1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-35
Every Easter season we read from Acts; it is the ‘Part-2’ of Luke’s story. It is a very idealistic and dramatic narrative of the early community. Through the power of the Risen Lord, we are empowered to share life and possessions, rather than horde ‘things.’ Luke in these types of summaries is holding up an ideal for all of us to consider. Historically, we know that in these early communities all private ownership was NOT utterly renounced. Sharing and caring for each other was the way, however, for the Christian to ‘live’ Jesus’ resurrection. It still is today. (Celebration, April, 2000)
A triumphal picture is painted in Acts. Such an ecclesiology, taken in isolation, will leave Christians perplexed when their institutions begin to close, when their churches are being abandoned for lack of members, and when their overall numbers in the world begin to get smaller (Brown, Raymond, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p. 70-71). Not to be a party pooper, but we know from Paul’s letters that there was discord and difficulty behind the success of the growing community. Isn’t there always? It is Christ that gives us strength and hope…as Psalm 118 says this week, “His mercy endures forever.”
2nd Reading: 1 John 5: 1-6
John’s community was not only persecuted, it was divided. It was being split by people who could not believe in the Incarnation (the Gnostics). Those who broke away did not believe that the human Jesus could be one with the powerful Presence and Spirit of God, both through his baptismal calling and power (the water and the Spirit) and through his humanness and suffering (the blood, his life-force). Further proof of their error was their behavior and lack of love shown toward one another. They would not accept the reality of Jesus Christ nor his way of love. (Mary Birmingham, W& W for Year B, 355-356)
Reflect on that word ‘begotten’. The word is based on the Greek word monogenes, which means “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” John was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is the Son of God and he uses monogenes to highlight Jesus as uniquely God’s Son—sharing the same divine nature as God—as opposed to believers who are God’s sons and daughters by adoption. Jesus is God’s “one and only” Son. But this is also speaking about US. This is the kind of intimacy God wants with us. We enter into this relationship. We are one of a kind, unique, and loved by our Creator.
The Gospel: John 20: 19-31
Belief isn’t something we have and then that’s it. There is always room to grow in our belief – or our unbelief. The story of ‘doubting Thomas’ is the story of all of us. May we all come to a profound faith in “Our Lord and our God” as Thomas did. Note also that it says the ‘disciples’ were behind closed doors. The Spirit is given to all those gathered, not just the Twelve. The mission of all disciples, empowered by the Spirit, is to extend to others the forgiveness and life that Jesus offers us through his death and resurrection. Where the Spirit is present, the Risen Christ becomes visible. (Living Liturgy, 2003, 116-117)
The faith of Thomas was not based on an empty tomb, but on an encounter with the living Lord. We can learn from Thomas:
1st, we see the importance of community – we can miss a lot if we separate ourselves from community. When sorrow overwhelms us, it is then that we need to seek that we can “seek the heart and mind of Christ” in other believers.
2nd, Thomas was honest – and even bold. When he had doubts and questions he did not deny his doubts “by pretending that they didn’t exist.” He took them directly to Jesus. In John’s Gospel when all of Jesus’ followers agreed that it was dangerous to go back to Jerusalem, Thomas says: “Let us go also to die with him (11:16).” Yet, when Jesus tries to warn his friends at the Last Supper that he would have to leave them — that he would go to his Father’s house and that they knew the way — Thomas spoke up: “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way (14:5)?” After demanding his own experience of the Risen Lord, he is the one who gives the ultimate faith statement: “My Lord and my God!” (Celebration, April 2005, and Quest, Spring 2005)
Note: Jesus is recognized by his wounds. How many of us have come to ‘see’ Jesus because of our wounds? We do not often see auras or visions or angels. If we are indeed Christ’s body in this time and place, then our wounds, too, have meaning and can be “luminous signs.” Perhaps it is in our woundedness that we are most like Jesus and most like one another. Our ‘witness to resurrection’ may be our willingness to embrace all of life – even our wounds and difficulties. We do this not to be masochistic, but rather to show that we are in the midst of being healed, of being forgiven, of receiving peace. We can become healers, too, for one another — “wounded healers” like Henri Nouwen would say — so Jesus can continue to work through us and through our simple wounds. (Celebration, April 2002)
At the end of this gospel story, John writes that he has told this story so that “you may come to believe . . . and that through this belief you may have life.”
