Sunday, April 22, 2012

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter by Fr. Matthias Neuman

Readings: Acts 3:13-19; 1 Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48

Christian literature and lore through the centuries have come up with many imagined descriptions of what the resurrected life will be like, what heaven will be like. My mother provided one recently. Her eyesight has taken a significant downturn lately. When we talk, she says that my head is just a blur for her; she can’t see any of my features. Anyway, she was lamenting her declining vision, when she said: "I hope I don’t go blind before I die. When Jesus comes to wake me up, I want to be able to see what heaven looks like." I agreed with her totally. Christians have always been wondering what the resurrected life would be like. There’s no sign that they are going to be stopping any time soon.

In fact, that discussion was already going on way back in the first century. Today’s gospel passage from Luke lies right in the middle of this discussion. We know from other documents of the same time period that some people were claiming that only Jesus’ spirit or soul survived, and his body didn’t. This was called Gnostic Christianity; the Gnostic Christians claimed that Jesus is now only a Spirit! In contrast to this Luke’s gospel strongly affirmed a resurrected body of Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples to touch him; he even asks for something to eat. The evangelist Luke is making a strong statement that Jesus’ resurrection includes a transformed bodiliness. That has been the Catholic Christian conviction of faith ever since, even if we haven’t always acted on it.

The challenge of imagining the resurrected life and heaven continues on in our own day. Last week’s issue of TIME magazine had as its lead article, "Rethinking Heaven." The article summarized some of the many books recently written on the topic. It’s interesting to note that the issue of bodiliness is still one of the key toopics. However, the bodiliness at issue is not that of Jesus, but of the whole cosmos. To some writers today heaven is ultimately this whole cosmos transformed by the power of God. Well, the French Jesuit theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, already had that idea over seventy-five years ago. Teilhard had a vision of what he called Christogenesis, that is, the whole of the cosmos evolving and developing to the point where it becomes one with God. This happens through the mediation of the resurrected Christ, who is present and active within all creation. (I remember reading Teilhard’s books back when I was in the seminary. It was heady stuff.)

The TIME article makes one point that is well worth reflecting on. That is this: the way in which people image heaven has a great deal to do with the way they live their lives here and now. Those people who believe that heaven is a completely and totally different place opposed to this sinful world—those people generally have little commitment to improving the social condition of this world. They don’t see any need to alleviate problems of hunger, poverty and so on. They also don’t think that environmental conditions are any great concern. On the other hand, those people who image heaven as a fulfillment of this present, existing world are generally more likely to be strongly involved in social issues and improving the poor situations of this world. They believe that whatever improvements they can make are part of the ongoing resurrection of Jesus.

So, today’s gospel presents us with a question: what role does the resurrected bodiliness of Jesus play in my spirituality?

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