The Preacher’s Study
Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
John W.B. Hill
1 John 1:1 - 2:2;
John 20: 19-31
The Easter Season is a gift of grace: seven weeks to explore the implications of what God has done in raising up the one we crucified; seven weeks for it to sink in that we are the risen body of Christ, the living sacrament of his saving presence to the world.
The entire apostolic witness, the whole New Testament, is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; we would never even have heard of him if that had not happened. St. Paul has provided our earliest written witness to this stupendous reality, but it was left to the four evangelists to fill out the meaning of ‘resurrection’. Only they make it clear that resurrection means an empty tomb!
But what is the significance of an empty tomb? It tells us that God’s purposes for the world could not be defeated by destroying the one God sent to redeem it. God gathered up the torn and disfigured corpse of his dear Son and transfigured it into the first fully redeemed human life (body and soul) — a definitive sign of God’s intention for us all. Bodies matter to God (see 1 John 1:1): flesh and bones, feathers and fur, indeed the entire biosphere that graces the surface of this rocky planet hurtling through space. All will be redeemed, in God’s good time. Redeemed, not abandoned.
Here may lie the clue to Thomas’ reluctance to accept what the other disciples were telling him (John 20: 24-25). “We have seen the Lord,” they said. But if they were trying to tell him that Jesus was still alive in spite of having died — that his crucifixion was just another random piece of meaningless violence in a world beyond hope — then, as far as Thomas was concerned, Jesus’ appearance to them was not good news at all. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Thomas could not just dismiss the memory of Jesus’ shameful and horrific execution, and he needed to know that God could not dismiss it either.
If God is going to triumph over the evil that defaces this good creation and truly redeem the world, then even the world’s catastrophes must be redeemed; they must ultimately come to be recognized as critical moments in the historic drama of “the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it” (John 1:1-5). It was the catastrophe of Jesus’ crucifixion that revealed the darkness of our world, and it was the crucifixion of Jesus that revealed the immensity of God’s mercy — mercy which holds the world in being and is its only hope of healing. Thus the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands are the crowning perfection of his risen body. Likewise, a redeemed world will bear the marks of our folly and destruction, for these wounds too are part of the drama of its salvation. But the wounds will be healed.
The first reading for this Sunday (Acts 4: 32-25) says something important about the vocation of the Church. This is not glorified nostalgia for a golden era in the Church’s life, for the Church is called to be a living sign of God’s coming kingdom in which all, rich and poor, great and small, will be equally honoured and provided for (see Matthew 25: 31-46). This is something we enact symbolically in the Eucharist: all share equally in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. So if we think the particular mode of community life described in this reading is impossible in today’s world (which it is not, for it continues in monastic forms of Christian community), then we must answer the question: How shall we embody this vision of the kingdom of God?
The second reading (1 John 1:1 - 2:2) makes it clear that the Church’s failure to embody the promise of God’s kingdom need not define us. God’s forgiveness is part of our healing, releasing us from imprisonment to the patterns of our past. The writer says, “If we say we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie” (1 John 1:6), but then goes on to say, “If anyone does sin,” (1 John 2:1) — implying that perfectionism is not the Church’s calling. We are on a journey, discovering the gift of freedom from the entanglements of our past.
New Christians need help in appreciating the meaning of our mottled history.
John W. B. Hill is an Anglican presbyter living in Toronto, Canada. He is a Council member of APLM, chair of Liturgy Canada, and author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice.
“The Risen Lord,” “The Doubt of St. Thomas,” and “Supper at Emmaus,” by He Qi. Available for purchase at https://www.heqiart.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html