Skip to comments.Reflection on Hope and New Life After the Easter Feasts (Thomas Rosica, CSB)
Posted on 04/07/2010 11:22:17 PM PDT by Salvation
|Reflection on Hope and New Life After the Easter Feasts|
|Thomas Rosica, CSB
Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications
Lessons of the Resurrection witnesses
We are still basking in the afterglow of the Resurrection and the Easter feasts we have celebrated. The Scriptural readings of this season are filled with powerful encounters and images of hope and new No matter how we look at the Easter stories, they present us a very fragile beginning for a religion that has lasted almost 2,000 years, and yet that is where so many of us continue to focus our energy: on that tomb, on that morning, on what did or did not happen there and how to explain it to anyone who does not happen to believe it too. No one has ever seen it happen, which is why it helps us to remember that no one saw it happen on Easter morning either.
What happened in the tomb was entirely between Jesus and God. For the rest of us, Easter began the moment the gardener said, "Mary!" and she knew who he was. That is where the miracle happened and goes on happening not in the tomb but in the encounter with the living Lord. Those appearances are what the Resurrection is all about, and the experiences of those first Easter witnesses can teach us much about what it means to be true witness.
Lessons on the Road: the Disciples of Emmaus:
Let us consider first the lessons learned from the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. This beloved Gospel story from St. Luke; (24:13-35) is a very human story, full of pathos; stylized in pattern, suggesting a Eucharistic celebration (vv. 30-32). The disciples come with their questions and doubts (vv. 13-24); the Scriptures are recited (v. 27); words of clarification and instruction are exchanged on the road (vv. 25-27); and finally, the moment of recognition comes in the context of a meal (v. 31). The narrative concludes with the disciples' return to the community in Jerusalem, only to find that the good news of the Resurrection has already been made known to those who patiently waited for Jesus in the Holy City.
Jesus approached the disciples in their blindness on the road and led them to sight. As soon as they recognize him after the bread is broken, he disappears from their midst. They are both able to look back over the past few hours and sec how Jesus slowly brought them back to faith (v. 32) and helped them discover the meaning of the Messiah's suffering, death and Resurrection.
Cleopas and his companion slowly journeyed through the darkness and desperation of faith. They had to discover anew God's Word and God's Envoy: the Risen Lord. Their initial sadness, non-understanding and disbelief are transformed into joy as they eagerly listened to the explanation of the Scriptures on the road, and as their eyes were opened at table in Emmaus. The "Good News" descended from their head to their heart, and they experienced that strange and wonderful feeling of their hearts gradually being on fire.
The journey motif of this passage is not only a matter of the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but also of the painful and gradual journey of words that must descend from the head to the heart; of a coming to faith, of a return to a proper relationship with the stranger who is none other than Jesus the Lord. The Evangelist Luke's picture of the dejected disciples can help us to recognize how difficult the struggle is for the world, and for each of us to yield to God's purposes. Jesus' disciples are unable to understand that he must suffer, and this failure is connected with a series of other personal: failings evidenced in the Scripture stories.
The Lord always listens to us and is always there. It is part of the Lords' pedagogy with regard to his disciples to always listen to them, especially when times are hard, when one has fallen, experiences doubt, disillusionment and frustration. His words make the hearts of the disciples "burn", they remove them from the darkness of sadness and desperation, provoking in them the desire to remain with him: Stay with us, Lord.
The dejected disciples begin to change only when they are enlightened by the risen Christ, who explains from the Sacred Scriptures how God works in a resistant world and among resistant, sinful people like us. It is indeed an ironic victory because the forces of rejection and experiences of suffering and sinfulness, themselves, become the means by which God's purpose is accomplished in the world! For Cleopas and his unnamed companion on that first Easter, their journey was a gradual, painstaking process requiring a careful remembering and re-articulation of the events of salvation history found in the Scriptures, along with an experience of the Risen Lord. It is no less the same for 21st century Christians who continue to interpret the Scriptures in this day and age, and move from faith-filled insights to a proclamation and lived experience of the One who is truly risen from the dead.
The Resurrection Witnesses in the Fourth Gospel
John's Resurrection story [chapters 20-21] is a series of encounters between Jesus and his followers that reveal diverse faith reactions. Whether these encounters are with Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples or Thomas, the whole scenario reminds us that in the range of belief there are different degrees of readiness and different factors that cause people to come to faith and help them in turn to become witnesses and teachers.
A morning race to the Tomb (Jn 20:3-5)
Given John's penchant for symbolism, many people have tried to decipher the possible symbolic message encoded in the race of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to the tomb. Is it simply a question of the Beloved Disciple being younger and more agile than Peter? Or could it be that these two apostolic figures represent two "currents" within the early Church, and perhaps a tension within the Johannine community Peter representing the more staid, traditional, authority-minded model, and the Beloved Disciple representing the more charismatic, Spirit-filled, enthusiastic, less institutional model which may have: predominated in John's community?
