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EASTER II - C - 19 JOHN 20. 19-31
Today being the second Sunday after Easter, is traditionally called “low Sunday” in reference to the recorded attendance throughout the church on this day. However, it is also called “Thomas” Sunday in regards to the gospel story read on this day.
We all know the story too well. Jesus makes his first resurrection appearance on the evening of Easter day to his disciples who are hiding behind locked doors in the upper room. They are afraid that the Jews will come and arrest them and that they will suffer the same fate as their Lord.
In the midst of their fear and self-imposed isolation, Jesus appears to them and shows them the marks of the crucifixion. When they realize that it is Jesus, risen from the dead, their fear subsides and they rejoice at his appearing.
He brings his peace and breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit with the authority to represent Christ’s own ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. They were all present save Thomas.
As suddenly as the risen Christ makes his presence known, and breathes new life into his disciples who were present, he disappears. Despondency may have kept Thomas away, but he eventually returns. The joyful disciples make Thomas aware that they have seen the risen Lord.
Thomas, however, does not believe them. He was not the only follower of Jesus that doubted. Only his was harder to remove. It is hard to take other’s word for something one has not experienced. Thus, he did not believe them.
Then, he utters a brash statement. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days went by. And during that time, I can only imagine that Thomas was questioning the validity of the other disciple’s witness.
If what they said was true, where was he? Why had he not come back? Was that all there was to this idea of resurrection? One sudden appearance and nothing else?
However, Jesus does come back, and this time Thomas is present. No longer are the disciples afraid. The doors are not locked. Jesus, once again brings his peace, and then as if his intention in making his second appearance was strictly for the sake of Thomas, he confronts Thomas with a challenge.
OK, Thomas, here I am. See the marks of the nails in the palms of my hands. Look here is the wound in my side. Step up, come forward, and touch me. “Do not doubt but believe.“ Nowhere in the gospel does it say that Thomas did just touch Jesus. I have always felt he did not. Jesus’ appearance and his invitation to do so was enough proof for Thomas.
Thomas’ “doubt” was not one of ‘resistance to truth,” but one that desperately desired a truthful answer - a doubt that gave birth to faith, when the answer was revealed. The conversion of Thomas’ doubt into faith led him to the clearest confession of Christ’ divinity addressing him as “my lord and my God.”
His proclamation is the climax of the gospel. Easter had come to Thomas and his life and the life of the other disciples, as well as the life of the world, would never be the same.
Today’s gospel is a story of faith tested and of doubt transformed into certainty. In the midst of fear, Jesus appears. He identifies himself by the marks of the crucifixion. He bestows on his followers the fullness of his risen and glorified life - Peace, the true peace that restores the disciples to inner security and fearlessness.
The boldness of the disciples in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is shown in today’s first reading from Acts. No longer were they afraid of the Jews or what might befall them as followers of Jesus. Instead emboldened by the gift of the Holy Spirit they openly witnessed to their belief in Him who died and rose again by teaching in his name and proclaiming his resurrection.
Faith untested is no real faith at all. Thomas’ faith was based on what he could see and believe with his own eyes. However, Jesus told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Who are they, if not we?
As Easter Christians, our faith is not based on “signs and wonders” but on the apostolic witness contained in the Gospels and in the writings of the apostles. More importantly, our faith and belief is based on our personal encounters with the risen Lord.
How do we recognize the risen Christ today? How does He make himself known?
On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion had their hearts warmed by Jesus’ teaching as they walked with him. It was in the “breaking of the bread” that their eyes were opened to recognize the risen Lord. So it is for us. We can touch him in the Eucharist. We can see him in the face of friend and stranger.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are able to recognize Him and in recognizing him, to live and witness to the Easter faith. Through Christ’s gift of true peace, we have that inner security and fearlessness that empowers us to do so. Faith overcomes fear every time.
The resurrection thus brings into being the church, its unity, its commission, and its endowments. All that Jesus has won through His life, death, and resurrection is given to his disciples and through them to the church. Lest we forget, we are church.
The church inherits the mission of reconciliation from Christ. That is, of bringing God to man and man to God. However, it is a mission that cannot be carried out unaided. Only by and through the gift of the Holy Spirit and our learning to cooperate with it can we do the work we have been given to do. AMEN+