Sunday, April 23, 2017

Second Sunday of Easter - Year A

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Easter 2 – Sunday April 23, 2017 

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Beloved Lord of All, grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith. Today’s Gospel brings us to look again at our own journeys of faith. And it does this in three movements and a conclusion.

First, Jesus appears to the disciples assembled behind closed doors and commissions them to do the work of God. Second, Thomas who missed out on Jesus’ visit puts his own conditions to belief. Third, Thomas is given the opportunity to have his conditions to belief satisfied and then gains unconditional belief. Finally, the last two verses of Chapter 20 of the Gospel expose the program of the writer for the whole Gospel that comes here to an end. The Gospel was “written so that you may believe… and have life in [Jesus’] name.”

Let’s go back to the room where the disciples are assembled. They are trying to come to terms with their memories, their emotions and their fears. The last 72 hours have been harrowing and frightful for all of them. After the foot washing and dinner with Jesus, everything went from bad -- to worse -- to horrifying.

In those 72 hours, Judah betrayed Jesus, Peter committed violence against an opponent, most of the disciples abandoned Jesus, Peter publicly betrayed Jesus, the women and the disciple whom Jesus loved have seen Jesus’ death on the cross, they have received help in taking their dead rabbi down and they have put him in a tomb.

Now, on this first day of the week, Jerusalem winds down from the Passover festival. In the midst of their fear, grief and pain, Mary Magdalene has brought to the disciples hope in which they don’t dare to believe. They are in a state of disoriented unbelief, locked behind closed doors for fear of the Judean authorities. The authorities who have had Jesus crucified by the Romans and might very well come for them next.

In the midst of their angst, Jesus appears amongst them and greets them with “Peace to you”. This conventional greeting probably never carried so much truth and weight for them. Peace indeed, the peace of God that passes all understanding, the peace that ignores obstacles such as walls and locked doors, the peace that comes from struggle-free belief. But even so, the disciples need to see the imprints of the nails and the gash of the spear on Jesus’ body to recognize him as whom they know him to be. And Jesus says again “Peace to you”. Only now do the disciples shed their gloom and find their joy.

Jesus then proceeds to commission the disciples to continue the work of God. They are to bear the fruit of his victory into the world, beyond this room, and into time, beyond this moment. The night before he died, Jesus had prayed: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). And now, the commission rolls on to you and me who hear the evangelist’s witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And as Jesus had promised, he gives us the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate and Comforter who will be with us till the end of time to help us go into the world for God, as Jesus did. The Evangelist uses the image of Jesus breathing into the disciples; evoking for us the image of God breathing life into Adam (in Genesis 2:7) or of Ezekiel prophesying to the breath in the valley of bones (Ezekiel 37). This reminds us that, in Jesus, we receive new life. 

The assembled disciples who saw Jesus on the day of his resurrection are not much different from Thomas. They needed to see Jesus’ wounds to accept what all their being told them already; he is risen, as he promised! Thomas holds to us the mirror of our own doubts and control needs. Have you never doubted God? Have you never demanded that God meet you on your own terms? Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first came to the assembled disciples. Could he have been the courageous one, out there in the world, facing the risks of being a Jesus disciple, while his friends cowered behind closed doors? Wasn’t he the one who said “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16) when Jesus decided to go back into Judea, to Bethany? Could Thomas have been the distraught pessimist who needed to nurse his grief alone? In any case, Thomas wasn’t there the first time around.

But when Jesus comes back to the disciples a week after his resurrection, he addresses Thomas’ needs. Jesus understands our doubts. God is willing to accompany us beyond our doubts. Jesus encourages us along the only path to abundant life: “Do not doubt, but believe.” This is not a very good place to insist on empirical, scientific methods of knowing. The text does not tell us that Thomas actually did test Jesus’ wounds. It rather seems that faced with Jesus’ presence, he came to immediate and unconditional belief: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV), he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I have no knowledge of greek translation, but I sense that this “have come to believe” is faithful to the Evangelist’s intent. The Evangelist (through all of Chapter 20 of the Gospel) shows us the passage from unbelief to conditional and then unconditional belief in most of Jesus’ disciples; Mary Magdalene, Thomas and most of the other disciples. God honors our journeys of faith.

We, here, today, can no longer see the embodied Jesus and we can not yet see Jesus in the flesh to sustain our faith. But we can buttress our faith on a host of witnesses who passed on their experience of the live and risen Christ. And we can buttress our faith on a host of witnesses who experience the living Christ even now, maybe even here.

May you also have life in Jesus’ name. May our life into the fellowship of Christ’s Body show forth in what we profess; in deeds and in words, by faith. Amen.

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