But the word John uses for belief is not a noun – but a verb! In fact, John never uses the noun faith or belief; he uses the verb 98 times! John is not concerned with an inward system of thoughts, but an active commitment to trust in Jesus and in his word. This is what it means to be a disciple. It is the very reason the Father sent Jesus and why Jesus came: “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15). Jesus’ whole life, ministry, death, and resurrection are oriented to this one outcome. This is why Jesus persisted in the face of conspiracy, rejection, abandonment – and it is why Jesus came that Easter morning to those who were locked in fear – and then again to Thomas. It is also why he continues to come to us offering us his peace. (“Working with the Word”, Zimmerman, http://liturgy.slu.edu 2006)
This picture was taken at our recent Easter Vigil. The paschal candle was lit by the Easter fire outside and brought to each person. The flame represents the presence of the Risen Christ. Each of us receives it so we may all be “enlightened”. And now, the paschal candle remains lit throughout the Easter season as a reminder to us. This picture really strikes me as who we are as church. We all have the light of Christ within us, and together we can light up the world.
But lately, I don’t feel so lit up. Thinking back on the last week for our parish: It. has. been. hard. So much having to live in not knowing and needing to be in the tension of that. I feel like I’m supposed to be OK with it all. I am not OK! Not knowing and having to wait for things out of my control are not easy for me. I don’t want to be OK with it. You know what I do want? Company. I want to hold hand-in-hand with my God and our parish and sit together in the discomfort. Hold vigil. This is what we did on Holy Saturday. We gathered around the flame…the Easter flame…and we are still doing this now. Coming to church and gathering around the flame, like a campfire, is what is comforting and healing right now.
The awesomeness of the Easter Vigil is that we wait, but in hope! Despite any odds and unknowing, Jesus lives! Good news still happens! What causes death (to life, to hope, to love) never has the final answer. Jesus sees us through the cross. We hold vigil knowing there will be light again. We don’t have to have that peaceful, touchy-feely feeling. Spirit comes in our moments of wacky unknowing and keeps us company. We can wait in hope despite the answers. Because we have a God who broke through history and chose to dwell among us, even after death.
So I take it back. I do feel lit up. Because God is with me. Because God is with us. And the flame will never go out.
I often think how The Lord is with me — with us — and yet I can go through my day rather unaware… So I’ve come to treasure a prayer to help me to focus on this loving Presence that permeates my life — all life. In Mass it comes at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. For me it has become a sort of mantra: “Through you, Lord, with you, Lord, in you Lord.” When in difficulties, problems or grief, I find these words bring strength somehow. When happy or celebrating, they bring me gratitude and a good sense of humility. They are great words to exercise through — and with. These words can become a morning prayer, a walking prayer, a pondering prayer — and a good night prayer along with a thank you, Lord! I share this in case you might find it helpful also.
Do you ever think about how wonderful it is to stand at different parts of our Mass? I do! When we stand in prayer with the presider who represents Christ, we are standing with Jesus and for Jesus. It is a position of commitment and purpose. I once read in an article that the early Christians decided to stand around the table of The Lord because that was the position of the servant at meals. Like Jesus who said he came to serve, so they also stood ready to serve — to be one with Christ. We stand at the gospel showing our readiness to be a part of this Good News. We stand at the Eucharistic prayers ready to offer our ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ — uniting ourselves with Christ’s. We stand at the Our Father together — one in God’s family. We then receive The Lord walking upright together. At the end of our Mass we stand waiting to be blessed and sent out to be the presence of the Risen Lord in a world in need. As we head toward Easter I also think what a lovely resurrection position it is. May we rise up with joy and love this Easter!
It is wonderful to walk in spring, isn’t it? Even wet patches seem ‘mud-luscious’! And just wait until the leaves start to burst out of dead- looking branches– and flowers pop their heads out of the cold earth! It is precious time to walk AND pray. I like to use the line from our Mass prayers: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” Maybe as we pray this simple prayer, our hearts will burst open with gratitude and love for the many wonders of life.