Apr 26, 2014

2nd Sunday of Easter: In his Great mercy

"My Lord and my God!"

Acts 2: 42-47
1 Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31

No science is reliable science without verifiable proof.  Science doesn’t work in the realm of the abstract or mythical it seeks the truth through material proof.  When science confronts a mysterious or unexplainable observation it struggles to find a solution.  But that solution must be based in concrete facts. How things work and interact with each other is explained through a set of laws called physics for example or how drugs interact in our bodies is called medicine and chemistry.  And that’s how it should be if you’re a scientist.
But this Easter season every year takes us to an additional level of reality.  We are taken to a place where the mysterious and spiritual confront the touchable and that which I see with my own eyes and feel inside my own body.  The well-known Gospel scene this Sunday between the appearance of Jesus to the Apostles in the upper room and the same, one week later to the missing Thomas is both mysterious and touchable at the same time.

When Thomas hears from his companions, “We have seen the Lord!” his response I think is not so much filled with doubt but rather a kind of “Really? How can you prove it?” The claim of his brother apostles was a fantastic one after all. Although Jesus had already showed them the marks of his suffering, Thomas needed the same proof. After all, wouldn’t any one of them be just as skeptical as Thomas if they had been missing and heard this fantastic claim?

Although Jesus had spoken of his arrest, suffering and resurrection the Gospels make it clear the confused Apostles, as was theorized in Judaism of the time, may not have taken this to imply the resurrection of the dead, and that of Jesus, would be immediate.  So was Jesus speaking literally or in some sort of spiritual sense?  It seems they were mixed in opinion on his resurrection but perhaps hopeful that he would return to them in some manner.

Because Thomas wants to, “see the mark of the nails in his hand and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side” he wants to know for certain that whatever or whoever his companions saw was indeed Jesus. Once visible to Thomas, Jesus calls him and all of us to have a faith beyond tangible proof; to believe on his word and the testimony of others.  Easter faith calls us to trust – maybe a lifetime of effort. 
While Thomas’ response is more that of science than faith an even greater mystery confronted all the Apostles including Thomas – that of God’s mercy.  Both times when Jesus appeared to them he addressed them with, “Peace be with you.”  No judgment or questioning but the gift of mercy.  He knew they were frightened, confused and skeptical but out of love Jesus offers them mercy, despite their cowardice just a few days before.

Now, with the past forgiven, Jesus invites them to move forward in mission in the power of the Holy Spirit that he breathed upon them.  That mission is the extension of what Jesus offered to them – his mercy and forgiveness.  What better reminder could we have than this living encounter between Jesus and his companions on this Sunday of Divine Mercy? Yet, living that out in the realities of our daily Christian lives is often more rough and tumble than it is like what we hear in our first reading.
We may be envious a bit at the idyllic picture presented in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There we read:

“Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common, they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need . . . and enjoying favor with all the people . . .” (Acts 2).
Earlier in the same reading it tells us about their communal worship, the “breaking of bread” (Eucharist) and the joy that was clearly a hallmark of the very earliest of Christian communities.  While there is no reason to doubt that within the first years after the resurrection, while the apostles were eagerly moving among the Jewish communities, before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 a.d., life was generally as portrayed. After all, the majority of the early Christian converts were Jews so they already shared this in common.  Meeting in the Temple for prayer at the accustomed hours then moving to homes (no churches yet) to celebrate the Eucharist seemed quite benign apparently. But, were the first Christians really this united?  Was everything shared among the less fortunate with no sense of holding back or jealousy? 

As the Gentiles embraced the faith with a greater enthusiasm than the Jewish communities, they brought with them a variety of baggage from their culture some of which was compatible with the Christian message of equality and love but some of which needed to be shunned such as the rejection of many gods in favor of One true God.  Their suspicion among the early Roman authorities as those Christians who do not offer tribute to the Emperor made them a controversial sect.
Still, the first reading offers us a framework that we continue to live by today. What holds us together as a community in Christ? Jesus’ words of “Shalom” to his Apostles, that gift of mercy offered to each and everyone one of us and that we extend to each other is a glue that keeps us one.  Do we need proof before we believe this? We have it.

In the daily life of our sacraments, the risen Christ appears before us under signs of bread and wine, water, oil, and fire, in the power of the Scriptures, in the community life we recognize at our Eucharist gatherings where all are united by faith, and in the love and mercy we extend to our brothers and sisters.  In the sacraments and in each other we see, feel, touch, smell the presence of Christ among us.
Obviously, it may not be perfect since we are a collection of imperfect people in need of mercy but the Christian message has really never been without controversy and challenge.  We have major social issues and cultural change that pushes the limits of who we are.  We get on each other’s nerves at times, we judge, we hurt one another, scandal is before us, and we’re not exactly popular on the secular stage.
But the good news is that we are loved by a God of mercy who calls us into his family which holds the Creed and the moral framework that makes life worth living. The world needs to hear the same. 

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 Sunday)

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