1 John 5:1-6
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….” The famous opening line of Charles Dickens’ historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, has captivated the imagination of many a literature lover from generation to generation. The greatest English writer of the Victorian era probably did not have this Sunday’s Mass readings in mind when he penned those remarkable words. But the masterful language used to highlight the unusual social and political conditions in London and Paris leading up to the turbulent years of the French Revolution is nonetheless a fitting characterization of the same unusual times that today’s gospel reading helps to bring alive.
It is only three days ago when the disciples’ high hope of finding the Messiah suddenly comes crumbling down, shattering and falling apart like an imploding star. Jesus the Nazarene, the holy one who they have hoped would redeem Israel, is handed over by their chief priests and rulers to a sentence of death and crucifixion on the day of Passover (cf. Luke 24:19-21, John 19:14). It is truly the worst of times.
But the worst of times may well be the best of times; the winter of despair, the foreshadowing of the spring of hope. Why? What hope is left when the savior of the world has been all but relegated to the rank of crucified criminals? The good news is: Jesus is resurrected only 3 days after his crucifixion! In today’s gospel, he appears to his disciples and, seeing that incredulity has left them stupefied, invites them to check out his hands and his side. Thomas, notoriously a late person who, according to Church tradition, also missed out on seeing Mary when it was time for her to leave this world, is absent from the scene. But when Jesus returns a week later just for him, Thomas doesn’t disappoint. He responds with the strongest declaration of faith possible: “My Lord and my God!”, thus affirming the divinity of Christ.
What is the significance of the resurrection? Why do we consider the event “the best of times” for humanity? Apparently, John shares the same view. Today’s gospel from John puts Jesus’ appearance as happening on “the evening of that first day of the week”, soon after Mary of Magdala found the empty tomb “early in the morning” (John 20:1, 19). Considering that the Johannine gospel was written to contrast Jesus’ “New Creation” with the “old” creation of Genesis, the Bible scholars have good reason to believe that “the first day of the week” is John’s way to heighten the significance of the 8th day – the beginning of a new week, the week of the New Creation, following the first week, or first 7 days, in which the old world order was created. What Mary of Magdala and the disciples are witnessing, in other words, is the beginning of a new world order – the New Creation, ushered in by Jesus through his resurrection (cf. CCC2174).
Jesus’ resurrection is an unwritten statement - or a state of the union address, if you will - made by the Son of David, the “heir” that God has promised to “raise up” to sit in David’s royal throne forever (2 Sam 7:12-13), to affirm that the power of death has been destroyed once and for all, that its unrelenting grip on humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve is no more, and that the heavenly kingdom finally has come. Put simply, as Peter did in his inaugural sermon, resurrection and ascension is the coronation and enthronement of Christ the King (cf. Acts 2:29-36); not that he in his divinity as the eternal Son needs any more glorification, but that he in his humanity as the Son of David is now royally enthroned to receive dominion, glory, and eternal kingship (Daniel 7:13-14).
No wonder in the first reading the early community of believers live as though they were in their very last days, claiming no possessions of their own and sharing everything in common. For a community that sees things through the eyes of faith after the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), close on the heels of the worst of times is the joy of the best of times; mired deep in the winter of despair is the glimmer of the spring of hope. What seems like an interlude now is but the beginning of everlasting happiness and glory.