was to loosen the bonds of tribe, which were ultimately supplanted by individualism, and then a capitalism where a rich Christian could have more than they could ever need right alongside a poor Christian who might never have enough. That does not seem to be what Jesus had in mind, at least as the early Church understood it! Instead, Jesus urged well-off followers to do what this community was doing – sell their possessions and give to the less fortunate. Perhaps this community was acting in such an unselfish manner because they believed that the Second Coming, if not immanent, would be in their lifetimes. So, they are on their best behavior. Whatever the reason, it appears that Jesus, the radical, would approve. Do I shudder just a bit at the thought of giving up some of my own personal possessions, some of my power, in order to lift up my less privileged neighbor?
In the second reading, John makes it sound so easy: if we love God and God’s children then we obey God’s commands. But to which commands does John refer? Surely, John, writing to Greeks, does not mean all 613 laws in the Hebrew Scriptures. Might the gospel writer mean the two great laws – love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself – that Jesus articulates? Whatever John refers to, the writer sees a clear connection between our love for God and our behavior. This, too, can make me shudder, as at times I find it much easier to convince myself that I love God than to treat my fellow creatures with dignity and respect. If I love God only as much as I treat others with benevolence, then perhaps I don’t love God as much as I thought.
In the end, what might this week’s readings tell us about following Jesus? Is the message about giving to the poor? Treating all our neighbors with reverence and care? Questioning our understandings as a way to experience God more intimately? All of these could be true. But maybe there is a deeper question upon which all of those questions rest: if closeness with God makes me shudder, why am I not shuddering all the time?
Marianne Seggerman joined the chapter of Dignity New Haven around 30 years ago. That chapter is no longer, alas, but she continues to attend the biannual conference. In her day job she is a computer programmer living (and for the moment working) in Westport, Connecticut. She is in a long-term relationship with a person raised Jewish who converted to the Mormon faith.