27th April. Second Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
(As a sign of their faith the early Christians shared their possessions freely and expressed their unity by celebrating the Eucharist together.)
They devoted themselves to the apostles” teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 1:3-9
(Christ’s resurrection has removed the hopelessness and despair from the lives of his followers; they respond to his resurrection with hope, praise and joy.)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
(The presence of the risen Jesus dispels fear and brings peace to his friends. They are to continue his life-giving mission through the gift of his creative Spirit.)
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Unlocking the doors
We have all become security conscious nowadays. Most houses are now alarmed; the alarm has become as basic an item as table and chairs. We also need to have good strong locks; long gone, at least in the cities and towns, are the days when you could just leave the key in the door, and allow neighbours to casually ramble in for a chat and a cup of tea. We are more fearful about our security than we used to be, and this fear and anxiety has led us to take more precautions to protect ourselves. Fear of what others can do to us tends to close us in on ourselves, in the physical sense of getting stronger security, but also in other senses. We tend to be somewhat withdrawn around people we perceive to be critical. We are slow to open up to someone we think will judge us. We hesitate to share ideas and plans we might have with those who are known not to suffer fools gladly. Fear of others can hold us back and stunt our growth.
In the gospel reading today we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Even though Mary Magdalene had come to them from the empty tomb announcing, “I have seen the Lord,” this was not enough to overcome their fear. What had been done to Jesus could be done to them. .. which led to their hiding in self-imposed confinement. The turning point came when the risen Lord himself appeared to them behind their closed doors and helped them over their fear. He did this by breathing on them the Holy Spirit, filling them new energy and hope, freeing them from fear and releasing them to share in his mission. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you,” he said. In the power of the Spirit they came to life and went out from their self-imposed prison and bear witness to the risen Lord. This is the picture of the disciples that Luke gives us in the first reading today. He describes a community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.
We can all find ourselves in the situation of those first disciples locked in their hiding place. Any combination of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” can water down our commitment to following the Lord. Like the disciples in the gospel reading, we can be tempted to give up on our faith journey. The will to self-preservation can prevent us from doing what we are capable of doing with the Lord’s help. The wounds we carry from earlier, failed initiatives make us hesitate to try again. Even when someone seems full of enthusiasm and hope like a Mary Magdalene, we shrug it off. We let them get on with it, while we hold back and stay safe. The gospel reading today suggests a way out of our self-imposed confinement. If Magdalene makes no impact on us, the Lord will find another way to enter our lives and to fill us with new life and energy for his service. No locked doors, nor even locked hearts, can keep him out. He finds a way to enter the space where we have chosen to retreat and he empowers us to resist what is holding us back. He does require some openness on our part; at the least some desire on our part to become what he is calling us to be. The risen Lord never ceases to recreate us and to renew us in his love. Easter is the season to celebrate the good news.
Just as the disciples were unmoved by the hopeful enthusiasm of Mary Magdalene who announced, “I have seen the Lord,” so Thomas was unmoved by the witness of the disciples who said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack than the other disciples. He is one of those people who insist on certain conditions being met before he makes a move, “Unless I see..” As he had done with the other disciples, the Lord took Thomas on Thomas” own terms. He accommodated himself to Thomas” conditions, “Put your finger here..” The gospel reading today implies that the Lord meets us wherever we are. He takes us seriously in all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand on our ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word that is suited to our own state of mind and heart. We don’t have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, wherever it is a place of fear or of doubt. We might pray this Easter season for the openness to receive the Lord’s coming into the concrete circumstances of our own lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” We might also pray that, like the Lord, we would receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.