Was the Beloved Disciple considered the origin of a movement that claimed deeper spiritual insights into Jesus' identity, which were perhaps sidelined in the beginning by the more "mainstream" communities? Perhaps the arrival of the Beloved Disciple first signifies the emotional rush of those guided by their hearts and their personal experience of Jesus, but the fact that he waits outside and allows Peter to enter first suggests a certain deference for the Church's duly-appointed leadership?
Closer to Jesus both in life (13:23) and in death (19:26-27), the Beloved Disciple sees the significance of the garments left behind in the empty tomb when Peter does not (20:8-10). The disciple who was bound closest in love to Jesus was the fastest to look for him, and the first to believe in him. But what did he believe? John does not tell us. He simply believed, and without another word exchanged he and Peter returned to their homes.
The rest of the story belongs to Mary. She is the one who saw the angels. Peter and the beloved disciple saw none of this. They saw nothing but a vacant tomb with two piles of clothes in it. They saw nothing but emptiness and absence, in other words, and on that basis at least one of them believed, although neither of them understood.
Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus), and the unnamed penitent woman who anointed Jesus' feet (Lk 7:36-18) are sometimes understood to be the same woman. From this, plus the statement that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Lk 8:2), has risen the tradition that. Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute before she met Jesus. But in reality we know nothing about her sins or weaknesses. They could have been inexplicable physical disease, mental illness, or anything that prevented her from wholeness in mind and body. Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the Gospels as being among the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and his disciples, ministered In him, and who, according to each of the Evangelists, was present at his crucifixion and burial, and went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint his body.
Jesus lived in an androcentric society. Women were property, first of their fathers, then of their husbands; they did not have the right to testily; they could not study the Torah. In this restricting atmosphere, Jesus acted without animosity, accepting women, honoring them, respecting them, and treasuring their friendship. He journeyed with them, touched and cured them, loved them and allowed them to love him.
In our Easter Gospels, we peered once again into the early morning scene of sadness as Mary Magdalene weeps uncontrollably at the grave of her friend, Jesus. We hear anew their conversation: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?". "...Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away". Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher).... "Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God'". Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord", and that he had said these things to her (Jn 20:15- 18).
Because of her incredible message and mission, Mary Magdalene was fittingly called "Apostola Apostolorum" (Apostle to the Apostles) in the early Church because she was the first to see the Risen Lord, and to announce his Resurrection to the other Apostles.
Thomas the Apostle
John's story of Jesus and Thomas records the first post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus and provides us with an archetypal experience of doubt, struggle and faith. Herein lies every Christian's experience: to believe without having seen. In this Gospel passage, we have a story within a story: the resolution of Thomas' doubts during Jesus' appearance to encourage the fearful disciples. Thomas only believes when he hears the Lord's call to belief. Thomas is not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that the Christian tradition has often painted. The Greek lexicon translates the word "skepsis" as "doubt, misgiving, hesitation, and disbelief".
What do we do when something to which we have totally committed ourselves is destroyed before our very eyes? What do we do when someone to whom we have given total loyalty is suddenly crushed by powerful and faceless institutions? And what do we do when our immediate reaction in the actual moment of crisis is to run and hide, for fear of the madding crowds? Such were the questions of most of the people who had supported and followed Jesus of Nazareth for the better part of three years.
Both Jesus and Thomas were wounded wounded by unbelief. Jesus died of the wounds inflicted by the unbelief of his disciples and of the people. Thomas was wounded by his inability to believe, and out of this wound bled his deepest disappointment. But Thomas was healed by Christ's wounds. He saw, even felt, the deadly injuries; but the one who bore them was living. Through them, life was victorious in Thomas. Thomas had to guardedly feel his way to faith until he recognized the truth in his heart. This was the beginning of his Easter. He could believe again.
Thomas, the doubter, was permitted to do something that we would all like to do. He was allowed to touch and "experience" something that by human means was not possible. For us it is more difficult. Ave need to begin with faith and then blindly touch our way to the heart of our lives.
Centuries after Thomas, we remain forever grateful for the honesty and humanity of his struggle. The last word in the vocabulary of God is trust not betrayal, hope not despair, life not death. Though we know so little about Thomas, his family background and his destiny, we are given an important hint into his identity in the etymology of his name in Greek: Thomas (Dittymous in Greek) means "twin". Who was Thomas' other half, his twin? Maybe we can see his twin by looking into the mirror. Thomas' other half is anyone who has struggled with the pain of unbelief, doubt and despair, and has allowed the presence of the Risen Jesus to make a difference.
Jesus and Peter
The moving Gospel story of Jesus and Peter is set against this incredibly beautiful backdrop of the sea. Chapter 21 is really an epilogue to the Fourth Gospel. This post-Resurrection "breakfast symphony in two movements" has always been one of my favorite Bible stories. The first movement [vv. 1-14] describes the appearance of the Risen Jesus to his disciples "by the Sea of Tiberias". It is concerned with fish and fishing. The second movement [vv.15- 23] presents a poignant dialogue between Jesus and Peter. It is concerned with sheep and shepherding. Peter certainly knew failure along the road of discipleship. The disciple who was called "rock" wept with regret in Luke 22:62 after denying his Lord. At the sea he is given an opportunity to repent and recommit himself to Jesus.
