Apr 6, 2013

2nd Easter - Peace and Mercy

"My Lord and my God!"
Acts 5: 12-16
Rev. 1: 9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
Jn 20: 19-31

It’s no wonder, living in the frantic and stressful life that we do the popularity of retreat houses and monasteries as destinations of seclusion and peace. There is nothing like a little peace and quiet, some personal “down time” to bring rest not only to our bodies but also to our minds and spirits.  I well recall the advice of a retreat master during a Jesuit 30 day retreat I undertook a while back.  He advised us to: “sleep well, eat well, and pray well.”  Most of us find no problem with the eating and sleeping part.  It’s often the praying that demands our fuller attention.  Yet, balance brings order to our lives as difficult as it can be to attain that perfect balance. Peace is truly a gift we must incorporate.

On this second Sunday of the Easter season Jesus appears to the disciples in his risen form.  Hiding in fear and likely confusion as to what to do next, with locked doors protecting them, Jesus “came and stood in their midst.” (Jn 20: 19).  He does not reprimand them for their abandonment; he does not express anger for their cowardice. He offers them his gift of peace: “Peace be with you,” he says to them, “Shalom.”

It is more than just, “Don’t be afraid by the fact that you now see me,” it is rather an invitation to reconciliation and mercy.  For, after proof of his bodily resurrection by showing them “his hands and his side . . .” (Jn 20: 20) Like the benefits of some peace and spiritual quiet we experience, the recharge of our lives, we are then sent out on mission.  And so too does Jesus send out his disciples with this new experience of his resurrected presence: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you . . .” (Jn 20: 21). This peace which Jesus offers to his disciples and through them to every believer is one that elicits a response – to go into missionary territory with the same message of reconciliation and mercy.

But, true peace can only be built on trust.  Here Jesus offers his startled disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit as he breathes his life upon them and commissions them to carry out the mission of reconciliation between humankind and God.  The experience of the skeptical Thomas in the Gospel reinforces that of every believer who struggles to believe in the face of doubt. To trust God in all things is a goal worth reaching for in our hectic lives. That trust can bring a sense of peace.  Jesus “peace be with you” is another way of saying “do not be afraid.” 

The Acts of the Apostles 5 today, then, offers us a picture of the fruits of this experience. Through the fervent faith of the now apostles the Spirit worked many “signs and wonders” among the early Christians. Rather than cause division, this new way of life created new bonds of unity among believers.  So much so that “the people esteemed them . . .” (Acts 5: 12) as we hear today. The sick were gathered and healed by even the passing shadow of St. Peter.  It must have been an amazing and awesome time in those early months and years.  Through bonds of reconciliation and love, trust was built and peace became the hallmark of the early Christians – peace that led to many giving their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

Ultimately, in this Easter season we are invited like the disciples themselves to a deeper trust (faith) in the truth of the risen Christ.  Our temptation to skepticism sometimes caused by all that is not of God which we see around us calls us to prayer and deeper faith. If we take a lesson from the disciples, later to be commissioned apostles, then we can see the power of this faith to overcome doubt. Countless Christian martyrs stand ready to remind us that Christ is truly risen. Thomas is a sign of most of us who would rather have proof we can rely on but one who ultimately proclaimed Jesus as, “my Lord and my God.” (Jn 20:28) The faith of many should be our proof and inspiration.  

A crisis of faith today?  Much ink has been spilled on this perception but in truth our culture needs some good news.  Don’t we need to hear something that will take away our fear, our skepticism, our isolation? The fulfillment of the hunger today for something more than technology which can satisfy us beyond the latest upgrade to our gadgets is found in this beautiful Easter season.

It has been said that what will change the culture is the witness of those who continue to believe that Christ is indeed risen because those who believe have found a peace that can proclaim Jesus as Lord and God. Our gathering around Word and Sacrament is not only the coming together of the Church made visible but the place where we are sent out to “glorify the Lord by our lives.” Forgiveness, reconciliation, and divine mercy are the solution to hatred, isolation, and greed.   

God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.

(Collect of 2nd Easter)