THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER – Quasimodo geniti
Eastertide can be a bit confusing nowadays. While Easter is a Feast Day, it is also a Season of fifty days (a week of weeks) lasting until Shavuoth or Pentecost—literally, the ‘fiftieth day.’ Under the traditional system, as found in the Prayer Book and the Missal, the Sundays during these fifty days are numbered as “Sundays after Easter,” just as we have Sundays after Christmas, after Epiphany, or after Trinity. But with the calendrical reforms following Vatican II, in order to emphasize this special ‘seasonal’ nature of Easter, the Sundays began to be numbered as “Sundays of Easter(tide).” Thus while most churches are observing today as Easter II, for those of us who follow the Traditional Calendar, it is Easter I. This day is also commonly known as “Dominica in albis,” “Quasimodo Sunday,” the “Octave Day of Easter,” “Low Sunday,” or “Thomas Sunday.”
Introit: (I Peter 2.2) As newborn babes, alleluia: desire ye the sincere milk of the Word, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. (81). Sing we merrily unto God our strength: make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob. Glory be … As newborn babes …
Collect: Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. … Amen.
OT Lesson: Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though my skin be thus destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19. 23-27)
Alleluia. In the day of my resurrection, saith the Lord, I will go before you into Galilee. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For [there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And] there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record: that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (I John 5.4-12)
Alleluia. After eight days, the doors being shut, Jesus stood in the midst of his disciples, and said: Peace be unto you. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (St John 20.19-31)
“That same day at evening, the first day of the week, the doors of the house where the disciples were gathered being locked for fear …” So began the Church: huddled behind locked doors; afraid for their own lives, afraid for their uncertain futures; hiding for fear that they, too, might be caught in the persecution that had caused their Lord to be crucified. But some have suggested that maybe the disciples were also afraid of Jesus Himself. After all, they had failed Him miserably. Perhaps the last person the disciples wanted to meet on that first Easter evening was Jesus, who was rumoured to have risen from the dead. So the doors were locked for fear. And then, … Jesus came. He didn’t knock for them to let Him in. He just came in, through their locked door. And the first words He speaks to them are “peace be with you.” No recriminations, no angry tirades—but “shalom—peace,” both a greeting and a blessing that connotes much more than simple tranquillity and freedom from distress, but a deep and holistic sense of well-being—the kind of peace the world cannot give (Jn 14.27). “There is shalom between you and Me, and even your locked doors cannot come between us.”
He who is Himself the “door” (10.7) comes right through their locked doors and appears in the midst of His frightened sheep. He comes to break into their fear, to bring them His peace, but even more, to bring them His life, His Spirit—so that they might not be afraid, not remain sealed away from the outside world, but be empowered and encouraged to go out to live as apostles—those who are sent on a mission—the ambassadors He had called them to be. “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Not hiding in fear, but sent out, out into a world which so desperately needs to hear the good news of hope through the resurrection of Christ; out to preach forgiveness of sins; out to continue Christ’s mission in the world. But they would not be left on their own in this daunting task. He breathes into them the gift of His Holy Spirit (20.22), who will teach them, remind them of all that He has said to them, and guide them into all truth (14.26; 16.12-14).
Then He tells His new apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (20.23). Contrary to the common interpretation, He is not here endowing the disciples with some special authority to decide whose sins will be forgiven and whose will not. “Sin” in John’s Gospel refers not so much to moral transgression as to the refusal to receive the revelation of God in the Person of Christ. Thus, Our Lord is specifying what it actually means to be apostles—to be sent forth to make known the love of God that Christ Himself has made known. As people come to know and abide in Him, they will be “released” from their sins. If, however, those sent by Christ fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained.” So He is charging His apostles with a grave responsibility.
But for whatever reason, Thomas was absent, and missed out on this first encounter with the risen Christ. And although he has gotten a bad rap as “doubting Thomas,” in reality he asks for nothing more than what the others have already received: to see the risen Lord, wounds and all. The most wonderful part of this story is that Jesus appears again a week later with a word especially for Thomas. And Thomas responds with the highest Christological confession of anyone in the Gospels: “My Lord and myGod!” (20.28). And Our Lord’s reply to Thomas is not a rebuke, but rather a blessing, not only upon him, but upon all those who will afterwards come to believe without having had the benefit of a flesh-and-blood encounter with the risen Christ—that is, us.
The Gospel accounts make clear that, for the followers of Jesus, His Resurrection was something quite incredible—even terrifying. Preoccupied with mourning His shameful death by crucifixion, trying to come to terms with that tragedy, trying to accept the bitter end of all their cherished hopes, they had no eyes to see His Resurrection. St Mary Magdalene, at the sepulchre, mistook him for the gardener, until He spoke her name. Two disciples walked and talked with Him for quite some time along the road to Emmaus, but did not recognize Him until He broke the bread at their evening meal. In spite of all He had told them beforehand concerning His death and resurrection, the fact was simply too astounding and foreign a concept to be grasped. They had to be shown the reality of His sacred wounds: “He showed unto them his hands and his side.” The Resurrection is a reality accessible only to faith. This is because Resurrection is far more than simply the resuscitation of a dead body, which would be incredible enough; it is the spiritual transformation of the flesh—life of an altogether different quality, on an altogether different level, and beyond human imagination.
“How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” asks St Paul in First Corinthians (I Cor 15.35 ff). That we cannot tell, unless it be made known to us, unless somehow the doors of our understanding are opened. But then he bids us consider the astonishing transformations which occur in natural creation every day. When one plants a seed, that seed dies, yet from that decaying material issues a new plant entirely different from the tiny seed that was planted. “God giveth it a body, as it hath pleased him, and to each seed its own body. So also,” he says, “is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption … it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” And as Our Lord Himself said, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (St John 12.24). Indeed, the world of nature, with its cycles of decay and rebirth, offers many parables of resurrection: but they are only parables. “Resurrection” indicates a new kind of transformation which is utterly beyond the processes of nature or the scope of human knowledge and understanding. Faith alone can grasp the truth that God, who brings all things from nothing, can also bring life from death, and glory from corruption. And only the fact of Jesus’ own resurrection, and faith in His promises, can establish the ground of the Christian’s hope. As St John says in today’s Epistle, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself … and this is the witness, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son.”
The doctrine of the resurrection testifies to the completeness of our salvation in Christ—a redemption in which nothing can be lost—except sin. Our longing, says Paul, is “not to be unclothed, but to be clothed upon” (II Cor 5.4). And if Christ be in us, “the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom 8.11). As St John says, “We know not yet what we shall be, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (I Jn 3.2). Then our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, “shall change our mortal body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil 3.20-21). And while the manner of that transformation is beyond all explanation, we have this witness in ourselves, for the seed of Our Lord’s resurrection has been sown in our own hearts through faith.
The Resurrection itself was a closed-door event. It happened in the hidden darkness of a sealed tomb, sometime before dawn on that Paschal morning. “O night verily blessed, to thee alone the time and the hour were made manifest, when our Saviour Christ rose again from death unto life,” we sing in the Paschal Proclamation. We have no idea what happened in Our Lord’s Resurrection. We can only know it after the fact, by encountering the Resurrection in all the fulness of its reality. But this requires more than just the opening of the tomb. Our hearts and minds, too, are like closed doors, sealed tombs. What goes on behind the closed doors of our souls? Fear and despair, anger and discouragement, pride and envy? or peace and forgiveness? Fear and sin leave us as closed tombs, dead within ourselves. And being dead in ourselves means that we are also dead to God and to one another. Fear and uncertainty keep us trapped behind those closed doors.
Our fears today are just as real, just as rational, as were those of the disciples. The natural thing to do when we are feeling anxious or threatened is to hunker down and lock the doors, to turn inward and become focussed on our own security rather than the mission to which we are called. Even so, Christ makes Himself known to us in the glory of His Resurrection. He comes into our midst, and engages us where we are, even behind our fast-closed and barred doors, in order to bring us where He is. He comes through our closed doors, bestowing life, peace, and forgiveness. He comes into our midst to bring us out of the tomb; He comes to bring us out from the prisons of our hearts and minds, out into the peace and forgiveness which God alone can give. This is the power of the Resurrection for us and in us—the peace which the world cannot give; forgiveness which only God can bestow. But Christ does not break into our midst by violence. The closed doors of our hearts and minds are not broken down from without, they are opened from within. The stone is rolled away, the door is opened, and the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is made known far and wide—made known so as to be lived. The resurrection is a new creation, including the re-creation and renewing of our hearts and minds. Our lives are transformed, and we are truly alive.
Today’s Lessons challenge us to ask: Has the death and resurrection of Christ really changed our lives? What fears and anxieties keep us locked in—as individuals and as congregations—preventing us from fulfilling the mission to which Our Lord has called and sent us? And what are those doors intended to keep out? Are we, ourselves, hesitant or afraid to be Christians in public? Are we motivated in our everyday lives by fear, or by resurrection power? How do our lives betray our own disbelief? Often it is much easier to sit in that upper room behind locked doors. But the promise of today’s Gospel is that Christ cannot be stopped by our locked doors. He comes to us as He came to those first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt, and confusion. He comes speaking peace, breathing into our anxious lives the breath of his Holy Spirit. And as He came back for Thomas, He continues to come back, not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace He offers. And He keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, out into a world that so desperately needs His gifts of hope and peace.
The Risen Christ appears to us, today, so that we will not be faithless, but believing. Easter isn’t just a day on the calendar to be celebrated once a year. Easter is a way of life—living in the faith and power of the Resurrection. Christ, standing in our midst, communicates His grace to us, breaking us out of the closed tombs of ourselves, leading us into the presence of His endless life. He communicates the reality of His resurrection to us. We have only to live it. We have been born anew, not for fear, but for faith. So let us pray daily to Our Lord who rose from the dead, asking Him for the faith to believe, and courage to live that faith in such a way that others may come to know God because they know us.
Χριστός ανέστη! Christ is risen!
Collect: O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious Resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:
And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.