The Frailty of Easter Based in part on a reflection by John Slattery (adapted)
We humans are a comparatively slow maturing and short-lived species. The average life-span in the United States hovers between 75 and 80. The age of the earth, on the other hand, is around 4,500,000,000 years. The age of the universe is around 13,800,000,000 years. You and I inhabit just a small bit of that time, the tiniest morsel of space time lived out on a relatively small planet that orbits an average size star. Our star, the Sun, is one of trillions upon trillions of stars, and our planet is one of trillions in the known universe. But it’s ok.
Easter is all about smallness. That’s why we are drawn to reading and re-reading the Easter accounts in the Gospels each year. Despite the ocean of books, songs, sermons, and lectures written about Easter or on Easter-themes, our Scripture includes just four small stories about this Jesus who rose from the dead. The combined resurrection stories encompass about 3500 words–the equivalent of about 15 pages, the length of an average term paper.
Jesus’ resurrection was such a humble thing. There were no angel trumpeters or singers in the skies. It was more like the story in Psalm 119 that we prayed yesterday morning: “Without a word, without a sound, without a voice being heard, the message fills all the earth, resounding to the ends of the universe.” First, Jesus surprised Mary in the garden. She told a few other women, then they told a few men and soon Jesus appeared to them. He spoke about peace, about the Spirit of God, about hope. He showed his wounds. He ate some food and then he drifted up into the clouds. He didn’t march on Rome or lead a rebellion against the priests who brought him to Pilate. After his resurrection He didn’t heal anyone else or preach to vast crowds as He had done previously. He didn’t cast out any more demons, trade barbs with rabbis, or visit the Temple. The resurrection, in many ways, was quiet.
It challenges us to read that Jesus showed his followers his wounds. “See,” he seems to say, “a broken body is not made whole by erasing the imperfections. Feel this hole in my side,” he says to Thomas and to each of us. “See, I have sanctified what the world calls spoiled. A broken body is made whole not by removing the scars but by embracing the permanence of the wounds.”
We like this small and quiet resurrection where Jesus is not the definition of a contemporary superhero. He doesn’t return triumphant and knock Pilate off his throne, bringing God’s wrath on the vicious Roman Empire. He appears to his friends, simply showing his wounds and talking about love and peace.
This story today of Thomas illustrates our Christian experience. We are called to believe without seeing. In fact, all Christians after the first witnesses have been called to believe without seeing. Thus, we sing “without seeing you, we love you; without seeing you, we believe.” Thomas’ doubt is hardly surprising; the news of Jesus’ appearance was incredible to the disciples who had seen him crucified and buried. Thomas’ human nature compelled him to want hard evidence that the Jesus, who appeared to the disciples after his death, was indeed the same Jesus who had been crucified. Thomas is given the opportunity to act on that desire. He is our witness that Jesus is truly raised from the dead. With him we proclaim: “We’ve been told, we’ve seen his face, and heard his voice alive in our hearts.”
Jesus wants us to be perfect, but not the kind of perfect that Ninjas or Superman display. Jesus wants us to be perfect “as our heavenly Father is perfect.” God’s perfection and the message of Jesus’ Resurrection calls us an unconditional embrace of frailty, pain, and brokenness.
It is an embrace that calls us to resist all forms of violence, power, and hatred. There is growing acknowledgement of that fact that TV and video game violence, like second-hand smoke affects one’s lungs, permanently affects our brains. Many families refuse to allow TV violence, fictionalized or news reports, to invade their living spaces. Jesus did not arm his apostles with weapons for revenge — he armed them with prayer and baptized them in a spirit of hope and forgiveness.
We are surrounded today with so much sadness and fear and anger. We who live in a peaceful community rejoice in the security and sanctity that empowers us to extend open arms in hospitality to those in the world who yearn for that same privilege.
At the end of our Gospel selection we read, “Jesus did many other signs that are not written in this book. But these ARE written that you may come to believe …and through this belief you may have life in Jesus’ name.
We join the psalmist in singing: By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.”