The story begins calmly, even with a hint of bleakness. When Peter decides to go fishing, there is a certain feeling of resignation about it, alluding to the depression and discouragement he and the other disciples must have experienced after Jesus' death. Peter is simply taking up his old profession. The whole appearance of Jesus is shrouded in mystery, in the familiar atmosphere of "not knowing who he was" that we see so often from the Gospel writers.
In the second movement, we have one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible. "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? Do you love me? Are you my friend?" [John 21:15]. These thrice-repeated words of Jesus, preceded as they were by the repetition of the name, "Simon, son of John", form the pastoral mandate: "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep". Peter's threefold denial of Jesus during the trial and crucifixion is now canceled out by the three-fold declaration of love. Yet the thought lingers in our minds, and certainly in Peter's: Why does Jesus ask Peter, on whom he is going to confer the pastoral office as chief shepherd, this question and not others? There arc many other questions which we can imagine his having asked him concerning his suitability for ministry. For example, "Simon, son of John, are you aware of the responsibilities that you are undertaking? Are you aware of how many people about you are in need of help: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the lonely? Where will you find bread enough to give them something to eat?".
But Jesus sums them all up in a single, basic question, repeated with two different verbs in Greek to indicate the different nuances of love and friendship which are being referred to: "Simon, son of John, do you love me? Are you really my friend?". This question appears to be the central, indeed the only one, because it goes directly to a person's heart.
Each time Peter declares his love, it is followed by a command from the. Lord to do what true love compels us to do: "Feed my sheep". Peter's distress is understandable. It is not easy to have one's declaration of love challenged. But every Christian knows that genuine love is put to the test over and over again. That love has developed, for Peter no longer boasts about his loyalty but rather allows the Risen Lord to look into his own heart: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you" [John 21:17]. Jesus not only forgave his sin but conferred upon him ultimate responsibility for the flock. For Peter, insight into Jesus' true identity and his compassion brought new demands arid responsibilities.
Peter is truly a model for us, as he must always remember his own failures as he undertakes leadership within the church. Rather than incapacitating him, his remembrance enables him to be a merciful and compassionate leader.
How do we deal with memories of our own failures as we reach out to others? Into what kind of intimacy is God calling us at this moment in our life? With whom is God calling us to be intimate? What do we understand to be our responsibilities following upon our own declaration of faith in Jesus? What demands and responsibilities does lath place upon our school community? Peter learned his lesson well; he would imitate Jesus the rest of his life even to the point of giving that life as a martyr, dying upside down on a cross on the Vatican bill. Are we prepared to go to that extreme for our faith in Jesus?
The Great Commission
Moments of leave-taking and farewell, especially among friends and loved ones, are never easy. Picture the emotionally charged departure scene in the conclusion of Matthew's Gospel [28:16-20]. The majestic liturgical scene relates to us Jesus' final earthly moments and the great commission to the Church: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age [19-20]".
Consider for a moment the reality of those men and women who are commissioned on the mountain in Galilee. Each of them would demonstrate such human weakness. One would show treachery. Fear and trembling would make them all deserters. One would deny Jesus and bitterly regret it. Only when the one we call "Rock" realized the full significance of his denial would the ministry of church leadership and unity he placed on his shoulders. Two of them, James and John, displayed such naked ambition that they would qualify instantly for the corporate world of today!
Some would ask questions that clearly revealed their profound ignorance of the master's message and life. Such pathetic brokenness... and yet Matthew's Gospel tells us: "The eleven disciples" made their way to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. No longer the Twelve, that magic number that gave them continuity with the long history of Judaism, but the eleven, which indicated that one was missing, one had failed. Yet in spite of the humanity and the failure, the eleven are entrusted with the dream of the Risen Lord.
Just as the Risen Lord entrusted himself into the hands of such pathetic, broken people, he does the same to us. The full significance of the Ascension reminds us that Christ accepts our lack of self-confidence in ourselves. He accepts the shadowy and dark areas of our humanity. He accepts our capacity for deceit, betrayal, greed and power. And having accepted us, he calls us, gives us the eternal commission to be his people, and sends us to serve him and love him, in spite of ourselves and because of ourselves.
Luke refers to the Ascension in his Acts of the Apostles (1:10-11). The angels' words to the "men of Galilee" in the Acts reading are piercing and loaded: "Why do you stand here looking up at the skies? This Jesus who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw him go up to the heavens". Jesus disappears from bodily view. Only in his physical separation from the historical scene can his spiritual union with the entire world for all time be complete.
The disciples are given a last bit of instruction. "Don't keep trying to stare into the future. Don't be overly concerned about which hour he will come back". We must not stand idly staring up into the heavens arid moaning about the past, about which we can do nothing, except to bury it deeply in God's hands and heart! The Lord will he glorified, and it follows that his disciples will also share in his glory. Let's get going and carry a piece of heaven into the world. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, not one of divine abandonment of the human cause, but divine empowerment of the Gospel dream!
Weekly Edition in English
22 April 2009, page 6
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Cathedral Foundation
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