12 April 2009 Easter Sunday
Acts 10, 34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; Col 3, 1-4 or 1 Cor 5, 6-8; John 20, 1-9
The readings tell us what we are to proclaim on Easter Sunday, “Jesus Christ has risen! Alleluia!” No matter what Resurrection account about Jesus appearing to the disciples after crucifixion, the importance of these stories is to note the different reactions to the Resurrection story. Biblical scholars say that each of these responses reflect the reactions of people during the time of the disciples. Thus, the objective of the stories is to make the reader or the listener identify with any of the characters, so that they too will be led to faith. We have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, before we are able to proclaim Easter. Let us use the Gospel today.
The first reaction is the natural reaction. The icon of this is Mary Magdalene. When she saw the linens, she did not yet believed. She thought that the Roman soldiers took Jesus away (John 20, 2). Mary recognized Jesus only when He called her by name. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised to call by their personal name every sheep of His fold (John 10,4). So as promised, Jesus called her by name, and so she proclaimed what she saw to the disciples. In Scripture, Mary was the first disciple who proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
There are times when we recognize God in the most natural of experiences. When we experience the beauty of nature, or the vastness of the universe as Albert Einstein, we see God. When letters of affirmation and love are received, people are overwhelmed with deep emotion, that they thank God. When we are forgiven and we cannot understand why the people we hurt wrote off our mistakes, our hearts leap with gratitude. When we see the beauty of a child during childbirth, or inspired to write a song, or when we are victorious, our positive experiences point to a God who looks lovingly on us. These are the times, when our tears are wiped away, that our sorrow turns to joy. Every single experience becomes unique like being gift-wrapped for us with our personal name on it --- given solely for us alone.
The second reaction is that of Peter. When he saw the linen, he did not yet believed: he was confused. When what happens to us is difficult to understand especially when the experience is negative, we easily attribute it to the absence of God. Death, tragedies, accidents, natural calamities, brutality, rejection, or helplessness are some examples that perplex us: “If God is a loving God, why would He allow these things to happen?”
The reaction of Peter plaques many of the educated who went through a lot of philosophies and were introduced to different ways of thinking. It also troubles those who experienced a lot of hurt and pain in their lives. But this also distresses the good who are in their ‘desert experience’ --- when prayer seem tasteless and bland. When there are no “good feelings” or when there is no ‘spiritual high’, we begin to doubt. When we experience the absence of God -- or of people -- like loneliness and alienation, to believe may not be the immediate reaction. It would take time to recognize God’s presence. Here, many would put a condition in prayer: “If You are present, I need proof!” The proof may be scientific or fatalistic. Some may even pray for a “vision”--- only some are granted this, but many us may not see a vision in our lifetime. Peter as well as Thomas, would then need Jesus appearing to them and showing His hands and feet!
Clarity and healing may be the first process to undertake, before deep faith. Though, for many who are spiritually mature, these experience help make their hearts yearn for who is ‘absent’. St. Ignatius said, that we sometimes need to pray for the desire of the desire: when even the desire to seek God has been lost or overtaken by our grief; then we should pray that God grant us the desire to desire God.
However, the third reaction is from John, who did not enter the tomb, but believed right away. He did not need evidence (v. 8). Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, but believed” (v. 29). The Beloved Disciple’s love was deep and intense that he did not need any evidence to believe in the resurrection. In the Sea of Tiberias, he also recognized Jesus on the shore while the disciples did not (John 21, 7). This belief is ideal, but it is easy to understand it when we are in love. We could recognize our beloved even from afar: we know their gait, we know how they dress, what they like, what’s happening to them even when they don’t tell us. Just one look we know --- or actually, we JUST know. It seems that our souls have never been apart. St. Ignatius of Loyola said that we can achieve this through constant prayer. Many of these faithful pray-ers begin to see God everywhere, and thus recognize God in all things. This is the new sight! --- as John the Evangelist would urge every single Christian to pursue.
At Easter, we have to look closer into the quality and depth of our belief in Jesus who is alive! Only when we are deeply convinced, that we can proclaim sincerely the message of hope and triumph!