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Seventh grade and the Resurrection

Faithpoint | Wednesday, April 15, 2009

For five years I taught religion to seventh graders during their last class period, five days a week. It wasn’t easy. From the students’ perspective, Jesus and I were standing between them and freedom.

Seventh graders question everything. The more sacred, the more they revel in questioning it. As a seventh grade teacher, your only choice, other than quitting, is to accommodate.

So, I began to open class with a question and answer session. After a short reading from the Gospels, we came to the dreaded moment. Three students were assigned each day to come up with an insightful question about the Gospel passage.

They loved this moment. The room was a virtual frenzy as students tried to stump the teacher, and basically blow up the class before it ever had a chance to get off the ground. Domanique inquires where Mary and Joseph stashed all the gold that the wise men gave them. Or, Clara asks, with a smug smile, “Since Jesus didn’t have a microphone when he was giving the Sermon on the Mount, how could the people at the bottom of the mountain hear him?” (So young to be watching Monty Python!)

But, almost every day, someone asked, in some form, the Big Question: “How do we know any of this stuff really happened anyway?”

It’s an impossibly frustrating question. Yet it occurred with such frequency that it was clearly a burning question for them. How do we know that Jesus is real?

To ask this question puts us in the place of the first disciples after the Resurrection. Recall, for example, the scene on the first Easter morning. Ten of the 11 remaining disciples are huddled together, in a locked room.

We can certainly relate. When we fail, when we get scared, when we feel loneliness, when we get self-absorbed, we have all turned inward, locking ourselves out from what gives us life.

And so, also, we can relate to the powerful appearance of the Risen Lord: Jesus Christ as the One who is able to walk precisely into that locked space; to breathe new life, fresh air, a Holy Spirit into us – like throwing open the windows on that first great day of Spring in a room that has been shut up for the winter.

On this Easter morning, this is what happens to Jesus’ closest companions – save one. Thomas is no where to be found. Where was he? All we know is that while the others had locked themselves in, Thomas had not.

The other disciples see Jesus, risen from the dead, and they tell Thomas the story. It’s as if Thomas is us, hearing, all these years later, the Gospel account of what the others got to see first-hand. But as he hears, that question wells up in Thomas’ soul, the same one that wells up, in its own way, in the souls of my seventh graders, in the souls of each of us from time to time: How can I be sure? Where is this Jesus, risen from the dead, in my life?

And Thomas even comes up with a test, to stump his teacher. “If only I can touch his wounds, then I will believe.” It’s become somewhat of an infamous test for Thomas, earning him the nickname, “Doubter.” But after five years of teaching seventh grade religion, I suspect that it’s not so much that Thomas doubted. But rather, that Thomas possesses a restless spirit – always curious, always questioning, always yearning, searching, testing. Taking nothing – not even the death of his friend – sitting down. Thomas, I suspect, had a rather unquenchable and demanding heart, a yearning for a real relationship with Jesus, one that is intimate and incarnate.

And so, Jesus appears again in the middle of the locked room: “Put your finger here. Believe in me.”

Perhaps Thomas represents our heart’s deepest, as-yet-unfulfilled desire – to be one with our God, to touch him, to know, for certain, that he is alive, that death holds no more power over us, that our destiny is to be one with our beloved forever, in the flesh.

These desires don’t ever get fully satisfied in this life – we live, always perhaps, with shadows of doubt. But happy are we whose yearning and longing drives us always closer to being one with our beloved, our Risen Lord.

This week’s column is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, Director of Campus Ministry Bible Studies and ACE Chaplain. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.