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Third Sunday of Easter – 14 April 2024

Today’s Gospel shows the first disciples having difficulties and doubts about the Resurrection. Is it real, did it really happen, or is it an illusion, are we misinterpreting the evidence?

The English theologian, Aidan Nichols points out that traditionally, the Church has distinguished between difficulties and doubts. According to St John Henry Newman, ‘Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt’. As reasoning people, we naturally apply our minds to our religion, including to what happened after the Crucifixion. There are difficulties here – about the sources, about the agreement of the witnesses, about the possibility of miracles even. We all encounter these difficulties, which are not impossible, and through them we grow into a more informed and intelligent faith.

Doubt is more radical. Doubt is wondering whether religious terms have any reference to reality at all. ‘God’, ‘Christ’, ‘The Resurrection’, ‘The Holy Spirit’, ‘grace’ – are those realities or is it all a game? Curiously, this kind of radical doubt is mentioned by both St Luke and St Matthew in connexion with the Resurrection appearances. With the risen Christ before their very eyes, some doubted. In today’s Gospel, Christ has an answer why: fear and anxiety. ‘Why are you so agitated?’ ‘Why are these doubts arising in your hearts?’ ‘Your hearts’, notice, not ‘your minds’. Something is wrong with their sensibility, with their passions, their emotions, and this is what is doing the damage to their judgment. This is what is causing doubt.

We can find those causes in our experience of the material world. If we are, in some way, fearful of reality in its richness and depth, we tend to clam up. We shut out the unexpected, which could be uncomfortable. We like to have things taped. We feel secure and unchallenged that way. Predictability is a comfort zone. A new reality requires a new us, and even in unhappiness we don’t always welcome change. This is strange but true. ‘Human kind’, wrote T. S. Eliot, ‘cannot bear too much reality’, or, perhaps even, too varied a diet of it.

So, then: to accept the risen Christ, which means, among other things, to accept a new and different reality, and also to accept that we are going to be in some manner changed by him and have our lives interfered with. Which can be scary.  But that is why Jesus’s first words are: ‘Peace be with you!’ As he said throughout his ministry. ‘Why are you afraid?’ ‘You believe in God, believe also in me.’

This Eastertide calls us to put aside fear, of change, of the new and unfamiliar. To seek something new that may transform our lives. To accept that how we are now is not the best that we can or should be. To allow our hearts to be changed by the true reality of the Risen Lord. And perhaps to ask the Lord to open our minds as he did those of the disciples, so that we can be his witnesses, even to the ends of the Earth.

Fr Chris Denham

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