Present in Person, in the Church, in Glory
Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday). Fr Colin Carr preaches on how Christ touches our lives, dramatically or otherwise.
It was very important to Thomas that his excited fellow disciples had not just seen a phantasm, but the same Christ they had known and followed in Galilee and Jerusalem. The risen Christ was present to people by sight, though sometimes it took them a little time to realise who they were seeing. But sight can be deceptive, as we suggest when we say of someone that they’re ‘seeing things’. Touch is a more solid way of being present to each other, and Thomas wanted to be able to see and touch not just any bit of Jesus but the scars – the holes which were absences of flesh showing the the presence of the flesh of the crucified and risen one. We who have not seen yet have believed can experience the intimate closeness of the risen One – a genuine touch – in many ways, but particularly through the sacraments which are tangible expressions of his presence with us.
But this is not just a private, individual experience enjoyed by those who are mystically inclined. The risen Jesus breathes on his disciples (in other words inspires them) and transforms them into a community which is sent out to show his mercy and his justice. The intimately, visibly, tangibly present Christ creates a community which will become a world-wide Church in which he is always present.
We see a reflection of this reality in the story of the life of the early Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles; in the passage we have just heard today we notice many reflections of the Gospels: the signs and wonders; the mixture of attraction and fear – we might think of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night; the bringing of the sick for healing, including the hope that even Peter’s shadow falling on someone would cure them – and here we might remember the woman who suffered from haemorrhaging who said, ‘If I but touch his clothes I shall be made well’; and the coming together of people from all over the place with their sick and and those tormented by unclean spirits: ‘And they were all cured’.
But there’s a problem: for most of us most of the time the Church doesn’t really look like that picture in Acts: charisma has become routine; we hear of remarkable people and remarkable events still going on, but they never seem to be where we are in this prosaic moment. Perhaps the words ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’ can be applied to loyal believers who go on going to Mass, reading the Bible, praying, trying to bring a bit more love into the world, speaking the truth etc. etc. without any startling manifestations of Power From On High or intense feelings of contrition, joy or hope. It may not feel miraculous that when we walk into a church and see a small structure covered with a veil and a lamp somewhere near it, we are in fact seeing the great miracle of God-with-us. And that is a miracle for every day: we don’t feel elated or low or excited or bored every day, and the penitential seasons and the joyful seasons, the weekdays and the Sundays, don’t adjust themselves to our mood – they are simply there, and they are reliable, unlike our moods. It’s interesting that today’s passage from Acts comes immediately after a story of scandal in the Church, when Ananias and Sapphira try to trick the community into thinking they are more generous than they are. There never was a perfect Church, but the miracle of God’s grace doesn’t depend on our perfection, fortunately.
But the presence of the risen Christ is not confined to the Church on earth and in history: the risen Christ is the glorified Christ who is alive for ever, as our reading from Revelation tells us. If you think that Revelation is a weird book, you’re right. It has to be weird because it’s describing a reality which is beyond our comprehension. The seer sees a great, mysterious, kingly, priestly figure who has the key to all of life’s agonising – death and Hades. The risen Christ is beyond the limitations of our life, yet intimately with us every day.
Image: detail from Incredulita di San Tommaso (1602), Potsdam, Sanssouci, Bildergalerie, photographed by Rodney