Immersed in Christ: April 19, 2020
The Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)
and Divine Mercy Sunday
Experiencing and Expressing the Risen Life
When do you experience yourself as most alive by grace? How much of it depends on what you yourself are doing? How much on what other people are doing (or doing together with you)?
The Opening Prayer reminds us that we must “no longer look for Jesus among the dead” — including the deadening routine of just “saying prayers” or participating in Mass without attention — for “he has become the Lord of life.” We ask God to “increase in our minds and hearts [our experience of] the risen life we share with Christ.” This will “help us to grow… toward the fullness of eternal life.” We are asking for a religion brought alive by the experience of life — of Christ’s life within us.
The Readings show us how we become aware of this experience. The Responsorial (Psalm 118) puts into words the spontaneous response it evokes: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”
An awesome experience:
Acts 2: 42-47 describes the experience of the first people who responded with faith to the Apostles’ proclamation of the Good News: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. “ The result of this was “exultation and sincerity of heart.” And: “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
What we have here is a formula for experiencing the risen life. The first two elements are discipleship — a real desire and commitment to learn everything Jesus taught — and community — a commitment to gathering and celebrating the Good News with others.
The next line gives us the third element: “All who believed… would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” This, more than any miracles, was the greatest “wonder and sign” brought about by the Apostles’ preaching. This was the “sign of Jonah,” the visible evidence of the risen Jesus alive and active in the hearts of the community. To reveal (to ourselves as well as others) that we are alive by grace, we don’t have to literally sell our possessions. But we do have to give up selfishness and all selfish attachment to what we own, and respond to the needs of others with the same love Jesus shows to us. When we see others doing this, and experience ourselves doing it also, that is when the life of grace becomes for us an awesome experience. Then we have something deep and personal to celebrate. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting”.
When the fruit of grace, the fruit of Christ’s divine life within us, is visible in our actions, that is when we are bearing witness as prophets.
How do we know…?
How do we know we are alive by grace and sharing in Christ’s own divine life? 1Peter 1: 3-9 tells us we know it when we see ourselves living in a way that cannot be explained without it.
This letter was written to Christians facing persecution. It tells them that their fear itself is an experience of their faith, because in spite of it they are remaining faithful. “
You rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith… tested by fire… may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
To our human way of perceiving things, the visible threat of death is a lot more real than the invisible promise of eternal life. But the point of the letter is that if we choose to remain faithful, the experience of believing is just as real as the experience of fearing death. We experience the promise of eternal life, not just as words of Jesus handed down to us, but as words Jesus is speaking now in our own hearts.
How do we know he is speaking? We know it because we have enough certitude in faith to die for the sake of the promise. The deep certitude we experience (without necessarily feeling it) cannot be explained except by the divine gift of faith. We know that we know. And we know that nothing human can explain the fact that we know. Our willingness to die requires as the “condition for its possibility” the reality of our faith in Christ’s promise. That is when we know our faith is real. As Karl Rahner has said, “We do not know we believe in the two birds in the bush until we let go of the one bird in our hand.”
Peter’s letter makes the point: “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice… for you are receiving [and experiencing] the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” By his fruits in our heart we know him.
So we know that we are sharing in Christ’s divine life when we find ourselves acting in a way that can only be explained by divine faith, hope and love. We do not have to face death for this. We experience if whenever we let go of any “bird in the hand” for the sake of what is promised by the Voice in the burning bush. This is the role and the experience of the prophets, who live in counter-cultural ways inspired by the voice of God in their hearts. When we go beyond “what everybody does,” we know our faith is personal — that we ourselves are listening and responding to the living God. Then we can personally “give thanks to the Lord,” for we ourselves know that “he is good, his love is everlasting.”
Unless I see and touch…
When the risen Jesus appears to his disciples in John 20: 19-31 his opening word is always, “Peace....” Where does that peace come from?
Jesus’ first words after the greeting tell us. The first time, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” He showed them the proof of his passion and death so they would know that the living man in front of them had truly risen from the dead. The first source of our peace is in the fact that Jesus is risen and living still. Still with us.
After his second greeting, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” The second source of our peace is in the fact that we are sent and empowered by the Spirit to continue Christ’s work on earth. We have a meaning and purpose in life. We know what we are here for and what we have to do. And we know that the light and strength to do it are coming, not from us, but from the gift of the Spirit within us. In other words, we know that the risen Jesus is living and acting in us.
Jesus said he would go down into the grave to rise multiplied through resurrection in every living member of his body on earth: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Our peace is in the fact that Jesus is risen and living in us.
But Thomas could not find this peace just from the other disciples’ report that they had seen Jesus. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and touch his wounds myself, “I will not believe.”
Thank God for hard-headed disciples! Thomas voiced the need we all have to see flesh-and-blood evidence that Jesus is risen and real. And we find it in the flesh-and-blood reality of his body on earth, in the flesh–and-blood experience that we and others are living the divine life of Jesus risen and living in us. Every time we act in a way that nothing but faith can explain, Jesus in us is saying to anyone who doubts, “See my hands. Touch me. And do not be unbelieving but believe — that through this belief you may have life.”
What do I do that cannot be explained except by my faith in Jesus Christ? Are there things I do that I know I would not do unless I were motivated by faith, even though other people might do them for other motives?
Take God’s words seriously. Make some choices consciously based on them.