The Second Sunday of Easter
[Scripture Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31]
One Sunday a little girl, about four and a half years old, went to church with her grandparents. She sat between them, playing with the lace on her pretty dress. She heard the priest say that Jesus died for our sins. Startled, she looked up at her grandfather and asked, “Is Jesus dead?” He patted her knee and quietly reassured her, “It’s okay honey, Jesus died but he came back to life. He’s alive.” She smiled and began swinging her legs back and forth underneath the pew. Then she heard the priest say, “Even your parents will die.” She looked at her grandfather in alarm and asked in a trembling voice, “Are my parents dying?” “No, no,” he replied, “Not your parents. They’re still young and strong and very healthy. They’re just fine. They won’t die for a long time.” She repeated, “My parents aren’t dying. They’re young and healthy.” Then she caught her grandfather off guard: “Grandpa, you and Grandma are very old and often sick. You are dying.” This left him speechless. He looked at Grandma with pleading eyes to come to his rescue. Before she could say anything, the little girl reflected out loud, “Jesus isn’t dead. He came back. He’s alive, but he’s still on the cross.”
Yes, everywhere she looks, in churches and homes and on rosaries, the image kept before her eyes and ours is not of Jesus rising from the tomb but of Jesus stretched out on the cross. Why? Jesus died and came back. Why do we still show him on the cross? In part, it is because remembering how Jesus died to save us stirs us to grateful love and encourages what is best in us.
In Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the story of British soldiers, prisoners of war, who were forced by the Japanese to labor on a jungle railroad, the railroad of death. Suffering drove the prisoners to hate their captors. Even their behavior toward one another degenerated into division and bitterness. One day a shovel was missing. Enraged, the officer in charge demanded it be returned. Not one of the prisoners budged. The officer raised his gun and threatened to begin killing them on the spot if the guilty one did not come forth. It was obvious he meant what he said. Then one of the prisoners stepped forward, trembling with his head bowed. The officer immediately killed him. After this he ordered a recount of all the tools to be sure nothing else was missing. At the second count it was discovered that none of the shovels had been missing. There had been a miscount the first time. Every tool was there. Word spread like wildfire throughout the whole camp. An innocent man laid down his life to save them! His sacrifice had a profound effect. Prisoners began treating each other like brothers. And not only each other. When the victorious Allies swept in, the surviving soldiers who were hardly more than human skeletons, stood between their captors and the Allies. Instead of attacking, they protected the Japanese, saying, “No more hatred, no more killing. Now … forgiveness!” One man’s sacrificing love transformed them.
The image of God’s love for us, Jesus dying on the cross, transforms us. But there is deeper reason why Jesus is still on the cross. Whenever one of his members suffers, Jesus suffers, for we are his body. When our bodies are in pain, our heads suffer as well. Eight days after his resurrection Jesus appeared to the apostles. He stretched out his hands before them and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands; and bring your hand and put it into my side…” Jesus could have said, “Look at my hands, look at my side. See the wounds.” Instead, he tells Thomas to enter his wounds, “Put your hand into my side.” Let your flesh become one with my flesh, your sufferings with my sufferings. Jesus is still on the cross because we, his body, suffer many things.
The sacrifice of one soldier inspired the others by his example of love for them. The inspiration Jesus gives is infinitely greater. He breathes his Spirit into us, in-spiration. He enters us and takes our wounds upon himself in order to bear our sufferings with us. Yes, Jesus will be on the cross with us until the last member of his body shares in his resurrection and ascends with him into the kingdom of heaven.
In baptism and confirmation we enter the wounds of Christ, passing through them into his heart. Just as Christ died once, so too, we only need to be baptized and confirmed once to become sharers in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. The Eucharist is different. Christ enters our flesh with his body and blood many times, as often as we let him. Since we suffer and die a little every day, we need him every day.
Today, at this liturgy, my grandniece, Katie Wall, will receive her first communion. Christ will enter her with his body and blood for the first time. She will become one with him and each of us. For our life in Christ means that we are never alone. May her union with the Body of Christ bring out what is best in her. May Christ fill her with love and joy. May any sorrows that come her way be transformed into acts of love for him and reach their fulfillment in the resurrection and heaven.