Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why Are You Afraid? Touch Me, and See That I Am Really Alive.

The people who call themselves Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, and together comprise the Sioux Nation, have a saying, “After they die, the first question people ask is this: ‘Why was I so frightened?’”

They would not have been as surprised as many folks of European ancestry were when psychiatrist, Doctor Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published On Death and Dying forty years ago this year. Her book was based on interviews with people who had been declared clinically dead, and then revived. “The most common denominator of all these people is that, when they come back, many of them resent our desperate attempts to bring them back to life. None of the patients who had a death experience and returned are ever afraid to die again.”

With Doctor Kubler-Ross as background, let us look more closely at this Gospel of the Resurrection.

On the third day after the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus, the disciples of Jesus are gathered in the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Seder with Jesus, afraid for their own lives. Two of them had gone to Emmaus, but now they return and tell the others that they have seen Jesus, that he is alive, and they knew him in the breaking of the bread. Suddenly, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you!” Yet they feel no peace, in fact, you might say that they are “scared half to death!” Jesus asks, “Why are you frightened? Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” He asks them to look at him, and to touch him. “Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones”, he says, “I do!” Then, to make the point perfectly clear, he asks, “Do you have something to eat?” and then shares a meal of baked fish with them. Luke doesn’t mention tartar sauce or French fries, which are not a custom of that place and time.

In the Gospel, Luke, himself a physician, wants to reassure us that the Risen Lord is truly alive in the flesh. Remember what he says the following Sunday to Thomas, who wasn’t there the week before. “You want to put your fingers in the nail marks, and your hand in the place of the lance? Go ahead! Don’t be an unbeliever, but believe!”

The conclusion of Luke’s gospel, taken together with the opening chapters of the second volume of his masterwork, the Acts of the Apostles, marks the transition between Easter and Pentecost, between the age of the Messiah in the Flesh, and the age of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s first reading, we can see the effect upon Peter of knowing that Jesus is as truly alive now as he was at the Last Supper, on the night before he died. Now, he and the other disciples are no longer paralyzed by fear, but speak boldly, confidently, joyfully to the people of Jerusalem: The Holy and Righteous One you put to death has been raised from the dead by God, and we are his witnesses. But we know, and God knows, that you acted out of ignorance, and so did your leaders, so that God could fulfill the promise he made through the prophets, that the Messiah would suffer and die in order to redeem God’s people. The message is this: You have no reason to be afraid of being punished for your sins. Repent, be converted, and your sins will be wiped away. Follow the path on which you are led by the Holy Spirit, and you will live forever.

In his epistle, Saint John brings that same to you and me: we can be sure that the living Christ will abide in our hearts if we keep his commandments and his commandment is this: Love one another as He has loved us. Do this, and you will live – forever!

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