3rd Sunday of Easter Reflection by Rachel Espinoza
Back in December, I served as a substitute catechist for one of our religious education classes. For the session, I had prepared a seasonally-appropriate lesson on Advent. About five minutes into the lesson, a brave student raised his hand and asked, “Ms. Espinoza, how do we know that any of this is true?”
I realized after a few probing follow-up questions that he wasn’t asking about Advent, but rather, about the evidence for the very foundations of our faith. I quickly scrapped my lesson on Advent, and jumped into what I thought was a basic walkthrough of some of the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, as I figured this might be easier to grasp than some of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God (given the age group I was working with). Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of our faith. St. Paul writes that, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
I spent the rest of the lesson trying to help our young people understand that the Resurrection of Jesus is not just a fairytale or myth, but a real, historical event that took place and was attested by many eye witnesses inside and outside of the New Testament, and that the written accounts which testify to this fact are trustworthy. In the end, I’m not sure how much of the discussion stuck with them, but my hope was that our young people walked away from the session more open to the possibility that there is real evidence for our faith, and that they had a greater curiosity to seek the truth for themselves. I also hope that that brave student walked away knowing that it’s ok to ask these type of questions—and that at some point or another, we all have them! (Side note: If you’re curious about the evidence for the Resurrection, I encourage you to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.)
For sure, our students aren’t the only ones asking whether the Resurrection—whether anything we believe—is real. In today’s Gospel, we see that Jesus appears to his disciples, and greets them in a familiar way,“Peace be with you,” and yet, they are startled, and think that they are seeing a ghost. To ally their fears and doubts, Jesus invites them to both see and touch his hands and feet, to realize that he is not a ghost but flesh and blood. Even upon seeing him, the disciples were still incredulous. And so Jesus asks them for some baked fish, and eats it in front of them, as if to give them one more piece of evidence that he is truly risen! He then goes on to remind them that he had spoken about these things (his death and resurrection) before he suffered, and shared with them the ways that the Scriptures also foretold all that would happen to him.
I find these details of our Gospel reading fascinating. I think in my mind I had always presumed that the instant the disciples saw the risen Lord, that all their questions and doubts about Jesus would have been immediately erased. And yet – we see they are startled, still incredulous! – even with the risen Jesus right there in their midst. The takeaway point for me is that Jesus welcomes and also responds to their doubts. He doesn’t shame them and say, “What the heck is your problem guys?!” but rather, shows them his hands and his feet, and patiently, as the Good Teacher does, explains again how he had tried to prepare them for this reality by reminding them of what the Scriptures foretold about him. In the end, we know that all but one of these same disciples went to their deaths for boldly proclaiming their belief in the Resurrection (John alone died of natural causes in old age; all the others were martyred).
The good news is that the same is true for us. God welcomes our doubts and desires to reveal himself more completely to us so that we might see and believe more deeply. He wishes to reassure our hearts that all that he has revealed is true, and that he is trustworthy, that he is worth giving up everything to follow. If you ever find yourself in a place of questioning and doubt and want someone to talk with to explore the spiritual questions in your life, know that we as a parish staff are here to help you! Feel free to reach out to any of us whomever you feel most comfortable with and we can set up a time to talk or can send resources your way to help you wrestle with the questions on your mind/heart.