Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
We begin with the source of that experience: the resurrection of Jesus as Lord. It is not something Jesus’ disciples seem to have anticipated, still less “rigged”. As the Gospel opens we can almost feel the air of despondency, helplessness, and fear which overwhelms them. Then, all of a sudden and totally unexpected, Jesus is there before them. In case there is any doubt he shows them his hands and side which had been pierced with nails. At the same time he says, “Peace with you”. On the one hand, it is the normal Jewish greeting of ‘Shalom’. On the other hand, it is the fulfillment of a promise made at the Last Supper. He said he would give them a peace which no one could take away from them. That promise extends also to us. Whenever Jesus is truly with us and we are with him, there will be peace.
The disciples are overcome with joy. Jesus is still with them. This also is a promise made at the Last Supper. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me”. “I will see you again and you will rejoice”. Their joy, like their peace, will be enduring. At once he gives them the mission. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Two things are being said here. Firstly, the mission that was given to Jesus by his Father is now being passed on to them. They are to do exactly the same work as Jesus did, proclaim the same message, announce the same vision. Secondly, that mission is an essential part of their discipleship. They are not only to live like Jesus. They are part and parcel of Jesus. They are now to draw others to share their own experience of knowing and loving Jesus and being loved by him.
He then “confirms” them in their mission. He breathes on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” They are to be filled with Spirit, the life of God. This is the significance of Jesus breathing on them. It is reminding us of God breathing life into the mud of the earth and forming the first human being. Here there is a new creation. The Christian is called by Paul a “new person”, a “new creation”. This new person is one inspired by the very spirit of God and so become trans-formed. The forgiveness that Jesus speaks of is not just the juridical wiping away of sins but a deep reconciliation of people with God and with each other. This is the disciples’ mission: to bring people together as brothers and sisters and children of one God. This is the goal of the Kingdom.
Now we come to the second part where one of the disciples, Thomas, was not present on this occasion. This section is very important, the one that manifests their faith. They inform him that they have seen the Risen Jesus. He refuses to believe that the Lord has been among his companions. He wants to see with his own eyes irrefutable proof. The disciples leave him alone. And so, eight days later, that is, they are all assembled together. Suddenly there is Jesus with them wishing them Peace. Next He addresses Thomas telling him to examine him as much as he likes. “Put your fingers here; look, here are my hands. Doubt no longer but believe.” Thomas is overcome with emotion. He falls to his knees in worship, “My Lord and my God!” This is, of course, the supreme act of faith. No one in the whole Gospel has addressed Jesus like this. The irony is that Thomas’ words come not from seeing but from faith. He could see Jesus but he could not see God. We now have privileged words of Jesus, “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” The words are addressed less to Thomas himself than to all those who never knew Jesus before the resurrection and especially to us. And indeed from now on, these disciples too will only know Jesus by faith.
However there is an important question: was Thomas really a doubtful one? I do not think so. In fact he was really a man of faith. He was surprised that after seeing Jesus they could remain in hiding. He felt if they had really seen Jesus they would have been really shouting at the top of the voice telling the world that Jesus is living. Since they are still hiding he could not believe he has risen. Really he was the man of faith. In his life he did just that. He went to India and died for his faith.
It is in that background that the Church is born. We will celebrate its birth at Pentecost. But we may now ask how are we to make real that mission that Jesus gave to his disciples on that day? The answer comes beautifully to us in the First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. The essence of our lives together in Christ is summed up in four inseparable elements: Remaining faithful to (1) Breaking the word; the teaching of the apostles ;( 2) to the brotherhood and service; (3) to the breaking of bread; and (4) to say the prayers. This is as true now as it was at the earliest stages of the Church’s life.
Finally, in the Second Reading from the First Letter of Peter we are reminded of the guarantees that come to us because of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. “We have a sure hope and a promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away… Through your faith God’s power will guard you.”We are to remember these promises even though on the way we are likely to experience all kinds of trials. In the end, our great trust in God’s Word will be rewarded. “You did not see him, yet you loved him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious, that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.”Years ago, I was enthralled as I listened to a pastor who f had been on a long flight. The first warning of the approaching problems came when the sign on the airplane flashed on: “Fasten your seat belts.”
Then, after a while, a calm voice said, “We shall not be serving the beverages at this time as we are expecting a little turbulence. Please be sure your seat belt is fastened.” As he looked around the aircraft, it became obvious that many of the passengers were becoming apprehensive. Later, the voice of the announcer said, “We are so sorry that we are unable to serve the meal at this time. The turbulence is still ahead of us.”? And then the storm broke. The ominous cracks of thunder could be heard even above the roar of the engines. Lightening lit up the darkening skies, and within moments that great plane was like a cork tossed around on a celestial ocean. One moment the airplane was lifted on terrific currents of air; the next, it dropped as if it were about to crash. The pastor confessed that he shared the discomfort and fear of those around him. He said, “As I looked around the plane, I could see that nearly all the passengers were upset and alarmed. Some were praying. And then, I suddenly saw a girl to whom the storm meant nothing. She had tucked her feet beneath her as she sat on her seat and was reading a book. Everything within her small world was calm and orderly.Sometimes she closed her eyes, then she would read again; then she would straighten her legs, but worry and fear were not in her world. the plane finally reached its destination and all the passengers were hurrying to disembark, he lingered to speak to the girl whom he had watched for such a long time. Having commented about the storm and behavior of the plane, he asked why she had not been afraid. The sweet child replied, “Sir, my Dad is the pilot, and he is taking me home.”?