Sunday, May 1, 2011

Second Sunday of Easter: Belief without Seeing as Transformation in the Spirit

The Gospel of John is wholly unique in the way that it depicts Christ's Resurrection and his first appearance to the disciples (John 20:19-31). Unlike the other Gospel writers who have Jesus rising, spending a period of time with his disciples instructing them, ascending to heaven, and than sending the Holy Spirit to them (Pentecost), John conflates the Resurrection and sending of the Spirit into one event occurring simultaneously. To conflate two things or ideas is to "bring them together; to meld or fuse them." What is the significance of conflating the Resurrection and the sending of the Spirit in John? To begin with, it's important to bear in mind that John was written 30-40 years after the other Gospels. Hence, the Christian community had the opportunity to mull over, reflect on, and experience the power of Christ's Resurrection for some time. Therefore, we can presume that the point isn't a historical one but a theological one. The Christian community has come to understand the Resurrection not merely as God's "antidote" to death, nor even sin, but, as the "doorway" to new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. "Belief" in Jesus no longer is a matter of seeing the risen Lord, nor even professing faith in Christ's with one's lips, but, even more, by being transformed through the Spirit. Jesus tells Thomas after appearing to him, "blessed are those who have not seen and believed." (John 20:29). We are indeed blessed in not seeing the Lord because we must rely, rather, on the presence of the Spirit in our lives as a guiding and empowering force which transforms us, our relationships, our communities, and, even our world ever slowly but surely into a "Christ-like" environs that is more open to God's Kingdom.

To see an example of what it means to believe in Christ as transformation through the Spirit, take for example the aftermath of the horrific storms that ripped through Alabama, Mississippi, and a number of other southern states this past week. Despite the apocalyptic-like carnage surrounding the survivors of these storms, many have spoken of how fortunate and blessed they feel to be alive, of having a new appreciation for life, of relationships that are being strengthened through this tragedy, and of communities that are drawing together more closely in mutual support, care, concern, and love. The bonds being formed among members of these devastated communities and those who are reaching out to them both near and far speak to similar dynamics that were at the heart of the early Christian communities mentioned in today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: "They devoted themselves 
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, 
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
 Awe came upon everyone, 
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
 All who believed were together and had all things in common." (Acts 2:42-47). The Risen Lord is indeed at work every bit as much today as he was immediately after the Resurrection, forming disciples whose faith is grounded not in seeing but in transformation through the Spirit. Pat, TOR