Sunday April 19, 2020
Second Sunday of Easter
Today we peer into the locked room where the disciples huddled in fear. We can relate to this moment in the scriptures during this time of self-quarantine. The COVID-19 virus has us locked down in fear. Some of our friends have died. Others are frightened about the future with job loss and questions about how to pay the rent. Others are suffering emotional and mental ill health after spending these past weeks alone. Today, Jesus stands in the center of our fear as well and offers us peace.
This gospel from John 20: 19-31, invites us to acknowledge our own fear after Jesus’ death. The Resurrection of Jesus unfolds with profound insight in this Easter season. Slowly, gradually, we come to terms with what the Resurrection of Christ Jesus means for our own lives. This text reveals to us that fear is useless.
We view the disciples behind locked doors. I can imagine how they felt, struggling to make sense out of those past days. They encountered his suffering and their own grief. Their expectations of following him exploded in their faces. I imagine that room filled with body heat and fear, with few words floating in the tension. Their anguish roused silence and heightened hearing. Every move and sound must have brought fear to a deeper level.
Then a miracle happened. From the blackness of fear, Jesus appears to them. Without a key to the room, or hearing his footprints, he appears before them. Jesus mutters with great assurance the first words of the Resurrection, “Peace be with you.” Those words have echoed down the centuries into our liturgies. I wonder if we ever reflect on the way those disciples first heard those words with their heightened hearing and beating hearts. Peace, I am sure, must have seemed impossible.
Jesus reveals himself. He showed them he was the real deal. His redeemed wounds, his scars on his hands and feet, teach them that he is the same person from before but now incredibility different. They are following him into new spiritual territory. He becomes divine; he enters their hearts with profound hope.
Then John’s account of Pentecost happens. Jesus sends them out the door. He breathes on them offering the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine this moment. There are many missing paragraphs it seems. Their bodies were weak with fear, and then in an instant they were sent into the world with a new vision. This is intense. There is so much to deal with from the disciples’ perspective. Pentecost soars within hours of the Resurrection in the Gospel of John.
Thomas was not in the room at the time. He shows up a week later. Thomas is unable to put all the pieces together. I don’t blame him. Who could have seen this coming? So Jesus returns and Thomas touches Jesus’ redeemed wounds with his own hands. He puts his finger into the nail marks on his hand. He probes the mystery of the wound in his side. I want to feel what Thomas felt. How I wish I could have been with them in this encounter. From the depths of Thomas’ soul, from his gut, he just can’t keep it inside of him, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
This particular gospel from John is proclaimed every year on the Sunday after Easter Day. Thirty-seven years ago, I preached on this text at my First Mass in South Bend, Indiana. Unfortunately, the priesthood ordinations of our men this year have been postponed to September because of COVID-19. Please pray for our men who so looked forward to being ordained on the usual Saturday after Easter. I never imagined thirty-seven years ago, that a virus would have such an impact. Life is really changed.
This profound encounter between Jesus and Thomas invites us into deep faith. Every believer touches the mystery of Jesus’ presence in various ways. We grow into touching the wounds of the Body of Christ in our service among people. We touch human suffering every day. We probe the mystery of the wounded and redeemed Body of Christ when we experience human suffering. Love changes us. Love enables us to proclaim on our lips, “My Lord, and my God!”