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Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Third Sunday of Easter (18 April)

“Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have”

Christ makes sure that we really can’t misunderstand. It isn’t enough for him to come and visit the disciples to reassure them that his death was not the end. He stood among them, he ate with them, he invited them to look at his hands and feet — he was doing what was needed so that they had no doubts, so that as they went out to the world, they would have complete confidence in what he had done. So that when, for example, on the day of Pentecost S. Peter gave that first sermon, part of which we heard as our first lesson, he could declaim to the assembled crowds without the slightest flinching ‘you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.’

The resurrection of Christ is a reality, indeed one of the most real things which has ever happened in human history. A unique event so far, and so one which stands in need of confirmation — dead people don’t simply come back to life again, and so if S. Peter was going to stand there and preach this message, he needed to sure that this was the truth; so too all of those other Apostles who would in their turn stand in front of various crowds right across the then known world from Spain in the West to India in the East, they would need to be sure that it was the truth.

It isn’t just that he assures them of his resurrection, he takes them through the various different doubts which they might have — he shows that he is not a figment of their imaginations, that he isn’t simply an apparition or a ghost, that it is the same person. All of these to make sure that any doubts which might have lingered, or which might have occurred years later when they thought back, all of these had been taken care of and dealt with.

He begins by proving that he is the same person. “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” Those hands which would have been familiar to them from years of seeing them be laid on people to perform miracles…but which now carried even more certain proof. Those hands now bore the wound which the soldiers had made nailing him to the Cross. Those wounds will never go away, they are an integral part of who Christ is. Christ came to earth to die for us; his incarnation was in order that he could receive those wounds. The wounds would indeed journey to heaven as part of that body — just as those disciples saw the wounds, we too will see them when we face Christ at the final judgment. Wounds which were received in order to draw us back to God, wounds which speak of his boundless love for man. Or, as we shall sing when Advent comes along ‘those dear tokens of his passion, still his dazzling body bears.’ Wounds which remain, but which like the rest of his body have been transformed by his resurrection, so that they are now emblems of his glory.

When those disciples saw the wounds there could be no doubt, this was the same Christ whom they had followed — the same Christ who was killed on the Cross. There is no body double, there is no trickery at work here — this is the same person. “It is I myself.” It’s not difficult to image that the sight of those wounds would be burned into the memories of those disciples. That as they struggled carrying the message of Christ to the ends of the world, they could recall that sight, they could draw strength from contemplation of those wounds.

But Christ doesn’t merely prove that he is the same person, he goes on to prove that this resurrection isn’t just some ghostly apparition. Those wounds, like the rest of his body, were real. This was a body which could take some fish and eat it in front of them. The whole Christ has been raised. Just as it was a human body which was crucified and hung on the Cross — so it is a human body which stands in front of them. The resurrection, just like the incarnation, is a fleshly moment. We proclaim that ‘the Word was made flesh’, and in the resurrection that very same ‘Word made flesh’ was still fleshly. Death is the moment of separation of body and soul, the resurrection was the reuniting of them. To be a whole human takes both a body and a soul — the resurrected Christ was a whole, and indeed a perfect, human. He had a body and a soul and those disciples could see that body standing in front of them. They could see that body doing what a body does — in this case, eating some fish.

The effect of these meetings was to transform the disciples. Immediately before, they had been confused and terrified, but having received this clear reassurance from Christ they would be emboldened to go out and proclaim him in front of the world.

When S. Luke wrote down this account of the meeting he too had been convinced of the truth of the resurrection. He wasn’t there himself, but by talking with those disciples, by hearing their preaching, by seeing in them the fire which burnt with the message of Christ’s resurrection; he too was convinced. So he wrote what he heard from them. They told him how their lives had been changed by meeting with the resurrected Christ, and he wrote it down. They convinced him, and now his account is there to give us that same certainty which the gathered disciples had.

The certainty that this was the same Christ — the same man who had died, had been resurrected and stood in front of them. The certainty that this was no mere apparition — that this was flesh and blood, a true human person, who had been raised from the dead.

And along with that, the certainty that this resurrection is open to us as well. That we are being invited to join with Christ in his death, so that we may join with him in his resurrection — a true, certain, and complete resurrection.