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2nd Sunday of Easter

18 April 2019

Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 118.14-end; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-end


THE resurrection narratives emphasise both the continuity and the transformation in Jesus’s body. Theodoret of Cyrus explains that Jesus’s appearance in a room with locked doors occurs “so that you might know that your body was sown as a physical body but raised as a spiritual body”. By the same token, Thomas is shown the wounds in Jesus’s hands and side “in order that you might not think that what rises is something different”. Jesus’s body, however, is no longer subject to the corruption which afflicts our mortal bodies.

As Cally Hammond observes, in the light of Easter we understand death to be “a threshold between one way of being (ordinary human life in the world) and another (eternal life, for which God destined human beings) which all of us will one day cross” (Glorious Christianity: Walking by faith in the life to come).

The wounds on the body of the risen Lord are, therefore, a sign of hope. They assure us that his body is, indeed, the body that was crucified, and that our mortal bodies will likewise be transformed. It is precisely because Thomas has the most tangible possible confirmation of this continuity — placing his hands in the wounds of the risen Jesus — that he responds by confessing Christ to be “My Lord and my God”.

Our Gospel reading also emphasises a different continuity: the continuity, in both mission and authority, between Jesus and his Church. The sending of the disciples by the Son is likened by Christ to his own sending by the Father. Indeed, as his mystical Body, the Church does not only share Christ’s vocation but derives its very life from him. It, therefore, shares also both the marks of the Cross and the power of the Paschal triumph.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the earliest days of Christian mission, as the Church grows by remaining faithful in the face of persecution. Peter asserts that the apostles “must obey God rather than any human authority”, and that — along with the Holy Spirit that has been given to them — the apostles are “witnesses” (marturia) to Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Kenneth Leech contrasts the cruciform witness with the “crusading” mind-set that develops when we cease to trust in the power of the cross, and instead mimic worldly patterns of domination. “The crusading mind is rooted in intolerance, and its ultimate end is the destruction of its opposition. The crucified mind is rooted in the love which grows deeper through pain, and which seeks its end through what may seem a harsh and dreadful love, but whose aim is the transformation of its opponents” (True God: An exploration in spiritual theology).

While the New Testament describes a Church that has this “crucified mind”, it is at the same time a body with both authority and hierarchy; for, besides containing one of the clearest Christological confessions, our Gospel reading has one of the clearest statements of the authority of the apostles and their successors. After breathing on them, Jesus says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In this way, Christ’s own authority and mercy are mediated through his mystical Body, the Church. Just as in baptism, the priests are simply an instrument. The part that they play — which does not depend on their own virtues — is to confer a grace that is entirely a gift from God.

God has entrusted the Church with a part in mediating his love and forgiveness to the world. It is at once the Body of Christ and also a body of sinful human beings: human beings in whom God’s work of sanctification has begun, but is far from complete. As Hans Urs von Balthasar expresses it, “The dialectic of existence in the Church lies within the undeniable reality of these two poles” — sinners drawn into Christ by grace and yet all too capable of falling back into their sins (Explorations in Theology).

Christ continues to be wounded by the sins committed by members of his Church, by our ensnarement in the values of this world, and by our abuse of power. The Church can be faithful to Christ only when she understands her complete dependency on him: when we draw our life from his, allowing our minds and hearts to be reshaped by his cross.

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