Today’s Gospel carries a number of powerful messages: about doubt, about the role of faith, about being emboldened and about Christian witness.
But first let’s examine the story. Here they were– 11 disciples gathered in a room discussing the resurrection of the person they had loved and followed. It was a wonderful story and perhaps in their telling it amongst themselves it was more than just excitement; it was both welcoming and reassuring news. But do you think that perhaps there was some confusion about what they were discussing? Remember these were, by worldly definition, simple men. Simple men who were discussing an event that was so big, it almost defied human description.
Suddenly what happens? The man they loved suddenly appears among them. The Gospel tells us that they were so startled “they thought they were seeing a ghost.” Jesus of course recognizes their fear and their amazement so he sets out to do three things to both calm them and to embolden them. The first thing he does is to utter the Jewish greeting that was common to them and reassuring” Peace Be with you.”
Having done that, he invites them to come closer and see that it is truly him. He invites them to touch his hands and feet. They now move from fear to joy but notice the gospel says they were still disbelieving. So he moves again to more familiar territory for them. Breaking bread and sharing a meal around a table. Again, very much a part of their Jewish tradition and a memory they treasured – of the Last Supper with Him. Sharing a meal together. Indeed very much a part of every culture because when we sit around a table and break bread, we are with friends and it is real.
At this point they are beginning to be comfortable and Jesus knows that it is his turn to once again be their rabbi, their teacher. So he takes them to the next level. He explains to them that everything that was written in the Law of Moses and in the psalms is now being fulfilled. That his death and resurrection are not only fulfilling the scripture but that there is even a deeper meaning — that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. Then he says to them: “You are witnesses of these things.”
You are witnesses of these things. That was a precursor to a later event that we celebrate at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and so filled them that they were emboldened to go out and become evangelists for Jesus.
All of this is well and good. But what does it mean for us? Well, I think today’s Gospel parallels our own faith journey.
By various avenues, all of us gathered here today have come to Jesus. Some through being brought up in a faith filled home, some through a personal encounter, a spiritual epiphany, some through the witness or example of a friend. Regardless of how we came to know the Lord, each of us does know the Lord – most of the time. Most of the time? Why do I say that? Because I think it is human to sometimes doubt. Sometimes if we are going through a period of personal darkness, our turmoil, or difficulty, we sometimes doubt the presence of God. It’s almost like shouting “God, are you there? I hope so because I sure need you.’ But unlike today’s Gospel, Jesus does not physically appear or does he? But more on that in a minute or two.
Doubt can lead to fear (as in the disciples today) or to disbelief (as in the story of Thomas last week). In periods of doubt or disbelief, we need something finite to hold onto. We need to know that there are absolutes. If the gale winds are blowing around you, we need to know that we are anchored onto something .We need bedrock. We need a touchstone. Well, I submit that when we doubt, when we have fear, we have three resources to turn to, the first is scripture itself. Just at the point of doubt is when we need to stop and read the reassuring words of scripture as well as the promise of scripture. The second is here in church—gathering as a community to pray together and be together. But It’s the opportunity to not only pray together but to be comforted by our common beliefs and reassurance. The final of course is to receive the blessings of Christ in the Eucharist. To know that the presence of Christ is real and available to us.
So we know doubt is real and we know that there is a prescription to help overcome it. But just like any medicine we need to take it. To take it regularly and in just the right prescription that the doctor ordered – in this case it is really the head surgeon, it’s the Lord himself.
But there is even a harder challenge in today’s Gospel and is contained in the word witness.
Witness is a big word. Have you ever called to be a witness in a trial? Not only is it a bit fearful but you know that you want to be as truthful as possible. You want to be able to recount exactly what is that you are being called to do as a witness.
Well now take that to our Christian witness. What’s that all about? At Easter Vigil, I preached about the Christ within us. Which goes deeper than being Christ-like. Instead, it’s that recognition that there is an in-dwelling of Christ that each of should encounter if we are to know the reality of being Christian. And that is a difficult thing for most of us to do, to not only believe that Christ dwells within us but to contemplate and touch that Christ through prayer and meditation.
And now we move to this final line of Gospel passage today. We are called to witness to this marvelous story of the resurrection. We are called to be agents for Christ. Not just when we gather in Church, not just when we encounter scripture, but we are called to WITNESS to Christ. That means not just being Christ-like but to let those we know and don’t know that we are believers in the good news of the resurrected Christ. Now THAT is difficult. Especially for the more traditional denominations. We don’t necessarily evangelize. We are comfortable coming together in our sacred liturgy and drawing comfort from it. But we don’t think of ourselves as being evangelists.
But from my perspective, it is not a question of taking the Bible in hand and standing on a corner preaching the good news. That’s a big step. Let me share a story (Fr. Feeney story). I’ve never done it since and even doubt that I would have the courage to do it again. But what we can do as witnesses to and for Christ is to use our daily journeys to spread his good news. We can use whatever occasions we have to bring the Lord into conversations. We don’t have to Bible thump but we can use his name, his experiences, his life, his sufferings and his glorious resurrection as living stories that we offer to others. Most of us do some variant of that in our living. We will sometimes refer to what Jesus taught us. What Jesus would have done if he was in our lives (tell what would Jesus say children’s story). But I am talking of making a conscious effort to bring the good news of Jesus more into our daily lives. To take that good news and make it a visible and real part of our lives. Think of it this way. The cross is the standing statement of what we do to one another and to ourselves. The resurrection is the standing statement of what God does to us in return.
If He chose to suffer and die for each one of us and if His Father chose to raise Him up as THE visible statement to the world that He was the Messiah, that He was the fulfillment of scripture, that His death and resurrection brought each of us eternal life , then in that resurrection we need to recognize that each of us is called to cross limits and to transcend boundaries. Yes, our human boundaries, our human habits, can sometimes constrain us and we retreat into a “solitary private faith.” And that faith can sometimes sustain us. But to know the reality of Christ within is to make real the presence of Christ within. It’s not only walking the walk but it truly is literally talking the talk. Talking the talk and making it part of our lives. The more we do that, the more we come closer to the ultimate secret of our lives. The more we do that, the more we come closer to the ultimate secret of discovering what being a Christian fulfilled truly is. Now here is the key to unlocking the Christ within.
We are Christians fulfilled when we come to the point of saying that my life is no longer just about me but rather it is all about you (Jesus Christ).
When we reach that point, we have discovered the Christ within us, When we have discovered the Christ within us then witnessing to him through the living of our daily lives becomes second nature.
Pray God that each of us has the courage to recognize the true center of our lives.