Reading #1: Acts of the Apostles 5: 12-16
This book (by the same writer as Luke’s Gospel) is sort of a cultic biography. It is a rather idealized version of the early church – the first people who knew and lived the reality of the Risen Christ. It acts like a norm by which we are to measure our attempts at being church. What do you find important in this reading?
This Second Sunday of Easter has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday. God’s mercy often comes to us through the quiet gift of another person who touches us with love, understanding, hope. — like a nurse who takes unusual care or a friend who really listens – who laughs with us and who likes us despite our ‘faults.’ Like Peter, we can all cast the shadow of God’s love and healing over another person . . . How have you experienced such mercy?
(Exploring the Sunday Readings, April 2004)
In Near Eastern cultures of this time, a shadow was commonly thought of as an extension of the person. It was a time of ‘magical understanding’ rather than scientific. It was even thought that one might harm people by stabbing their shadow. Symbolically, it was often used in Hebrew scripture as a sign of protection – especially God’s protection as in Ps. 17:8: “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Understanding God’s Word, April – June, 2007)
Consider that word: esteemed. What images does it conjure in your mind? “The people esteemed them.” The dictionary has synonyms of
|respect, admire, value, regard, appreciate, prize, treasure, revere.|
Who does this for you? Who esteems you to be who you are and dare to put yourself out there? Imagine if the people did not esteem them?
Reading #2: Revelation 1: 9 – 13, 17-19
Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature. It means unveiling; it tries to reveal the truth through ‘safe’ but powerful images, symbols, colors, numbers, visions and cryptic language. This is potent symbolic literature – it is written to those who had suffered persecution and were looking forward to more in the future. It was to assure them that goodness would never be overcome by evil. It draws the whole Biblical story into its own – a story of a God who journeys with humans to guide, shape and reshape human history. (Celebration, April, 2004)
The seven gold lampstands refers to the seven churches to which this ‘letter’ was written – what do you think of this image for a church? Notice Jesus is standing in the midst of them, with his feet showing and dressed like the lampstands. His first words are not to be afraid. How does this speak to you?
Do you have dreams/visionary insights/imaginary thought that impact your life too?
The Gospel: John 20:19-31
Can you relate to Thomas? When have doubts ever led you to greater faith?
“To believe in the resurrection of Jesus means to undertake
the surprising risk of reckoning with Jesus Christ as a present reality.” (Meinrad Limbeck)
What does that statement mean to you? This gospel reading is a culminating event in John’s gospel — shining forth with insight, symbol, and challenge. The community that gave us John’s gospel was experiencing much persecution, both from the Roman Empire that declared them illegal to the Jewish synagogues that declared them unwelcome.
What meaning do you find in:
the locked doors
‘the fear of the Jews’ (the authorities)
Shalom, “Peace be with you,” Jesus’ greeting
Jesus breathing on them (Genesis 2: 7; Ezekiel 37)
the power of forgiveness
the binding that comes from the lack of forgiveness
the wounds of Jesus
Thomas’ experience of doubt and faith (See John 11: 16)
It seems particularly important to John’s community to have Jesus assure those “who have not seen and have believed.”
