quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Homily - Quasimodo Geniti

(Caravaggio, 1601-2)

Quasimodo Geniti - Easter 2 John 20:19-31

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to His disciples, and then again to them with Thomas present in the closed room. These appearances recorded by the Evangelist get to the heart of the matter as to what we believe and confess about who Jesus is and, also, what, in essence, is the Church’s pastoral ministry. In these few verses the Evangelist passes on what he knows to be true, by the Spirit of God, that you and I who hear these words and believe them about Jesus “may have life in His name.” We were not there and did not witness Jesus’ appearance in the flesh. Yet this only emphasizes more what Jesus says about us and what He says about those who belong to His Church today, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus’ resurrection and appearance here to the disciples and later to Thomas is the giving and receiving of the peace of God; the breathing of God’s Spirit. Here the disciples are given the ministry of the forgiveness and retention of sins. By the same Spirit, pastors are ordained to do the same work in Christ’s Church today.

Just before He died Jesus instituted the Holy Supper for His Church as the new testament in His Body and Blood. Now that He has risen He calls and sends His disciples to form His Church by His Spirit, in His forgiveness and peace. Before He ascends He sends them to make more disciples of all nations through teaching and holy baptism. On this Church He again sends the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So we are gathered on the eighth day and every eighth day to receive His gifts and be strengthened in His resurrection from the dead; the very life of His Church until He comes again in glory. Where Jesus is there He gives life and this is a mystery of God’s mercy that is revealed after Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. For He did not remain in death’s power and so neither do those who believe that He is “the Christ, the Son of God.”

Is it not Thomas’ doubting more than the belief of the other disciples that which we relate to? He does not doubt that Jesus died. But he needs to see to believe. Even after the others tell him, “We have seen the Lord,” he needs to see Jesus and the marks of His crucifixion before he will believe. It is the eighth day when Jesus appears to Thomas, saying to all of the disciples, “Peace to you!” He gently leads Thomas to see and believe that which is beyond human understanding. “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.” Thomas now sees Jesus in the flesh. This is not a spirit but a risen Lord. He confesses, “My Lord and my God!” This is divine revelation and Thomas makes a confession here of Jesus’ divinity. He is true Man in the flesh and He is true God. We also doubt like Thomas, needing to see to believe even when Scripture reminds us that faith moves beyond that which is seen to that which is unseen. That which is seen is not excluded by faith. Rather, faith sees that which is beyond. This faith is only possible by divine revelation. Jesus breathes His Spirit on the disciples. This Spirit brings life to the dry bones. It is the Spirit who bears witness with the water and the bloood and through that Spirit we believe the testimony that God has given of His Son. We do not believe except that these things are written down for us. We do not believe except that we have been called by the Gospel. One church father wrote, “And if you do not believe, then believe those who tell you. And if you cannot believe them either, then have confidence in the print of the nails.” (Gregory Nanzianzen, On Holy Easter, Oration 45.24) If Thomas makes this confession then certainly his faith conquers the world and the Apostle writes, “How do some say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12) Then read the testimony of John, “That which we have seen, which we have heard, which we have looked on with our eyes and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” (1 Jn. 1) When Thomas touched Jesus’ flesh he proclaimed Jesus’ divinity. (Augustine) He is the Word made flesh, born through the closed doors of the Blessed Virgin who then appears in the flesh through the closed doors in order to bring God’s peace to men.

We are locked in by our senses and need more to fathom the mysteries of the mercy of God. Jesus’ death on the cross atoned for the sins of the world. His resurrection brings victory over death. These are central tenets of the Christian faith. No other religion brings an incarnate God to the world who becomes man and suffers, dies and rises again. No other religion offers the same hope of eternal life. After Jesus’ resurrection we understand more clearly what He said when He said that He is the way, the truth and the life. Since He is risen from the dead He now lives and reigns on high, though always living in His Church. We are brought into His resurrection first in holy baptism. He is in the proclamation of Absolution and the preaching of the Gospel by His sent ones. And He is in His Holy Supper given at the altar on the eighth day. “With good reason, then, are we accustomed to have sacred meetings in churches on the eighth day . . . Christ still visits us and appears to us all, both invisibly as God and visibly in the body. He allows us to touch His holy flesh and gives it to us. For through the grace of God we are admitted to partake of the blessed Eucharist, receiving Christ into our hands, to the intent that we may firmly believe that he did in truth raise up the temple of his body . . . Participation in the divine mysteries, in addition to filling us with divine blessedness, is a true confession and memorial of Christ’s dying and rising again for us and for our sake. Let us, therefore, after touching Christ’s body, avoid all unbelief in him as utter ruin and rather be found well grounded in the full assurance of faith.” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 12:1, LF 48:684).

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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