Easter 2: The Crucified comes to meet us

Posted on the 19th Apr 2020 in the category Resources



As the global coronavirus death toll approaches 150,000 souls, and the number of mourners grows incalculably larger, many people are facing the strains of lockdown, isolation, and loss, unable to find solace in conventional prayer or devotion.  In this situation we read this Sunday of Christ coming behind locked doors to transform his disciples’ lives.

 

Gospel

 

John 20.19-31 

 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

 

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ But Thomas (who was called ‘the Twin’), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ 

 

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Homily 

 

The Crucified comes to meet us

 

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Alleluya, Christ is risen!

 

Sometimes the Gospel speaks with a directness that makes us gasp. Suddenly we feel that we are simply part of its story. With what feels like the whole world in lockdown, Sunday’s Gospel is one such moment.

 

The first Easter day began with the visit of the women to a tomb they found empty, and the subsequent dash of two disciples to verify the women’s outlandish story (which, if true, was rather frightening). The evening of the same day is the scene for the opening of today’s gospel. In the morning the disciples had gone to the grave to find Jesus; but that evening Jesus came to the upper Room to find them. He is free of his tomb; but they are holed up in fear. Fear of others, the gospel tells us. News travels fast, and there may be soldiers on the streets. But we can imagine they were also anxious and felt ill-prepared for what might happen next with Jesus. Even if they had been recollecting what Jesus had said about his rising on the third day, it would not have been enough to give them confidence. They were symbolically entombed, paralyzed, confused.

 

So it is for us. In this week of Easter – ‘bright week’ the Orthodox call it – when our faith enables us to experience the new life that streams from the risen Lord, this year because of the virus, as the death-count continues to rise, thoughts of pain and fear continue to crowd in, making it near-impossible for us to associate ourselves with Easter joy. But today’s gospel passage can help to reconcile these two contradictory experiences. It helps us understand if we cannot go to him – and we literally cannot gather together to celebrate the Eucharist – he can and does come to us in our confinement and fear. He comes to teach us that the tomb is not a place of sadness and despair: it is the space in which we can make a decisive discovery about Christ, be changed, and become capable of proclaiming the our Master’s resurrection.

 

There are three frames in this passage:

 

The first frame (vv19-20) shows the disciples segregated behind the closed doors, as if it were the sepulchre of all their hopes. Jesus enters, and meets the atmosphere of fear and death with the greeting of peace, the forgiveness of sins that is the hallmark both of the cross and the resurrection. He offers a way out of their unforeseen isolation, but he does not offer a miracle. He shows them instead the signs of his own suffering, the wounds that will forever be the assurance of his compassion to those who suffer. They are tangible reminder that the resurrection Christ invites us to share does not take away the reality of suffering and death, or the daily death-to-self, but instead gives it meaning.

 

In the second frame (vv.21-23) Jesus gives two signs to translate his new life into the disciples’ lives. First he gives them his Spirit, a gesture of creation (cf Gen 2.7; Wis 15.11); and second he makes them witnesses to his resurrection by giving them power to forgive sins. Among the early Christians the remission of sins becomes a distinctive sign of Christian witness to the resurrection, central especially to the Eucharist, which Pope Francis wonderfully reminded us is ‘not a prize for the good, but is strength for the weak, for sinners. It is forgiveness, it is the viaticum that helps us to move forward, to walk.’ These two signs are strong enough to change the disciples backward-looking fear to joy and responsibility for the future. The gifts of the Risen Lord freed them from imprisonment in memories of past pain and mutual accusation, and opened up the journey into abundant new life. But someone was missing.

 

The third frame (vv 26-29) is a week later, when Thomas, who had been absent when Jesus appeared the first time, was now with them. Being Thomas, a reflective half-empty sort of person (not for nothing was is nickname ‘the twin’, or perhaps better the ‘double’) he wanted reassurance. He wanted to know that the resurrection was trustworthy; that it was what it said it was – the new life of Jesus crucified; and that it would be reliable even in the dark experiences that the disciples may yet go through. And so he wanted to feel those wounds. They are the place he would hide himself in, the assurances he would need, when, in the future, times would be dark and challenging. In the event it is not clear from the Gospel whether he did touch them. But here, behind closed doors again, not alone but together with the whole group, Thomas gives the fullest profession of faith anywhere in the gospel: ‘My Lord and my God!’

 

Thus far we’ve noticed similarities between the fear and isolation we are experiencing and what’s in the gospel reading. But for a moment we need also to note a difference, though it serves the same point. Thomas’s experience reveals that the Christian faith is not livable individually, as a solitary adventure;  nor is any truly human life, as the pandemic is starkly laying bare. Thomas makes his discovery and confession among his brothers, not in a private audience with Jesus. It is in their midst that he is reconciled to Jesus, and to the fellowship and shared calling of his brothers. Wherever such reconciliation happens, Jesus promises to be in the midst (Matt 18.20), as he is here, behind locked doors. The disciples had become isolated as a group, and Jesus had restored their confidence as a group. By contrast, we have not been isolated in our homes as a group, but scattered by the unseen ravages of a deadly disease into something much more like solitary confinement. Yes, the early church met secretly in homes to worship (sometimes the even met in graveyards, which is how St Peter’s in Rome began) because theirs was not a public religion. But they met as a fellowship; they celebrated the Eucharist, they shared their goods, they prayed together. We are obliged to meet virtually – in other words, ‘not really’ – and out of painful and frightening necessity. And we pray to the Lord to increase our desire once again to experience at the Eucharist communion with the Lord and his apostles.

 

Nonetheless the central message of today’s gospel holds. God in Christ knows our isolation, and our fear of loss and death, and as always he comes to us. Again and again, as with Mary Magdalene, the voice of Jesus breaks through our tears of sorrow and despair; again and again, as with Thomas, the voice of Jesus breaks through our hesitation and indecision; again and again, as with Peter, the voice of Jesus breaks through our failure and unreliability. His presence and gifts change us, and enable us to share his new life. Not just the relief that life can return to normal; but the joy and certainty of a new life which will be new eternally.

 

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Prayer

 

Let us contemplate the things that are above: Alleluya. 

Where our life is hidden with Christ in God: Alleluya.

R. Glory to you, O Crucified and Risen!

 

Son of God, came to the lowest part of our need,

And like a seed your life fell into the earth and died;

So that you may rise and draw all humanity to your love.

R. Glory to you, O Crucified and Risen!

 

You have known the pain of distance from God.

And were burdened with all our sins and sorrows,

So that you could carry us back to the Father’s house.

R. Glory to you, O Crucified and Risen!

 

You have filled the universe with light,

And yet are not ashamed to call us your brothers and sisters;

But have brought us, like lost sheep, back to the Father’s heart.

R. Glory to you, O Crucified and Risen!

 

Holy Father, in the humility of our human condition

your son Jesus Christ revealed your glory:

transfigure our weakness, our misery and our suffering,

by the light of his resurrection,

so we shall become your children,

and co-heirs to eternal life with him;

through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.  


2020 Easter 2 homily