Aftershocks are very disconcerting. They keep us living on the edge. They give us a radically new outlook on the permanency and security of physical things. They unclutter our lives very swiftly, effectively, and sometimes very painfully. They open our eyes and let us see how fragile we really are.
We are now invited to celebrate the Fifty days of Easter - fifty days because this one event cannot be captured in a single day - fifty days to let the aftershock of this incredible event vibrate in our minds and hearts and spirits. The aftershocks of Christ's Resurrection should loosen up the tight grip of our self-centeredness and hard-heartedness. They should shake us up, and rock the foundations of the fortress we have built for our complacency, our prejudice, our fears, our spitefulness, and our passing judgment on others. They should open our hearts and remind us once again that even after 2000 years there is so much left to do.
The Gospel incident with Thomas also highlights this same sense of aftershock and awe. The evangelist tells us that immediately following the Resurrection, the disciples locked themselves in the upper room and went into hiding. They were devastated by the death of Jesus; everything they had worked for the last three years was now destroyed. They had no one to turn to, nowhere to go, and they were afraid – they felt helpless and hopeless; and they were angry – angry with Jesus, angry with themselves, and angry with each other.
And then suddenly, without them even knowing, the Lord was there, among them... and he breathed on them, and he wished them his peace. Without a word, he forgave Peter for denying him three times; he embraced Thomas in his doubts. He didn’t reprimand a single one of them for abandoning him – but instead sent them forth to continue his work among God’s people – and he promised that he would never abandon them.
This is simply how God works... and it is the best description of the journey of faith that we have – it doesn’t get any better than this. The spiritual life is indeed life, at whose core is God’s Spirit. However, it is life; and as we all know, life can sometimes be sloppy; sometimes we can really screw it up.
But this journey of faith is, in fact, a series of journeys, all of which have paths that twist and turn; there are hills and valleys, joys and sorrows. Sometimes, there are magnificent victories; at other times, there are terrible failures and tragic defeats. But none of this – none of this – makes any difference at all to God.
Because, you see, the spiritual journey is not about us. It has everything to do with God. In reality, there are no guidelines that we can follow; there are no checklists that we can refer back to, to reassure ourselves that we are doing everything the right way. All we have is a promise – the promise of Jesus that he will always be with us – that he will never abandon us.
And because of this promise, our mission to proclaim the good news of salvation to all becomes just a little easier. We can heal the broken-hearted – because we first have felt the healing power of Christ in our lives; we can forgive those who have sinned against us and against the world, because we first have been forgiven; we can enable others to experience the presence of Christ in their lives, because we first have been found by Him, we are known to him and we have been loved by Him in ways that we could never imagine. We can become Christ’s light to the world, knowing full well that even the smallest and most insignificant of flames is far more powerful than the darkness itself.
Faith in the resurrection of Jesus means much more than just believing that He has come back to life. It means that He has overcome death forever; that in His humanity He has moved to a state of existence that is beyond space and time. It means that we dispense with childish, earthbound images of Jesus as having a shiny body suspended somewhere in space, floating triumphantly somewhere between heaven and earth.
It also means that we come to a deeper understanding of what Church really is - especially now, in these extraordinary times. Jesus rises to new life to bring to perfection His work of redemption. He rises to continue to teach, to heal, to forgive, to commission until the end of time, and He does that in and through His Body the Church. You and I are the Church. We cannot, we must not fail each other. We may need a renewed birth of the Church and dramatic changes in policies and practices. And that is not a bad thing.
Our Easter Prayer should be that we might always have the courage to believe the words of Jesus when he tells us that he will always be with us and that he will never abandon us. If we can believe this, then despite the barriers that we place in front of ourselves, despite the walls that we build around ourselves for protection and safety, and despite the doors that we lock and hide behind... suddenly, without our even knowing, the Lord will be present among us – and he will breathe on us… and he will wish us his peace.