Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

Thoughts on the Second Sunday of Easter

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There is something especially visceral about that Locked Room at the moment. The first and second Christian Sundays, were evenings where the nascent congregation gathered in fear, they were terrified, as depicted in the Gospel for Easter 2 — John 20.19–31. A small yet prominent section of the Church of England have picked up on and imported the persecution complex of the US Religious Right, compounded with manufactured cases of religious discrimination towards Christians. The disciples were fearful of a very real persecution beyond that Locked Room, we just have to look at the companion reading from Acts, and the other arrests, imprisonments, beatings and executions bear witness to this. Yet this meeting with the risen Jesus transforms hidden cowards into brave martyrs who throw back the bolts, step into the street and proclaim that ‘You may kill me, but this life in me and this message of life cannot die!’

Those who speak falsely about the persecution and discrimination against Christians in the UK, otherwise greatly privileged above other religions, have made a Locked Room for themselves and stuffed fingers in their ears so not to hear Christ’s ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’.

Likewise, the Catholic Church has locked itself in a Vatican upper room over the widespread reports of child sexual abuse by clergy. The church, which we rightly expect to be a beacon of light against sin, has clearly tried to hide its own grievous sins. Ignoring systemic failings, this Locked Room is filled with mutterings about a gossip that is like the Holocaust. The Way of Christ is clear: throw back the bolts and proclaim peace and justice for sin (the gospel for this day has Jesus command his disciples not just to forgive sin, but retain them also: a call to justice).

Thomas is us — our avatar into that Locked Room, projection of our doubts and fears, in need of the transforming touch. His name is the Aramaic ܬܐܘܡܐ T’ōmā, meaning ‘twin’. He is our twin, our way into this profound, transforming meeting with the risen Lord. We are observers to the first Sunday evening, but Thomas’ presence on the second makes us more than observers, we are receivers of his fearless, unstoppable life.

On both visits, Jesus shows them his hands and his side, which bear the wounds of his crucifixion. Our faith is not based around a ghost story. With a piece of broiled fish here, a broken loaf in Emmaus and a breakfast of barbequed fish on a Galilean beach, Jesus is telling us that docetic rumours that God is merely passing through and gnostic ruminations that the body is an evil from which to be liberated are falsehoods. The risen life he embodies is solidly reassuring, almost surprisingly domestic.

The sign of breath — Jesus breathes on his disciples — and the mention of the Holy Spirit and of life in Jesus’ name are facets of the same thing. Life is the breath within us, and so Jesus’ breathing on his disciples is performative of the giving of new life, and the Holy Spirit (from spiritus we have ‘inspire’ and ‘expire’, literally breathing in and out) is that life-giving breath. In both Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic, the vocabulary of life, spirit and breathing are more closely connected than in English.

In our prayers we remember the people of Poland mourning President Lech Kaczynski and all who died with him. We also pray for the Christians of St Thomas in Kerala, South India, who celbrate Thomas as their Great Apostle.

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

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