Pastoral Reflections

2nd Sunday of Easter – 2017

Acts 2:42-47 
1 Peter 1:3-9 
John 20:19-31

Our faith is grounded in the witness of the apostles. This witness had its origins in the overwhelming encounter detailed in today’s gospel. Today’s gospel details a meeting, against all their expectations, with the final achievement in God’s work of creation, the greatness of the Risen Lord. All gospel accounts echo the details of this experience. Meditating on them gives us a greater appreciation of this foundation of our faith – namely, the Didache, or the ‘recorded teaching of the apostles’. These records chronicle the early church’s experiences since its beginnings in Jerusalem.

John’s Gospel is often referred to as a reflection on a Christ of Faith. This is so because John not only accurately chronicles the happenings of Jesus’ ministry, but he does so through the eyes of a true believer. John was the only evangelist who personally knew Jesus over the course of his three-year ministry. Thus, his writings have great personal value. The more we come to know John’s Gospel, the more we can recognize how much is implied in its apparently simple narrative.

It has often been pointed out that our understanding of the Easter Mystery was shaped by Luke’s schema of three distinct events: first the Resurrection, then the Ascension (40 days later), and finally Pentecost (10 days after the Ascension). In John’s gospel, the Easter Mystery is already experienced in all its aspects on Easter Day itself.

Meeting Mary of Magdala, Jesus speaks of his imminent ‘ascent’ to the Father. When he comes to the apostles’ place of refuge on the evening of that same day, the Savior, who had ‘emptied himself’ by becoming as we all are, shows himself already one with the Father in divine greatness and authority. He does so by bestowing ‘the Holy Spirit’ on them and commissions the apostles to undertake their great mission. He instructs them with ‘As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you’.

John’s narrative tells of the apostles’ experience as a passing from apprehension and uncertainty – ‘the doors were closed for fear of the Jews’, to the reassurance and joy brought by faith in the Risen Lord. Three times in this narrative Jesus reassures the apostles as he repeats his greeting, ‘Peace be with you’. Given the fact that this is their first encounter with the one they had abandoned to his fate, even denied, these words three times repeated are far more than a conventional greeting. They echo down through the ages as words of divine forgiveness and reconciliation for a world whose burdens Jesus has taken upon himself in the terrible drama of the cross.

The gospels all speak of the hesitations experienced by the apostles as they came to terms with their experience of Jesus’ apparition to them, and passed from fear and uncertainty to the joy of believing. In John’s narrative, this is all dramatized in the story of Thomas the outspoken enthusiast, who at one point tells Jesus, ‘We do not know where you are going, so how we can know the way?’ And at another point, Thomas urges the group, ‘Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him!’

As in other gospel accounts, Jesus makes it clear that what they have encountered is not a ghostly apparition, but his Incarnate Self. He invites Thomas to ‘Put your finger here, your hand in my side. Doubt no longer but believe’. And so, as John’s narrative comes to its climax in Thomas’ confession – ‘My Lord and my God’ – we hear echoes of the gospel’s opening. ‘The Word became flesh’ (1:18), and an echo of its meditation on the Eucharist, ‘The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world’ (6:51).

Even for the apostolic group, ‘seeing’ was not ‘believing’. The ‘seeing’ of their extraordinary and mysterious encounter was an invitation to accept the Savior’s gift of faith. Each Easter brings the same invitation to us all: namely, ‘Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe’.

Peter has this same message in his lesson today when he says: ‘You did not see him yet you love him, filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described’.

Today we also celebrate the Divine Mercy Sunday. Much like his apparition to his disciples, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska at the beginning of the last century. As with his disciples on the first Easter, Jesus encouraged Sr. Faustina to spread the word of his infinite mercy to all who would listen. Jesus reminds us in both apparitions that whatever we may encounter in life, his presence can be healing and enable us to overcome and be forgiven. That the great mercy witnessed on the cross of Calvary is ours if we desire it. That as believers in Christ, it is our privilege to carry his mercy into our daily lives and the lives of all we encounter. Let us pledge to honor the Resurrected Divine Mercy’s call not only today, but every day of our pilgrimage on earth.

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