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Second Sunday of Easter 2022 -Year C
Mercy Sunday & Orthodox Easter
This month of April is full of religious celebrations. As Western Christians continue Eastertide, the Eastern Orthodox Church is beginning its Holy Week. Jews are completing Passover and Muslims are in the holy month of Ramadan. Buddhists, Baha’is, Sikhs, Jains and Hindus are preparing for their holy days.
This inter-religious confluence is a rare and remarkable opportunity to appreciate the similarities in major religious groups. The Associated Press journalist Luis Andres Henao reported that many faiths are “sharing meals and rituals” as they discuss “how to help curb climate change, fight religious intolerance and assist people fleeing Ukraine, Afghanistan and other nations during the global refugee crisis.”
What the world needs now is overarching spiritual movement that embraces the teachings of all faith traditions. It would mend the divisions between religions and, hopefully, nation states.
For example, Orthodox patriarchs in Russia and Ukraine are at odds with one another over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Kirill, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, has caused a schism in the global Orthodox religion as he continues to support Putin’s War.
Will a common belief in Jesus’ resurrection soothe wounds and stop the ruthless invasion of Ukraine where Christians are killing Christians? Where is the belief that Easter is a call to celebrate life not death?
John’s gospel (20:19-31) is the only one that records how Thomas doubted that Jesus was raised from among the dead. However, he needed physical proof. Perhaps others in that room, including Jesus’ mother, had their own doubts about what happened to Jesus. We do not know.
Did they think they were seeing a ghost? Reginald Fuller wrote that the “Greek word ‘appeared’ used by [the apostle] Paul to describe Jesus’ visits after his crucifixion was the same word used elsewhere [in the Bible] for visionary experiences.”
The second reading (Acts 5:12-16), written by Luke about 50-60 years after Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, testifies that many signs and wonders were performed by the apostles. The text implies that those who joined the early Christian movement were responding to the needs of others and that they possessed a desire to accept the responsibilities that comes with membership in the church.
Psalm (118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24) reminds us “God’s mercy endures forever” but also warns us that working for justice is not easy and that activists will be rejected. Those who continued the mission of Jesus were undaunted by threats against them and continued their work.
Not every Christian today is responding in the same way to this biblical summons to work for peace. According to the Pew Research Center only sixty-three percent identify as Christians compared to 75% just ten years ago. Also, roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population views Christianity skeptically in varying degrees.
The overwhelming majority of Americans do believe in God. And, while some also believe there was a historical Jesus, and can accept his value system, they are skeptical about his divinity and certainly his resurrection. This attitude has had an impact on memberships in many Christian communities that reportedly are dwindling in number.
Some sources say skepticism is an ancient Hellenistic philosophy that focuses on what should be believed. The modern skeptic relies on knowledge before believing. According to the philosopher Alan Watts many people believe someone or something only if it fits into their preconceptions, however true or false.
Faith, on the other hand, has no expectations and is the virtuous foundation for most religious practices. However, there is now evidence that some people do not possess unconditional openness to what is true.
How can we avoid skepticism? We live in an age when fear, mistrust and suspicion have evolved into a cultural past time. People do not trust politicians, religious leaders or educators and many do not believe in themselves. Yet, there is a common bond among Christians and other faith traditions and what they hold to be true — that the lives of all people matter and should be treated equally with respect and dignity.
Pope Francis said in his Easter address: “May the conflict in Europe also make us more concerned about other situations of conflict, suffering and sorrow, situations that affect all too many areas of our world, situations that we cannot overlook and do not want to forget.” He concluded: “Peace is possible; peace is a duty; peace is everyone’s primary responsibility!”
Easter, then, is about new beginnings, turning experiences of fear, uncertainty and doubt into kernels of truth for ourselves and others. There is no room for skepticism.