2nd Sunday of Easter - A Word that Changed Lives

Today's Scripture reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus brings the gift of peace, and the mission of forgiveness. It also captures the early skepticism of Thomas, and certainly that of many others with him.

There are those who will always need in some way to touch the wounds of the Risen Christ in order to come to faith. They will demand some physical proof. Others will become aware of His presence and power in ways that transcend the senses.

Faith in the resurrection of Jesus was slow in coming, even for His closest friends and followers. There were the special, fleeting moments when they saw Him again, heard Him speak, even ate fish with Him on the shore. But then there was the demand of Thomas for proof; there was His invitation to touch His wounds; but, most importantly, there was His challenge to believe without seeing: "Blest are they who have not seen and have believed."

Today's resurrection appearance is one of those stories recounted to us to help us come to a deeper faith in the Risen Lord.  It begins with a single word: "Shalom" – a word of peace to a dispersed and frightened band of disciples. A word that changed their lives.

The impact of Easter, in the early Church, and hopefully again in our time, is for believers to gather, to be together to contemplate the mystery of the Lord's resurrection and let it touch minds and hearts. This special sense of Community is very tangible in the apostolic church. We read about common living, sharing of goods, and a great concern that none of the believers should be left alone or in need. The Gospel incident with Thomas also highlights this same sense of community. The Disciples gathered together, partly in fear and wonder, and partly because they needed each other's support. When Jesus appeared to them, He offered them His gift of peace, and urged them to make mutual forgiveness the very first sign of their faith in the resurrection.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Thomas was not with the others when Jesus first came to them after the Resurrection. The fact that the surviving members of the Twelve seem to have been paralyzed into inaction and are hiding together in a locked room makes us wonder where Thomas actually was. But we can be sure that he must have felt totally alone; not even the fellowship of his companions can bring him comfort.

A week later he is with them and not only does he refuse to believe what they tell him, but he issues an ultimatum: indirectly aimed at Jesus. Maybe he wanted Jesus to know how angry he was and how empty he was feeling; perhaps he was hurting so much that he just couldn't bring himself to believe that Jesus would dare return to the group in his absence.

In any event, the apostles are now together again, behind locked doors, again hiding in fear - not exactly a sign of hospitality or of a readiness to rush out spread the good news of the Resurrection. Jesus is suddenly among them and once again offers them His Peace - a peace that will finally break through their fears, bring reconciliation and make love possible again.

Immediately He turns to Thomas and gently challenges him to follow through with his ultimatum: "Put your finger here - reach out and touch my side -  do not doubt, but believe." But for Thomas there is no longer a need for that. He drops to his knees and makes the simplest and yet most profound act of faith recorded in the whole of the New Testament: "My Lord and My God!"

Faith must go beyond just seeing and touching with our physical senses.  Thomas is a reminder today that our journey of faith includes doubt and brokenness.  Thomas also reminds us that it was through his wounds, not in spite of them, that Jesus was identifiable to the disciples. It was through these same wounds that we receive our life. Our wounds – whatever they might be - do not set us apart from Jesus. Rather, they are signs of our union with him.  And his wounds assure us that we will never be defeated by all that assails us. 

And because of this promise, our mission to proclaim the good news of salvation to all becomes just a little easier.  We can heal the broken-hearted – because we first have felt the healing power of Christ in our lives; we can forgive those who have sinned against us and against the world, because we first have been forgiven; we can enable others to experience the presence of Christ in their lives, because we first have been found by Him, we are known to him and we have been loved by Him in ways that we could never imagine.  We can become Christ’s light to the world, knowing full well that even the smallest and most insignificant of flames is far more powerful than the darkness itself.

Graphic: 'The Incredulity of St.Thomas' by Caravaggio ca.1601, at the Neues Palais, Potsdam