2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER (B) April 11, 2021

Acts 4: 32-35; Psalm 118; I John 5: 1-6; John 20: 19-31

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the retreatants of St. Anselm Parish in San Anselmo, CA.

Today we celebrate the heart of our Christian faith: which begins and has its source in the resurrection. No need to come to church on Sunday, pray, love our neighbor, or spend our time focusing on Christ, if he simply was a great religious teacher who lives in our memories with fond affection and in images framed on our walls. If that’s all he was, he is dead and we can go about our lives on our own.

But if Christ is alive in God and in us humans, then what John tells us in our second reading is true: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God…." Christ is alive and in him we are born to a new life as children of God. Therefore, we live with hope that God is faithful and, in Christ, loves us. In Christ’s resurrection we have assurance that neither pain nor death can separate us from God’s love. As God was with Christ, so God will be there for us in whatever deaths we experience. Beginning now, Christ also shares his resurrected life with us for all eternity. Because of the resurrected Christ we can have total trust in God’s love for us. We are born again as God’s children – as the First Letter of John tells us today.

On Good Friday we saw kindness, compassion and love nailed to the cross. But today we celebrate that goodness is alive and living in and among us. Christ rose, so now we have undying love in our hearts and we can make full allegiance to Christ. What would that look like? If our lives are transformed in the resurrection and Christ lives in us, we can not ignore the inequalities in our world – its racism, selfish use of resources, violation of the innocent, buildup of weaponry, etc.

All of Jesus’ disciples fled, or denied him, when he needed them the most. When he came to his disciples huddled behind locked doors his first words to them were words of forgiveness and reconciliation, "Peace be with you." Forgiveness was not only offered to those disciples. It is also offered to each of us, behind whatever doors we have locked ourselves, spiritually, emotionally or physically. We are forgiven sinners and now free to live joyful lives. Through his Spirit we not only to look back to a memory of him, but experience him with us now, enabling us to do what he did: forgive others as we have been forgiven.

People say the resurrection could not have possibly happened: that it was made up, or the result of the disciples’ heightened grief and disappointment which came when Jesus was executed and their dreams shattered. But accounts like today’s gospel say otherwise. Something real happened to those huddled disciples. They reported that their master appeared to them. They recognized him, saw his wounds and heard him speak to them. Our faith is based on their witness and so we believe there is more than just what we can see and touch in this world. We believe Christ is risen, as John tells us today, our faith "conquers the world."

Our first reading from Acts paints an idealistic picture of the early Christian community. We are told that they were of one heart and mind: they shared their possessions and had "everything in common." Really? More – there was "no needy person among them." Really? Luke’s description in Acts is of an idealized community – all peace and harmony. In his depiction of the early church Luke seems to be illustrating Jesus’ teachings for those who follow him. Nevertheless, as idealized as the depiction of the early church is, we get the point, don’t we? It is about a community of believers who care and make personal sacrifices for one another. We may not go as far as mortgaging our homes to help the needy among us, but do the needs of those around us move us to reach deeper into our pockets, or give our spare time and energies to serve others, as Jesus so vividly taught?

The gospel gives another perspective on the early church. They were hiding in fear. That sounds real, doesn’t it? Maybe they were more akin to us, who also are made fearful by forces we cannot control. Lock the doors and lay low!

In light of the all-too-human disciples Jesus’ first word to them is "peace." How many parts of our modern church cause us to be restless and fearful because of scandals, dishonest administrators, diminishing numbers and income, divisiveness and the almost-absence of the young generation? His word of peace to his disciples is quickly followed by the gift of his breath, the Holy Spirit and then the command to forgive. Forgiveness, the first step in healing a wounded church and world. Thomas was the first who needed healing and forgiveness from the community whose witness he did not believe: a dissenter among the first believers. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Thomas had serious issues with the others, but at least he didn’t walk out. Healing is possible, even in a broken church. Thomas stays and the community continues to accept him. So, he is present when Jesus appears. Jesus addresses him urging him to believe. The church did not expel Thomas and in their company he experienced the risen Christ for himself. Doesn’t Thomas’ story challenge us? Often we are too quick to condemn the different thinkers among us and easily dismiss those whose lives aren’t like ours.

As I travel from parish to parish preaching I noticed a growing divide between "liberals" and "conservatives." We are quick to pass judgment, exclude and turn a deaf ear towards those different from us. We tend to talk among our own group, but not reach out and listen to the other. Divisions do nothing good for the church.

There is something about staying together and not walking out. It was to a gathered community that the risen Christ came and it was with them that Thomas was forgiven and given peace. Thomas was willing to admit she was wrong and it was Jesus who made sure he was welcome. As a result we have the inspired and very memorable words Thomas uttered before the risen Christ. Words which inspire, form and express our faith as well: "My Lord and my God."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: