THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER – Quasimodo geniti
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)
“Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Just because the Easter candy is now 50 per cent off at the stores does not mean that Easter is said and done for another year. In the Church, it is Easter and will remain Easter for six more Sundays—a week of Sundays. In fact, in the mediæval Church of England, the Mass of Easter Day was used on all Sundays in Eastertide (the Masses for the other Sundays were used only on the respective intervening weekdays). In the historic church calendar, Sundays all have names, taken from the opening words of the Introits. Today is Quasimodo geniti, Latin for “like newborn babes.” Most of us are a little older than newborn babes, so what could this be about? The reference is to Baptism. In the Early Church, new converts to the Christian faith would have gone through a lengthy and rigorous period of instruction and examination before being admitted to full Church membership. This period, known as the catechumenate, culminated on Holy Saturday, when young and old alike were baptized at a long service, keeping vigil on that holy sabbath when our Lord rested in the tomb after his work of redeeming the world on the cross. For seven days thereafter, these neophytes wore white robes, attended Mass every day, and were further instructed in the Faith. Today, the first Sunday after Easter, they would have put off their white robes (giving this Sunday its other name, Dominica in Albis [deponendis]), and returned to life as usual, to begin their Christian journeys in the world. Perhaps they would have already begun to experience some of the let-down, the feeling of having come down from the mountaintop and returned to mundanity. I expect that many of us experience a similar feeling of spiritual let-down after Easter morning. How can anything compare with the intensity of Holy Week and Easter? So the Liturgy wisely encourages them, and us: “Like newborn babes, continue to crave pure spiritual milk.”
That first Easter had been an even more intense roller coaster ride of emotions and seemingly conflicting truths. The women had come early to the tomb and found it open. It looked as if the body of Jesus had been stolen by grave robbers, but that didn’t make much sense. They then saw two men in white, who told them, “He is not here, He is risen,” but that did not completely sink in, either. They ran to the disciples and recounted what the angels had told them. Peter and John sped off to see for themselves, and found the tomb empty, just as the women had said, but no body, no angels, no Jesus. Then, the same day, at evening, Jesus appeared in the midst of the assembled disciples, showing them His hands and His side. 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 and fast-bolted hearts cannot come between us.” And then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
Like newborn babies, crave this pure spiritual milk. The Christian life is not just a focus on being reborn in Christ as though it were something that happened once in our lives in the distant past. The Christian life is born out of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it is born out of the death and resurrection of Jesus into which we were baptized, and continues on from there. And what does that new life in Christ look like? Peace with Christ. Peace from Christ. Peace in Christ. 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. With His words and His wounds, His breath and His Spirit, Jesus makes apostles out of His disciples and sends them with the authority of His Name. That is the essence of our life in Christ. It is the essence of the life of faith lived out through the Church: life in the presence of and in the peace of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, 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 proclaim 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, and thus, their sins will be “retained.”
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.
In John chapter 11, it was Thomas who had encouraged the other disciples to accompany Jesus on His dangerous mission back into the now hostile territory of Judea to visit Mary and Martha upon the death of Lazarus, with the words, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” When told by his fellow disciples that they had seen Jesus alive, Thomas merely wants the same experience that the others have had. He wants to see the Lord’s hands and side. He wants what they have received from the Lord, His blessing, peace, and restoration. For Thomas, no half-baked platitude that Jesus is raised in our hearts or that the spirit of Jesus lives on through His teaching will do. Thomas needs to know that his Lord, Jesus, is truly alive, risen from the dead, and not a mere ghost or wishful thinking. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. And so, with His words and His wounds, His breath and His Spirit, Jesus creates faith and feeds the newborn faith He creates.
