Sunday, May 31, 2009

3-30-2008: 2nd Easter (A)

Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47/Psalm 118/1Peter 1:3-9/John 20:19-31
“We brush against one another….touch. In L.A. nobody touches you behind the metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much we crash into each other just to feel something.” [The musings of a policeman observing the verbal tirade between drivers involved in a fender-bender in the opening scene of the Oscar-winning film Crash].

Touch has indeed become a very touchy issue. “In America these days,” one conservative Catholic pundit recently observed, “everything is permitted – but nothing forgiven.” Especially when the something involves touch.

Yet, touch is the very heart of today’s gospel. I won’t believe the Lord is risen, Thomas declares, without putting my hand into side. Only a few verses before, John’s gospel has Mary Magdalene weeping outside the tomb because the body she has come to anoint by her touch is no where to be found. The one she mistakes for the gardener calls her by name and the instant Jesus’ voice touches Mary’s hearing, recognition dawns. Yet, as Mary moves towards him, Jesus says: Do not touch me…yet. Could the gospel be suggesting that touch is even more vital for men than for women?

Touch -- or the lack of it -- plagues us as a people. If lack of touch evokes loneliness; touch itself symbolizes its antidote. Some contemporary spiritualities, like their ancient Gnostic antecedents, try to convince us that we need only transcend our physical selves (caress the aura around the body without laying a hand on anything solid) and we’ll find peace and contentment. But the revelation of Easter as presented in the canonical gospels does just the opposite, emphasizing the sensual reality of the risen Lord who eats and drinks; who invites us, as he did Thomas, to touch his body; indeed, even, to consume it.

All touch has become circumspect of late -- and that’s a shame. I remember when I was in third grade and sent by my teacher to the eighth grade classroom to deliver a message to Brother Anselm. Brother Anselm seemed old to me at the time (though he was probably then no older than I am now). He commanded respect as principal of the boys’ school but always maintained a kindliness about him; his Louisiana origins coming through no doubt. He must have sensed my timidity at the time because he made a point of asking me my name and thanking me. Then, in front of the eighth grade (remember: all boys), he stood up and hugged me tight to his side. Strangely, I did not feel embarrassed by this gesture; rather, I felt welcomed, accepted. Even more strangely: all those eighth grade boys, usually eager to make a joke of everything, sat there silent, stunned really. If I were to guess what they were feeling at that moment, I would say it must have been …envy.

Puritanism is an American – and Protestant – legacy. It has had a long time to seep into our culture, preparing the way for new-age Gnosticisms to take root which abhor the body and assign perverted intentions to all manner of touch -- rather than recognizing touch for the sacrament it often is.

It seems those who have suffered most from these unfortunate vicissitudes of history are us men and boys -- who crave touch so much “we crash into each other just to feel something.”

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