SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – APRIL 22, 2001 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
Easter-week ends today, the first explosion of joyful light at the resurrection of the Lord. It will continue to radiate for the full fifty days of Eastertide, climaxing on Pentecost Sunday’s celebration of the gift of the Spirit. It is too bad that these fifty days of joyful, peaceful celebration have made less of a mark on common Christian consciousness than the forty days of Lent. For Easter really defines what Christianity is all about; Lent, if you will, serves mainly to keep us aware of what a great and unmerited blessing it is for us to be able to stand within the power, light, and life of Easter.
We, of course, are in the condition of those whom Jesus declares blessed at the end of today’s Gospel: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” In fact, we can be pretty sure that this is the reason why the Evangelist first concluded his Gospel with the story of Thomas’ doubt. His own readers, some fifty years after the events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, were already in our condition–not having been eyewitnesses of those events and required to rely on the testimony of those who had. The evangelist has made himself the spokesman of those who came after. He has known of much else that Jesus did, but he has chosen from among them, as every good historian does, what was necessary or useful for bringing people to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that through such faith they might have life in his name.
And here we are, 1900 years later, gathering under the challenge and the call of his Gospel. Once again, through the reading of this and other biblical texts, the apostles continue to do what St. John at the beginning of his first Epistle says was the basic apostolic task: “What we have seen,” he said, “we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” We are able to gather here today because, over the centuries, there have been a succession of preachers who have witnessed to what they were given to believe, and there have been a succession of believers who have been enabled to enter into fellowship with the apostles and with their God and Christ and have become in turn preachers to a new generation. From a purely human standpoint, it is a remarkable thing, this thing that has been happening for over 1900 years, that happens again here today when the same Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and we are invited to believe, even though we do not ourselves see.
Resurrection-faith marked the beginning of the Church, its original genesis, birth. It was the vindication of Jesus and his message and the reknitting of the community of disciples that had been torn apart by his arrest and death. The emergence of the Church, the community of believers, is the first effect of Christ’s resurrection. Still today, resurrection-faith is also what enables the genesis of the Church, its birth, every day. The Church does not exist like some brute physical object, like a mammoth Gibraltar, enduring and solid. The Church is a very precarious thing–it is constituted by shared meaning and truth and value, and its strength is the strength of the faith, hope, and love of those in whom it exists. That faith, at its birth, then and now, is not a faith in some general truths about God, but faith about what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth, in the one who was crucified, thrown away, like a useless stone at a construction-site, but whom, faith says, God has chosen to become the cornerstone of God’s building, a building constructed, not of brick and mortar, but of human minds and hearts, your minds and hearts, and my mind and heart. There is a Church if you and I believe this, if brothers and sisters believe this; and the Church would die were the day to come when no one on earth any longer believed what the apostles saw and witnessed to.
A fine biblical scholar, John Knox, once said that the only difference between the world as it was before Jesus lived and the world after he died was that now there was a Church, a community of those who remembered him, confessed him to be Lord and Messiah, and lived in the new life he promised and gave. We today are that difference in the world; we here gathered and all the other assemblies of believers are the only difference Jesus can and does make. We are the ones who make it true or not whether that building still exists of which Jesus is the rescued cornerstone.