Sunday, 3 April 2016

Easter Week 2 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 117/118; Apocalypse 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31

Arriving at Rome's Fiumicino airport, one is greeted by a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Here and there throughout the terminal buildings are fashion pictures many times lifesize of beautiful women and handsome men. The last time I passed through, a man stopped in front of me to take a photograph of one of these goddesses.

A question raised by today's gospel reading is 'what does the most perfect, most glorious, and most beautiful human body look like?' Something like the bodies of the gods and goddesses of Fiumicino? What is presented to our eyes there are not human bodies at all, not flesh and blood. They never age or wrinkle, they do not even breathe or sweat, one imagines they have been photoshopped to remove freckles, moles and other indelicate blemishes. But the glorified body of the Risen Lord is not like this. It is not in some kind of photogenic perfection that his glory and beauty are to be found.

The apostle Thomas is to be thanked not so much for asking the reasonable question - 'you expect me to believe that without some evidence? ' - as for being the first Christian to direct our attention to the wounds of Jesus. The glorified body of the Risen Lord is not photoshop-perfect and this is because it is a real human body. It is sometimes said that John's gospel is the most spiritual of the gospels but it can just as easily be described as the most physical. It begins by telling us that the Word became flesh and it ends telling us about the fleshliness of the Risen Lord, how physical a reality He is. The moment in which his flesh is opened and penetrated by the soldier's lance is of great significance: blood and water flowed out, as the one who witnessed it can testify. Thomas is invited to retrace the route of the lance.

The bodies presented to our eyes at Fiumicino cannot suffer or endure anything, but the body of the Risen Lord is marked by the wounds of his passion. The damage done to him in the course of his life and death, the scars of his work, the abuse to which he was subjected - all of this can heal in some ways, it is even taken up into the glorification of his body, but it will always be there, it will always be a fact about the life lived in this body, the suffering endured by it. The story of that body's experience in this world is forever inscribed in its flesh. Thomas helps us to see that there is damage done to bodies that can never be undone, that there are wounds, weaknesses and imperfections that are still to be seen even in the glory of the Resurrection. Thomas sets it up for Jesus to teach us that by His wounds we are healed, because in His wounds He is glorious.

Vulnera means wounds, vulnerability is the ability to be wounded. Bodies that are only fantasies cannot be wounded or affected in any way, they cannot be touched, and are not susceptible to suffering. In today's second reading John introduces himself as our brother, because he shares our suffering and our endurance. This is what bodies are capable of, suffering, endurance, touching and being touched, affecting and being affected. This is what the glorified body of Jesus is gloriously capable of, touching and being touched, affecting and being affected. In other words, in his risen body, and more than ever, he is capable of loving.

We become expert at knowing the vulnerabilities of others and the more intimately we share life the more expert we are at this. We can exploit and abuse others, taking advantage of their vulnerability. But it is in wounds and in weakness, in limitation and in imperfection, that the work of grace is seen most clearly. The disciples realised this early, Paul most remarkably, that when we are weak we are strong, that God's grace is sufficient for our weakness, that God's weakness is more powerful than human strength and his foolishness wiser than human wisdom. The saints who are most useful to us are not the ones who are photoshop-perfect, whom we project into a place of super-human perfection, spiritual giants equivalent to the physical giants in the pictures at Fiumicino. The saints who are most useful to us are the ones in whom we see God's grace shining gloriously through human weakness: Augustine, Paul, Jerome, Teresa, Therese.

We must look then to the wounds of Our Lord and also to our own wounds. These are places of suffering, but that means they are places that solicit love, for to love is to be vulnerable, touchable, open to sharing the sufferings of another. The body of the Risen Lord is the most beautiful, glorious, compelling, and seductive, body in creation. And it is so because in the Resurrection it remains a body capable of breathing and living, capable of touching and loving. We do not worship idols that are dead no matter how beautiful they seem. We worship the living and true God who shares our weakness so that we (even in our flesh) might share His glory.

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