[2nd Sunday of Easter, Year B, April 12, 2015 / Acts 4:32-35 /Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 / 1 John 5:1-6 / John 20:19-31]
THERE is an ancient teaching tenet in the Church that goes “Experience first then explanation.” After the experience of Easter, the Church gives us these Easter Sundays to explain what has happened, to explain the content of the gift we have received. What gifts are contained within the Easter experience? What treasure can we find hidden in the Easter we have just lived? Many gifts and many treasures.
Just look at the words of St Ephrem from the 4th century — “And so, since death could not devour him without a body and the world of the dead could not swallow him up without flesh, he came to the virgin, so that he might receive from her a chariot on which to ride into the underworld. In the body he had assumed he entered death’s domain, broke open its strong room and scattered the treasure.” There are many treasures in the Easter experience and today’s gospel can help us (John 20:19-31) to discover some of them.
After the death of Jesus the gospel tells us that his disciples were afraid and were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. What were the first words of Jesus to his frightened followers? “Peace be with you!” Incredible words. Jesus is truly the “Prince of Peace” (cf. Isaiah 9:5) and peace is one of the principal gifts of Easter. Even more amazing when you consider that Jesus had every right to scold them. They had pledged their allegiance to him, sworn that they would die for him but were nowhere to be seen at the foot of the cross. But Jesus does not scold them for their hypocrisy or chide them for their cowardice. Instead he shares with them the gift of peace.
In this way the disciples are deeply consoled and they experience joy. In the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola he invites the retreatants to reflect on this – how Christ consoles his disciples. Christ really is the consoler par excellence and comes with the gift of peace.
The death and resurrection of Christ we celebrate sheds a new light on everything. When St Thérèse of the Child Jesus was lying sick in bed, close to death one sister commented that she was dying. St Thérèse responded peacefully: “I am not dying, I am entering into Life!” Jesus victory over death has won for us the gift of eternal life.
Hearing that Jesus appeared to his community, Thomas is not at peace! He wants to see for himself. He wants that same experience. He does not want it second hand. Good for you, Thomas! You remind us that the personal experience of our faith is so important. So Thomas asks and is very specific – “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Imagine if you could ask the Lord for any type of experience, or you were in need of something to strengthen your faith, what would it be you would ask for?
Sometimes we are afraid to ask. Sometimes we do not know what to ask for! Isn’t it true? We sometimes prefer a God or religion of rules and regulations – then we don’t have to think too much! Imagine how confused we would be if Jesus himself asks us, as he did his first followers, “What are you looking for?” or in other moments, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is rather unsettling to have a God like this who actually trusts us so much when we do not even trust ourselves.
“Ask and you will receive,” says Jesus — so lo and behold, a week later Jesus comes and tells Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Exactly as Thomas had asked. Often I cannot even remember my prayer of one week ago but Jesus does not forget so be careful what you ask for! For sure this experience gave Thomas great joy. For any of us who have asked God and really pleaded for his help, asking for a particular grace, or light so as to know how to deal with a specific situation, when you then receive it you are filled with so much joy.
Joy is another gift of the Easter experience and many times the gospels recount the joy of encountering the Risen Christ.
Let us open our hearts and minds to receive a third and most vital gift that the Easter experience can bring – the gift of faith. As George Michael was telling us years ago, “You gotta have faith!” Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Let us pray for an increase in our faith. May we be thankful for the gifts of peace and joy that the Risen Lord brings to our lives and ask for the help of Mother Mary to increase our faith: our Mother who was blessed because she had faith, believing, never doubting, that the words the Lord had spoken to her would come true. Amen.