“Jesus came and stood in the midst”
After Easter, everything must seem anti-climatic. And indeed this Sunday is commonly known as Low Sunday, thereby marking just that sense of having come down from the heights of the Easter celebration to our more ordinary and lowly, and even less than ordinary Sunday course of affairs.
And yet, we deceive ourselves. For, in truth, there is no “after Easter” in the sense of an anti-climatic come-down. There is, to the contrary, a continuing sense of renewal and discovery. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ means new birth and new life and there is forever the constant discovery of its radical meaning for our lives.
And, as it happens, this day is also known as Quasimodo Sunday, so-called not because of the mis-shapen bell-ringer of that name in Victor Hugo’s Nôtre-Dame de Paris, but even so after the ancient introit for this day from 1 Peter 2.2, Quasimodo, literally “even as”. “Even as new-born babes long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord”. New birth and new life flow out of the Resurrection; even out of the spectacles of suffering and death, especially, out of the holy dying of one of the great apostles of the Faith, Pope John Paul II, one whose whole ministry, in a way, was about that yearning and that desire for all humanity to “grow up to salvation” precisely because of the profound realization of the grace of Christ, in which, indeed, “[we] have tasted the kindness of the Lord”.
There is always a new sense of discovery about the meaning of the Resurrection. Jesus comes into our midst. There is peace and forgiveness in the presence of the Lord. There is new birth and new life. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world… and this is the witness, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son”.
The “overcoming of the world”. What does this mean? Does it mean “worldly success”? Surely not, for did not Christ say that “my kingdom is not of this world”? Does it mean “beating the world into submission”? Surely not, for have we not begun to discover that the mere assertion of our technocratic will is, at best, ambivalent, if not altogether destructive of our environment and ourselves if it is not contained by a spiritual wisdom? Does it mean “fleeing the world” as something evil? Surely not, for has not the Pope himself taught and shown us something about the dignity of our humanity, that in the grace of God no suffering is without meaning for all suffering can be seen to participate in the saving grace of the sufferings of Christ? Has this not been the witness and the truth of Holy Week? That “if we suffer with him, shall we not also be glorified with him?”
Such a potent phrase, though, is this idea of the “overcoming of the world”. It belongs, in contemporary discourse, to existentialism, to the anti-philosophy which renounces not only God but the whole tradition of philosophical reflection upon nature, ethics and metaphysics to enshrine the primacy of the individual experience in his or her immediate situation. And yet, could there not be a better apostle of Christ to the immediate situation of the individual than what we have been privileged to see in the pontificate of John Paul the II? Here was a man of faith who witnessed to that faith in the midst of the world’s confusions. Here was a man of faith who witnessed to that faith without compromise to its principles and integrity and yet showed the face of its real meaning in compassion and charity, the compassion and charity which refuses to settle for the accommodations to culture and society. Here was a man of faith who engaged modernity respectfully, honourably and fully. “Jesus” is “in the midst”. There must the Church be also.
I cannot but rejoice in the coincidence – the providence – of the John Paul’s passing in the Octave of Easter, on the eve of Quasimodo Sunday! Why? Because it captures so much of what belongs to what has been lost. Because it captures so much of what belongs to a voice which has spoken so strongly, so eloquently, so compassionately, to a world caught in the web of its own deceits and passions.
In a way, the operative word is “overcoming”. At once, the word of existentialism’s strong denial of all things theological and metaphysical, it yet remains a word which has its roots in the Gospel. Like the resurrection itself, which comprehends all the objections to the resurrection, so the gospel in general contains the refutation of the rejection of the gospel. The overcoming of the world belongs to the proclamation, first and foremost, and this already counters the claims of the existential pragmatism of our age which has despaired of reason and philosophy, on the one hand, and has embraced the idolatry of the sensual and the practical, on the other hand, and, moreover, has tried to make the latter the gospel itself. Jesus is in the midst, to be sure, but not to endorse such folly. Nowhere do we see such a potent example of what that principle means than in the pontificate of John Paul II.
The overcoming of the world does not mean worldly success, beating the world into submission by our technocratic hubris, or fleeing the world as contagion and evil. No. The overcoming means, instead, exactly what belongs to the drama of Holy Week and Easter, especially as captured in the Vigil, namely, in the renewal of our baptismal vows, wherein we renounce “the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world with all the covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh”. But the renunciations give place to the greater affirmations captured (for the west) in the baptismal creed; “I believe in God the Father … the Son … and the Holy Ghost”, for who is he “that overcometh the world”, that is to say, is not defined by the world? Only “he that believeth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
What is overcome is all that stands between God and us. We are freed from being defined and determined by the world. We are freed to God. We are freed to God in the world. Such, too, is the witness of John Paul II.
“This is he who came by water and the blood”, even Jesus Christ. Not by water only, for such was John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and baptized with water. It was, at best, a kind of preparation but could not accomplish what it desired. “I have baptized you with water”, says John, “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.
He points to Jesus, who indeed passes through Jordan but only to go on to Calvary, “by water and the blood”. The waters of new and endless life and the blood of the new covenant flow out of the side of the dead Christ while he yet hangs upon the cross. The waters of renewal and the blood of sacrifice come out of him who came “by water and the blood” to accomplish the reconciliation of God and man; in short, human redemption. He comes by water and the blood to gather us into the spirit of his endless life.
We are gathered into that eternal life bodily in the spirit. Such is the nature of the sacraments. We are made partakers of God through the power of the Risen Christ whose life flows out into his body the Church. He joins us to himself by means of his body.
For this is the point of the Resurrection. We have an end in God, not as disembodied spirits, but in the spiritual body of our redemption. What that means in worldly and descriptive terms is simply this; that “we shall be as he is”. What more need we say? In a profound sense, we shall be like him.
What the Resurrection appearances of Jesus show is that the body is not nothing and nothing worth. The body is not just the instrument of the Spirit’s will but actively participates in the fullness of the divine life, having been made adequate to it. If we have an end with God, then, it must be soul and body, for that is how we are constituted. Our bodies are not nothing.
Jesus came into their midst. He showed them his hands and his side. The hands of the crucified are the hands through which we learn the Father’s hands of love. All that belongs to our redemption “in the body and the blood” has been accomplished by Jesus the Son. “Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit?” Out of his side flow the sacraments of his risen body – baptism and eucharist, water and blood. It is a new discovery and with it comes new birth and new life, but only because “Jesus came and stood in the midst.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne