Orthodox Commentary on Theology, Ethics, and Culture
Sunday, April 19, 2015
The Risen Lord Is Truly With Us! Homily for Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church
Acts 5:12-20; St. John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen!
On this Sunday of St. Thomas, we have only begun our celebration of Pascha, of our Lord’s victory over death through His glorious resurrection on the third day. Since we are all too well adjusted to the darkened world of sin and corruption, it takes time for us to enter into the joy of the empty tomb, to adjust our spiritual vision to the brilliant light of our Savior’s triumph. Thankfully, the season of Pascha provides us with forty days to grow in our personal participation in the blessed truth that Christ is risen from the dead—and, in Him, we are too.
Jesus Christ is risen with His Body as a whole, complete human being who is also God. That is why Hades and the tomb could not hold Him captive and also why His resurrection is such good news for us. We share in His resurrection already through our participation in His Body, the Church. His Body and Blood strengthen us to participate more fully in His glorious, eternal life in every Divine Liturgy. When we receive “the medicine of immortality,” the One Who has conquered the grave nourishes, heals, and transforms us more fully for the life of heaven even as we live and breathe on the earth.
Of course, the holy mystery of the Eucharist is a miracle and beyond human explanation. We were baptized into His death in order to rise with Him into the true life for which He originally created us. Through all the holy mysteries of His Body, the Church, we share ever more fully in the good news of this season. We call the celebration of His resurrection “Pascha,” which means Passover, because Jesus Christ is our Passover from death to life. Our entire life in His Body, the Church, is an ongoing participation in the new day of the Kingdom that He has begun, which should transform every dimension of our lives, seven days a week, the whole year round.
There is certainly something new in Christ’s followers in our readings today from the Acts of the Apostles. In the gospels, the disciples so often misunderstood the Lord and were not able to minister effectively in His name. They doubted the testimony of the women who heard of the resurrection from the angel at the tomb and generally abandoned Christ at His arrest and crucifixion. But in Acts, they perform so many signs and wonders that the sick trust that they will be healed by the mere shadow of St. Peter falling on them. Multitudes of sick and demon-possessed people sought out the apostles, who healed them all. What on earth has happened to that formerly confused and doubting group?
The answer is clear: Christ has conquered sin and death in their lives. He empowers them to manifest the glory of His resurrection when He says: “Peace be to you. As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” They share in their own lives in the salvation of the Lord. He lives in them and they live in Him. Christ is the vine, and they are the branches. They are members of the Body of which He is the Head. His victory over sin, the grave, and all human corruption is now theirs; the change in their lives is clear and evident for all to see.
We may wonder, however, if the same is really true of us. Does Christ’s victory over sin and death really transform our lives? Is the Risen Lord just as present for us as He was to the disciples? We would probably find that hard to believe for we have not seen the Risen Jesus as the apostles did, miraculously present with a glorified body that still bore His wounds. No, we were not there then, but He is here now. Remember what the Lord said to St. Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Just as doubting and fearful disciples became faithful, bold preachers and wonderworkers, the Savior calls and enables us to know personally the healing and transforming power of His resurrection. In the holy mystery of the Eucharist, Christ is truly present with us just as He was when He showed St. Thomas His wounds. We commune with the Risen Lord when we receive Communion. We unite ourselves to the glory of His resurrection when we receive His Body and Blood, offered for our salvation and raised in glory. If we receive Him in this way, we must also live with Him and shine forth with the glorious victory over sin and death revealed on the day of Pascha. He wants us not only to celebrate this joyful season with services, songs, and feasting, but most profoundly with holiness, with a newly empowered life that shines with heavenly light.
We may want to excuse ourselves from this high calling, of course. In contrast with the brilliant light of Pascha, we may see the darkness and brokenness in our lives all too well. Christ has conquered sin and death, but we all still bear their wounds in so many ways; and sometimes we wonder if this glorious news of life eternal really applies to us with all our struggles, pains, weaknesses, and failings.
We may have a romanticized and unrealistic view of what living the life of the resurrection actually means. Some think that true holiness means escape from all pains and problems, from involvement in anything that is not totally separate from life in the world as we know it, or a kind of perpetual retreat from reality. But notice, for example, that when the risen Lord appears to His disciples, He still bears His wounds. He was not raised as a ghost or a spirit, but as the God-Man, a whole human being with a body that bore the consequences of the battle He fought for us. His horrible wounds were part of Who He freely chose to become for our sake, and He arose victorious with them. He took these wounds upon Himself purely out of love for us and has used them to defeat death itself, the wages of sin and our ancient foe that has brought human beings misery and despair from generation to generation.
There is more to sharing in the glory of eternal life than simply acknowledging or singing about Christ’s resurrection. To participate fully in the Lord’s great victory is an eternal journey, a process of growing in holiness, and none of us is anywhere near completing it. Nonetheless, we must recognize that Christ rose again to bring the dead to life, to heal our wounds, to save sinners, and to transform all who bear His image and likeness. He rose to heal the world, not to escape it. No matter how weak, sick, and corrupt we are, His divine mercy extends to us personally. He intends to bless and save us all. The good news of Pascha is that we are no longer the slaves of sin and death. Now evil only has the power in our lives that we allow it to have; the same is true of the fear of death, violence, suffering, and all the other works of darkness that can so easily dominate, distort, and destroy us. These harsh realities are part of the world as we know it, but our Savior’s empty tomb shows that they too are essentially empty, that they too have been conquered, and that our calling is to becoming living witnesses of this blessed freedom each day of our lives in every thought, word, and deed.
So no matter how difficult our struggles are or how weak we feel before them, let us rejoice in the resurrection of Christ. No matter how far short we have fallen from faithfulness in any way, let us embrace the new life brought to the world by the empty tomb. And let us also embrace one another, forgive all offenses, and pray for and bless our enemies, for Christ’s resurrection has conquered death and sin, which are the very roots of all estrangement, hatred, and brokenness in our relationships with other people.
Through the holy mysteries of His Body, the Church, our risen Savior enables us all to pass over from death to life. Now the challenge is for each of us to live in the righteous joy of Christ’s resurrection, to make His victory ours, and to recognize that nothing separates us from His holiness other than our own stubborn refusal to share in His great triumph. So let us celebrate Pascha not by only singing “Christ is Risen,” but also by actually living and experiencing the new life that His empty tomb has brought to the world. For He is with us just as truly as He was with the St. Thomas and other disciples, and He wants to make as big a difference in our lives as He did in theirs. That is the good news that we celebrate during the season of Pascha.