Easter reality: Jesus lives; fear not! This is the cornerstone of our faith – joyfully proclaimed, but not easy to live. Fear can be crippling: fear of failure, fear of hurting or being hurt, fear of loss, fear of not knowing love, fear of pain, fear that what I know may not be so . . . Yet, a cowering band of men and women, hiding out from the authorities, suddenly became a powerful and public force for good . . . What made the difference? In the risen Christ they found the end to fear . . . (Celebration, April, 2004)
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 )
How many of us are like Thomas? Our faith may be strong, but there are slivers of doubt that creep in now and then. It is an ancient problem and John gives us an honest scene to ponder. Here are the disciples of Jesus hiding behind locked doors — Afraid. They were not expecting the Risen Christ. Locked doors are not a welcoming gesture! But suddenly he is there – offering peace, forgiveness, new life. There are no auras, no blinding lights, no accompanying angels to identify Jesus. Only his wounds. Doesn’t our own faith-life have more wounds than auras or lights or angels? Like the disciples we have seen many wounds. Of course, our culture tries hard to hide wounds and wrinkles and scars. Yet, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we have to share with each other is our woundedness. Only those comfortable with wounds can enter into the wounded places of others. Like Jesus, we carry our wounds with us. One powerful witness to resurrection may be our willingness to embrace these wounds — not out of some maudlin, masochistic, woe-is-me pleasure. Rather, we need to be ‘wounded-healers’ for each other (Henri Nouwen). For “the blessing lies close to the wound” as an African saying proclaims. Here in the ‘sacred wounds’ of one another we may find the presence of the Living One who can and will breath new life into us all. That is how our faith saves us. (Celebration, April 2000)
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)
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 42-47
This is the first of 3 summaries that Luke has in Acts. Ancient Greek writers used the word, Acts, to refer to the feats of great persons: the Acts of Hercules, the Acts of Hannibal, the Acts of Alexander, etc. This book (by the same writer as Luke’s Gospel) is sort of a cultic biography. It is a rather idealized version of the early church – the first people who knew and lived the reality of the Risen Christ. It acts like a norm by which we are to measure our attempts at being church.
The Resurrection of Jesus was and is a community-evoking, community-forming event! Before the experience of the Risen Lord, these people had little impact on the world. They lived small ordinary lives. But after the resurrection, they had become a community – persons who were interrelated, interdependent, and mutually supportive. Alone, they had been almost ineffective, but together they became “a formidable presence” for good – “alone they seemed powerless, but together, united in their presence of the risen, living Christ, they began to change the way human beings look at life, at death, at God, at one another. This reading shows us the four foundations on which such a community can be built: 1) The teaching of the apostles: faith formation – bringing the implications and applications of the Gospel into the ever changing present circumstances of real life. 2) The communal life: caring for and about each other; it was a community that began to be formed “from every nation under heaven.” Despite their diversity, they gathered in fellowship. 3) The breaking of the bread: being nourished by Jesus’ presence in ritual and in word. 4) Prayers: an individual and communal living-out of a love relationship with God. (Celebration, April 2005)
2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 3-9
The author of this letter was probably a disciple of Peter, the apostle, or even an associate of Paul’s. The theology is very similar to Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It might have been written between 70 – 90 AD. It is written in very cultivated Greek, and it uses the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. There was intense, widespread persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). This emperor demanded that he be adored as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. Unlike Nero’s attack on the church in the middle 60’s, Domitian caused Christians to suffer as far away as Smyrna and Pergamum. These Christians also suffered much local hostility from their own neighbors who defamed them and regarded them as ‘evil-doers.’ (Celebration, April 1999 and 2002)
Our new life in Christ is seen in the midst of these troubles as a precious “inheritance” – “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” – bringing us through death to a “new birth to a living hope.” Ironically, we often ‘inherit’ things through a death – but even more significantly we inherit things usually within the context of a family: “those who are birthed anew through the experience of Jesus’ resurrection belong together as a family… both in the present and in the future.” (Celebrations, April 1999, 2005)
As much as we would like it otherwise, ‘feeling good,’ ‘feeling fulfilled,’ can have little to do with true goodness and ethics. What really tests our goodness is not whether we tell the truth when it is easy or profitable, but whether we tell the truth when it is difficult, daring, even dangerous . . . Being faithful when it is easy and rewarded is one thing; being faithful when it is difficult and unappreciated is another. Faith in the Risen One is there for the good times — but it is even more vital for the times of fear, confusion, grief, and pain. Faith is not the absence of pain or sorrow; it is bearing pain and sorrow in faith – trusting that these evils will not have the final word. God’s word of love will. Such faith does not take away wounds, but it can transform them. (John Kavanaugh, “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
The Gospel – John 20: 19-31
What meaning do you find in this reading? the locked doors…the meaning of ‘the fear of the Jews’ – the ‘authorities’…shalom — “Peace be with you,” Jesus’ greeting…Jesus breathing on them (Genesis 2: 7; Ezekiel 37)…the power of forgiveness…the binding that comes from the lack of forgiveness…the wounds of Jesus…Thomas’ experience of doubt and faith
What can we 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 see 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. (Celebration, April 2005, and Quest, Spring 2005)