April 28, 2019: Second Sunday of Easter
Reading: John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
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.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to 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.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
John’s accounts of the days following the Resurrection of Jesus and his appearance to his close friends is so important that it is included in all three of the Sunday Lectionary Cycles. This tells us immediately that it is extremely important to the Jesus story. This Gospel combines two scenes: Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection and Jesus’ dialogue with Thomas, the disciple who doubted.
Part of the great mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection was that he appeared not as a spirit, but in bodily form. We don’t know exactly what that was like. Earlier in John’s Gospel, when Mary Magdalen first encountered the risen Jesus, she did not recognize him until he spoke to her and she recognized his voice. In Luke’s Gospel the disciples, walking on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus until he broke bread with them. What we know from today’s readings is that Jesus was no longer bound by space; he appeared to the disciples in spite of the locked door. And yet the disciples could still see the marks of his crucifixion. Jesus came with the gifts of peace and the Spirit. The Spirit binds us together as a community of Faith and strengthens us to bear witness to Jesus’ Resurrection. The Church with the strength of the Spirit continues Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation so central to the Faith of the young church then, and now into the future.
The notion of rising from the dead is a hard truth to accept. We seem to have no experience of a close friend or family member coming back to us even though we desperately want to know if they are okay. We struggle with the question that if Jesus did come back in a different bodily form, why couldn’t the people we deeply love do it, just once to quench our desire to know more. But that doesn’t seem to happen. We are left with Jesus giving us a taste of what our own risen bodies might be like, and how much genuine faith it takes to be like Thomas as we ask those same questions about the struggle between doubt and faith.
Spend some time thinking about what you believe about your own afterlife. It is a central issue linked back to the Resurrection. If we are energy, that scientists now tell us we are, nothing is lost — it is transformed. Good news for those of us who face that mystery and know there may be amazing possibilities ahead for us.