This week's readings: 2nd Sunday of Easter

02 November 2006


[ Exodus 14.10-end; 15.20-21]
Acts 2.14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1.3-9
John 20.19-end

"NO ONE has seen God, ever; it is God the only son, who is at the Father's side, who has made him known" (John 1.18). Right from the Gospel's start, John is contesting a view already linked in his time with Thomas: that we can - and should - aspire to a mystical sight of God during our lifetime. In the Gospel of Thomas, we read: "Look for the Living One while you are alive; lest you die and then seek to see him and you will be unable to see him" (Thomas, Saying 59).

Such a sight was offered by the mystic's ascent to see God's glory on his throne. Jesus has led the way; his devotees - in their present life - can follow. The Gospel of Thomas bears witness to the techniques, experiences and hopes to which such mysticism gave rise.

John will have none of it. "You will seek me", says his Jesus, "and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come" (John 7.34). John's Jesus instructs Thomas about the true ascent: in knowing and trusting in Jesus himself. "When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going."

Thomas replies: "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"

Jesus says: "I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him" (John 14.3-7).

Where does this leave us, who have no such sight of Jesus as the disciples had? Where and how shall we see the Father? We have, over the past few weeks, watched John design his Gospel to have the same effect on us as his Jesus has on those around him within the story itself. Here in the Gospel is our sight of Jesus.

All this, however, presupposes that we have accepted something of the Christian claims for Jesus. Most people who read the Gospels now - as, perhaps, most of those who encountered them in the first century - have already heard and been attracted by the story of Easter. Such people are already disposed to meet the risen Jesus as they undergo the Gospel.

But what of a person's very first encounter with the story of Jesus, his death, resurrection and exaltation to glory? Peter's speech at Pentecost sounds, as a model, clear and direct: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know - this Jesus, according to the definite foreknowledge and plan of God, you crucified. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death" (from Acts 2.22-24).

The Jews of Jerusalem, however, were not hearing this message cold. They had seen Jesus and his miracles; and they had just heard the disciples speaking in every tongue. Peter will preach again, in similar terms (Acts 3) to those who are amazed by his healing a cripple in the name of Jesus. We ourselves hear the story of Easter and the preaching of Acts having read the whole of Luke's Gospel.

Despite all that we have already learnt, we may find it hard (as Luke knows) to grasp what was happening at Easter. Luke has the disciples take the circuitous route to faith, which he suspects we may also need to take. The disciples at Emmaus are "slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken". Next Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem; but they think he is a ghost. So he shows them he is of flesh and bones, and they now "disbelieve for joy" (Luke 24.25, 37, 41).

Luke's Jesus, at Easter, expounds scripture to his disciples; but not to the reader. To the two disciples at Emmaus, Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interprets in all the scriptures the things concerning himself". He then reiterates to the rest of the disciples "that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets must be fulfilled" (Luke 24.27, 44). We need such instruction, too. We have to wait for the speeches of Acts: now Peter relays to the people of Jerusalem - and to us - those expositions that Jesus had given to his disciples.

The disciples have been with Jesus through his ministry, and have seen him, risen from the dead. The people of Jerusalem have heard the effect of Pentecost, and have seen the healed cripple. Then - and only then? - are they ready to grasp the place of Jesus in God's plan.

What wonders have we to offer, performed in the name of Jesus, which might draw those beyond the churches to hear, understand and inhabit for themselves the story we tell?

We have the Church. We have the lives we ask God to enable us to lead; far more humbling, we have the lives we actually lead. But we have far more: we have all those, throughout the world and the past 2000 years, who have travelled with Christ on his journey to Jerusalem, to his Passion and to Easter.

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