The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
Peace be with you on this, our celebration of the Mass for the 1st Sunday after Easter also called Divine Mercy Sunday. You know, I was at Publics last Monday afternoon and wished a passerby a Happy Easter and got a somewhat grumpy, “Easter is over” response. I’ve thought about her response since then and I think it is just one more sign defining our modern secular culture, “Easter is over.” I certainly hope no one here at Mass today feels that way. We’ve all been given a beautiful gift to celebrate this preeminent event defining our Christian Faith with an Easter Season that will take us to Pentecost. It would be a shame not to rejoice in the gift. In fact as believing Christians, we’re supposed to have a “Happy Easter” attitude 365 days a year.
One scholar I’ve studied describes the Evangelist John as an artist who, in this Easter evening scene, has captured the whole of Christianity if only we have the eyes to see it. Let’s listen to the Gospel reading bit-by-bit. Here is the opening phrase, “on the evening of that first day of the week.” Almost sounds a little like Genesis doesn’t it? For us as Christians and really for all of mankind, Jesus’ resurrection on that first day of the week inaugurates a completely new creation. Everything changed. The one called “the light of the world” has risen from the dead. Considering what it means for humanity it’s as though God has said again, “Let there be light” – and my friends, if you’re not getting it, you’re not getting the Easter message.
So, what did change on that very first Easter? Just listen to the next phrase from John’s Gospel, “when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear.” Well, I guess it’s pretty easy to imagine the primary cause for their hiding behind locked doors with very real gut wrenching fear of physical death, just like Jesus’ horrible death on the Cross. It’s been said, one could actually argue, the primordial human problem has always been fear of death. Some philosophers actually say the opposite of love is not hate but the opposite of love is actually fear and its fear that gives birth to hatred. In the 1st Letter of John, 4:18 we’re given a Christian formula however, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” And that is exactly what happened on Easter! Jesus’ Resurrection proves that God’s perfect love is more powerful than death itself and humanities’ primordial fear of death can now end forever.
Now as Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst the Apostle’s may have actually had a another reason to fear however. After all they had run away, abandoned him, and denied him during his dreadful Passion. They may have thought something like, “Oh, Oh, now He’s really mad and He’s going to call down lightening and turn us all into charcoal.” What does Jesus say though? “Peace be with you.” Now here’s kind of a sad note when it comes to Bible translations. The word Jesus used here would have actually been “Shalom” or possibly “Shalom Yahweh” and we really don’t have a textbook English word that can fully embrace the Hebrew concept of Shalom. A clearer tranalation in this circumstance might be something like; “What God wants for God’s people.” John explains what Jesus means by “peace” or shalom in 14:27 where he says; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
Next John tells us Jesus showed them his hands and his feet and the disciples rejoiced but Jesus wasn’t looking for a party. He immediately sends them on mission, breaths on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” So, about this mission thing, Bishop Robert Barron says, “The Church doesn’t have a mission; the Church is a mission.” He says, “A passionate Catholicism brings people to Christ.” Now folks, that’s not just meant for ordained clergy, that’s meant for every Catholic. We are all the Church. Fortunately, God also gives every single one of us the Holy Spirit in Baptism and every Sacrament to follow helping us on mission just like those original disciples. And the Holy Spirit is divine life on earth. In fact, we can view the whole life of the church as this, receive the divine life in the Holy Spirit then – give it to others.
A word about forgiveness of sins, certainly an aspect of this statement is reserved specifically for our Priests but the word forgiveness itself should never be viewed exclusively for the ordained. There is a direct link between sending on mission, the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness. Sin can be the thought of as a self-imposed interruption of divine love, a path that can lead to a loss of the divine life. Our own personal willingness to forgive others may not only bring fellow Catholics back from lives of sin and interrupted love but it may also serve an attraction for non-Catholics. When the great G.K. Chesterton was asked why he became Catholic he responded, “So I could have my sins forgiven.” Therefore, know with confidence, when the Holy Spirit is breathed out by any of us, it can include an invitation for Sacramental Reconciliation within the Church itself but regardless, a personal willingness to forgive should always be offered.
OK, so what about good old Doubting Thomas? He wasn’t with the others on that first Easter evening. We’re never told where he was but have you ever wondered, why Jesus simply didn’t go to him wherever he might have been instead of waiting until the disciples were all together again in one place? Friends, all of the dynamics of God’s new creation; Christ’s new resurrected life, overcoming fear, gifting of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, giving himself in Eucharist were all on display in community – and that community is what we now call Church. Don’t try to do it by yourself. Don’t try to find your way on your own. There is a message from the Doubting Thomas story you may have never thought about. Stay within the Church because this is exactly where you will find God’s new creation.