Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Wednesday

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 / John 21:1-14

The appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection are mysterious things. They are mysterious not simply because the Resurrection is itself, while an event in history which left and leaves a real discernible impact in the world is nonetheless something altogether supernatural and beyond all earthly categories. They are mysterious because, on the face of it, we might imagine that Jesus would have been far more direct, for more open about them. Why, we may wonder, is Jesus' identity hidden from his disciples eyes, even though they can see him clearly in a material sense? Why, we may ask, was his manifestation after the stone was rolled from the Tomb not more public, more general, rather than restricted to the admittedly sufficient but likewise admittedly numerically few who were his witnesses?

Had the Resurrection of Jesus Christ been a self-enclosed event, had everything else happened to and for Jesus so that this might be so, that he might live again in his body, then indeed we would have a hard time accounting for the logic of his post-Easter appearances. However, the Resurrection, in one sense a supreme good, is more fundamentally a means to an end. Specifically, Jesus' glorification in his body, his personal victory over sin, death, and the devil in his body happened not only for himself, but more truly for our sake, that he might be the first-fruits of the Church, that he might in his own person inaugurate the life of his Body, the Church, in whose net he means to draw out from the sea of the world an abundant catch.

If, then, Christ risen from the dead is the beginning of the Church on earth, even as Christ in his Harrowing of Hell might be said to have opened the way of Purgatory, and Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father the Church in triumph, it follows that his appearances should also set the standard for the way the Church will both share and share in the Good News. In fact, this is precisely what they do. Specifically, two modes of encounter typify the life of the Church. The first is that the faithful in the Church always know of Jesus and his saving power not directly, but through the witness of others. So, we read that, on seeing the miraculous catch of fish, while not yet seeing in the strict sense that the man on the shore was Jesus, all the same the disciple whom Jesus loves was able to declare It is the Lord. Moreover, it is on the basis of that declaration alone, on the word of his brother apostle making sense of the events surrounding him that Peter is moved to his dramatic response: Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, girt his coat (for he was naked) and cast himself into the sea.

The second is that the faithful, knowing the presence of Jesus in their lives by witness and proclamation rather than direct intuition, partake in his life less by seeking information from him or abandoning the things of this world than by engaging the ordinary tasks of life with the full awareness that Jesus is among them. Jesus saith to them: Come, and eat. And none of them who were at meat durst ask Him: Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord. And Jesus cometh, and taketh the bread and giveth them, and fish in like manner. It is through the eucharistic sharing in the broken bread that the disciples on the short, like the travellers on the road to Emmaus, come to know Jesus. It is through what is at one and the same time something humble and simple, yet also ineffable, beyond the power of words or reason to tease out, that the disciples then, and the Church ever since, has encountered and been encountered by the risen Lord.

We may sometimes find ourselves wanting another way, something more direct, more personalized, more immediate, but this is not Christ's way. Jesus is, however, no more distant from us through the proclamation of the Church and the common sharing in the Eucharist than he would be had we eaten bread and fish with him along the shore. He is just as close to us as to them, and we need fear no loss of standing where we stand, living where we live.

The Church whom Jesus loves speaks to us, as the beloved disciple spoke to Peter: It is the Lord. Are we ready to plunge into the sea to go and greet him?

We beseech Thee, O Lord, cleanse us from our old nature and, by the reverent reception of Thy Sacrament, change us into a new creature.

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