But let us really look at Thomas. Is he really all that different from the other disciples? Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty, so she ran and told Peter and John. Did they immediately believe her? No. They went to the tomb to see for themselves. Not until they go inside and see the linens lying empty in the tomb do they believe. What is it that they believe, though? That Jesus has risen? No. We are told, “They did not yet understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (Jn 20.9). They return back home, knowing only that the tomb is empty. Even Mary, when Jesus appears to her directly, does not know Him at first. And even after she does recognise Him, she goes back and tells the disciples, but we are given no indication that they do anything more about it. In fact, in the other Gospel accounts, it tells us that they did not believe what she told them. As Luke puts it, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Lk 24.11). Then we get to the passage for today, and what happens? The disciples are in a locked room, and Jesus comes and stands among them. Do they immediately cry out in belief? No. They cry out in fright, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Then Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Do they then immediately proclaim His resurrection? No. “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. And THEN the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Are these really the faithful disciples of whom Thomas alone is the miserable sceptic? No. All the disciples needed proof to believe. All of them saw Jesus, all of them heard Jesus, and all of them saw the evidence of His bodily resurrection. And it was only after they saw this proof that they believed and rejoiced.
Thomas has been told by Jesus Himself that in seeing Jesus he has seen God. So when the disciples tell him three days after the crucifixion that they have seen Jesus alive, is it any wonder he wants to see for himself? He knows what seeing Jesus means. Seeing Jesus means seeing God. Ah, yes, you might say, but he doesn’t just want to see him, he says he will not believe until he does see him. But, here again, we see Thomas actually being faithful to Jesus, because Jesus has warned the disciples, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them!” (Lk 21.8). Thomas will not be led astray. Faithful to his Lord’s words, he is going to test the evidence. But the most significant thing we must understand here is that Thomas did not just believe what he saw. Thomas also believed what he did not see. Remember, Thomas has seen someone come back from the dead before. He was there when Jesus raised Lazarus. Being alive after being dead does not necessarily equal being God. The key for Thomas is that he knows the implications of what he has seen. He believes that Jesus is not only alive, but also is God. The other disciples rejoice at seeing Jesus alive, but Thomas is the only one who proclaims “My Lord and my God!” Thomas is both the one who sees and believes that Jesus has risen and the one who has not seen, and yet believes beyond seeing that Jesus is Lord and God.
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 recognise 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. “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.”
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 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.
John knows that, like Thomas, we are going to need evidence for our faith. And so he provides it. We should let Thomas be our guide, not only not to be afraid to ask questions or seek evidence, but also not to be afraid to accept the amazing reality that is the resurrection: to see with open-eyed faith the confirmation of Jesus’ life and the revelation that He is our Lord and our God. As it was with Thomas and the others gathered in that room on that first Sunday after Easter, so it is with us. Jesus says the same things to us as He said then. Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Your sins are forgiven. Stop being afraid. Stop doubting and believe.
Who are the ‘Doubting Thomases’ in our lives? They may well be our spouses, children or grandchildren, our friends, neighbours, and coworkers, who probably have heard this message of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, but have become disillusioned and are no longer practising the faith in which they were raised. But ultimately, we all are Thomas. We were not at Golgotha. We were not there when they crucified the Lord. We did not see the risen Lord with our own eyes. We were not in the room on that first Easter Day when Jesus appeared. But in spite of our fears and doubts, Jesus comes to us even now in His Word and in His wounded Body given into death for us. He comes to us. In fact, there has never since been a day of the week when Jesus has not come to His gathered disciples. That is John’s point. Every Mass is Holy Week, every Mass is an Easter, and every Mass is a new creation where the Lord is present with His disciples, equipping them for every good work and pouring out His Word and His wounds, His breath and His Spirit, and we receive them as new creations, as newborn babes.
Christ makes Himself known to us in the glory of His Resurrection. He comes into our midst, and engages us where we are, in order to bring us where He is. He comes into our midst to bring us out of the tomb, and into the life, peace, and forgiveness which God alone can give. This is the power of the Resurrection for us and in us—new and everlasting life; 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, and the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is made known far and wide—made known so as to be believed; believed 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—for the very first time.
Today’s Lessons challenge us to ask: Has the death and resurrection of Christ really changed my life? 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? Are we 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 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 is not 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, “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (I Peter 2.2-3). And let us pray 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.
“But these things 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.”
Χριστός ανέστη! Христóсъ воскрéсе! 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.
May 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.