Seeing and believing

Second Sunday of Easter (B)

Last Sunday the Church celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus as it has done for two millennia. The Church joyfully proclaimed as it has done over the centuries, “the Lord is risen as he said, alleluia”. This single event has changed everything about human existence. It is the pivotal point of human history. It gives meaning, purpose and hope to every human life.  

This single event is at the very heart of the proclamation of the Church to the world. The primary duty of the Church is to proclaim the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ to the world so that all may come to believe and be saved. This message has inspired missionaries to go to the very ends of the earth with the message of salvation.

St Paul, for instance, declared his message in these words: “We have come to tell you the good news. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us their children that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead” (Acts 13:32). This is the proclamation that the Church offers to the world.

This simple, clear message calls people to faith that their lives may come under the saving grace of Christ’s redemptive death on Calvary. The Christian faith is not just about Jesus in his teaching and example, but in what his death and resurrection has meant for every aspect of human life.

The Paschal mystery and the opportunity to embrace its power to save is what is vital.

The four Gospels all record episodes when the risen Lord appeared to his disciples following his resurrection. In these accounts we can see the disciples moving from doubt and unbelief to astonishment and joy at the truth that the Lord, this Jesus of Nazareth whom they had known, has risen indeed. One can understand their slowness to believe and to understand the significance of what had taken place by his death on Calvary. This was an unprecedented event and something never imagined. It did take them time to absorb its full implications.

The appearances of the risen Lord to the disciples are designed not only for their own personal faith, but so that they can be witnesses of the resurrection “in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The description of the appearance of Jesus recounted by St John is especially poignant. It is the story of seeing and believing. The apparitions of the Lord to his disciples take on a very significant character. The disciples witness Jesus in his risen body.

When Jesus appears among them, after the greeting, we are told that “he showed them his hands and his side”. He wanted to confirm that the man standing before them was he who was crucified.

When Thomas who was absent is told that the risen Lord has appeared to them he is sceptical. He says, “Unless I can see the holes that the nails have made and put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe” (Jn 20:35). He will not accept the witness of his brother disciples. He demands personal verification by sight, by actually touching the very wounds of Christ. He wants verifiable proof.

We know well what transpires a week later. On appearing again among the disciples, Jesus immediately addresses the unbelief of Thomas. He asks Thomas to put his hands into the wounds. He is invited to touch the risen body to prove that it is absolutely real. Then, we read of Thomas’s complete submission in faith in the wonderful words, “My Lord and my God”.

The apostles were charged with preaching the Resurrection of Christ to the world. This event suggests that Jesus wanted to be sure that each of them had no doubt. For them seeing was believing.

The Apostles were privileged to see Jesus, real, human, risen in bodily form. They ate and drank with him. They had no doubt not only that the Resurrection had occurred but that Jesus had risen in his earthly body. This was a unique experience. All others would come to believe on the basis of their testimony.

Thus, St John begins his first letter with the declaration: “Something which has existed from the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word who is life – this is our subject” (1 Jn 1:1). John gives his personal testimony from his direct experience.

The Apostles were given the singular blessing of directly encountering the risen Christ in the flesh. Their faith in the fact of the resurrection was confirmed by their immediate experience. They would then have the task of proclaiming this truth and could testify to what they believed with absolute certainty.

On the basis of their testimony people down through the ensuring centuries would come to believe. Thus Jesus, aware that the disciples were blessed by the direct experience of his bodily appearance, comments, “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen but believe”.   

St Peter commented in his first letter, “You did not see him, yet you love him, and still without seeing him you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9).

Faith in the Lord’s bodily resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is the good news that the Church proclaims to all the world – “Happy are those who have not seen but believe”.  

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, 7 April 2024

Tags: Homilies