Second Sunday of Easter
Pope Francis, referring to a passage from the Book of Revelation where Jesus stands before the door and knocks, said: ‘Today Christ is knocking from inside the church and wants to get out.’ Bishop Vincent Long, in his Easter homily, said that we encounter the living Christ ‘beyond the known boundaries of our worldview and the safe moorings of the past. We meet him as a community of seekers of truth, meaning and ultimate concern. More importantly, we witness to him in our acts of solidarity, communion and love.’ His words touch on the challenge of the readings today.
Pope Francis has repeatedly challenged the church about being a ghettoed, closeted and a closed community that is fearful of change. Our challenge is to move from ‘kleiso’ (closeted) to ‘ecclesia’ (being open and free from dominance and control). Fear leads to an overemphasis on security to the detriment of openness, welcome and compassion. That fear is palpable today as some people avoid others in public places. The risen Jesus continues to breathe on us and will not be stopped by closed doors. The tomb could not hold Jesus and his message of transformation and freedom did not end there. He is still active in the world and undercuts the strongholds of exploitation, degradation and injustice.
Despite appearances, we are invited to appreciate and embrace God’s abundance. In today’s readings, we hear how the Apostles cherished their newfound community life. They did life with fresh eyes as they saw God’s manifestation in their lives. The world had not changed. Injustice and oppression continued, but they saw the reality with new eyes, found courage in their hearts and responded. In these weeks, as many people live with a scarcity of physical contact and physical presence, medical care and food supplies, there are many people who are responding to that scarcity with an abundance of goodness, selflessness, generosity, kindness and explore new ways of being in solidarity. Still, we cannot be ignorant of suffering, evil, despair and darkness which seems so strong as to obscure signs of God’s goodness.
A week after the resurrection, the disciples are still behind locked doors. Mary’s announcement ‘I have seen the Lord’ and Jesus’ earlier appearance made no impression on them. Their fear kept them behind closed, locked doors. Jesus’ resurrection cannot make it easier and safer to avoid realities and people before us by locking the entrance into our hearts. Jesus has left the tomb but the disciples have created their own!!
Jesus’ resurrection: constant invitation to do life differently but fear can prevent us from seeing that life can be different. Fr. Eamonn Bredin ‘For the early Christians, the resurrection was not a dogma to be believed but a daring, decisive, power-filled call to live as Jesus lived.’
Thomas might not able to recognise God’s abundant goodness and presence in the risen Jesus until he could go beyond his pain and despair and reach out to the One he knew had wounds and then share in the darkness and pain of others around him. ’Unless I touch, I will not believe’.
As I reflect on Thomas’ words, I think of asylum seekers who have spent up 7 years in immigration detention. I think of the many at Guantanamo Bay since 2001 without a chance to have their cases heard. The desperate young man who was threatened with deportation coming to my workplace who slashed his wrists and chest. The Sri Lankan family –political pawns - still held at Christmas Island, at immense cost to the Australian tax payer. There are the 1000’s of people who have died due to the Covid-19 virus who seem to be a figure on a graph rather than people who were relations. There are thousands of people at the USA and Mexico border dying and suffering and facing questions about the genuineness or credibility of their fears. These experiences come to mind as I hear Thomas’ words, ‘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, I will not believe.’ All these people have their ‘passion tide’ stories. Each has a story of violence, neglect and fear and call for a response.
Often, when presiding at some Good Friday service, there was no reading of the Passion because the passion of Jesus was evident in the lives of the people before me: gay and lesbian, people living with HIV/AIDS, people grieving the loss of partners, family members and friends. The pall of the cross was over them and they needed to hear another story of love, reconciliation and healing. Today’s gospel is super-imposed over every image of woundedness in people and the earth. Jesus points to these wounds – because they are his too. He invites us to ‘put your finger here’ – to touch, to put our minds and voices there. We can remain locked in fear and hopelessness. Will we do life differently? Will we believe that we are held together by the One who speaks of peace, wholeness, connectedness, and inclusiveness? That same pall of the cross is now over the whole earth that is crying out – in the Amazon forests and the people that live there; the peoples of Africa that still live with consequences of colonisation; the brutality that many people live with under regimes such as in the Philippines. These are Passiontide stories as well as Easter stories. They become Easter stories when we hear and do what Jesus asks ‘Put your finger here in my wound and see my hands. Do not doubt but believe.’
It is intriguing that we make more of Thomas’ ‘doubt’ than the disciples’ fear. Doubting at least leaves one open to the new, to ask questions, whereas fear closes one off. Maybe that doubt is present as many people ask where God is in this pandemic. Somehow, that doubt may be also resolved as we look out for the ‘helpers’ in their solidarity with all people who are oppressed, sick, suffering various forms of violence and neglect. Fear closes us off to the reality of the world and other people. Thomas’ questioning left him open to respond and move to the point where in being willing to touch the wounds, in closing the gaps, he could say, ‘My Lord and my God!’ He came to a new way of seeing and being in the world.
That means a constant attentiveness to the goodness of God’s presence, especially where it is most difficult to see as we ask where is God in this pandemic. With the beautiful expressions of love, concern and service so many people have shown during the present pandemic, how can we not see God present in the relentless hopefulness displayed despite the circumstances. When we begin with the premise of God’s abundant love, we notice the generosity of human beings around us. We take in the beauty of creation, hear birds singing, notice blue skies and realise how little we really need to sustain our lives and those of others. Working for God’s Reign - for the well-being of everyone - despite contrary evidence is what faith is about.
As our ideas of connection and community are being challenged to slow the spread of Covid-19, the readings reveal how early Christians connected with people. We can think about how we how we engage with our sisters and brothers even at a distance.
Jesus is God’s ‘No!’ to violence, exclusion, and damnation. We still live in a world of brokenness and sorrow. We still live in a world of bigotry and hate. We still live in a world of violence and vengeance. To believe that there is life for this fragile and delicate world, that those who are crushed by forces of hate and apathy and death can still be embraced by love even when they no longer breathe and their hearts no longer beat, that a world dying of climate change can be made new. But, there is a power that is stronger than human destruction. The point is to live beyond the nihilism of resignation; to persist, knowing that ‘better’ is possible and we can be a part of it; to recognise the humanity in each person even when obscured by fears and prejudices; to know that there is still a heart of love beyond hate. There is hope if we recognise that we are all a part of each other, and if we live for one another and the home that we all share.
The persistence of living and striving in a world where bigotry and fear and danger may otherwise hold us back requires minds that question and seek answers. It requires curiosity and scepticism that tests everything. It requires moving beyond the comfort of the familiar, which so often keeps us from knowing one-another. It requires doubt. Without that doubt and need to question, we would not be able to learn and advance forward, intellectually or spiritually.
Jesus' communicated ‘shalom’ - a quality of presence that was tangible and drew the disciples into a way of life which the First Letter of Peter refers to it as ‘birth into a living hope.’ This peace is a gift that must allow to permeate our being and proclaim through the way we live. This peace is social and must touch others. Jesus came to transform this world into a reign of justice, peace, love and joy. Thomas knew death when he saw it and knew that a rising of the dead had something to do with wounds and scars. Only a God with wounds matters in order to be in solidarity with crucified peoples of the earth. Thomas does not want an idea but a flesh and blood Jesus. Faith needs to have hands and feet; it needs voices and a heart, capable of crossing walls as Jesus does - walls that divide people.
Jesus still calls to be reconciling, forgiving, loving, and seeking to draw people back without condemnation. The peace - ‘shalom’ - of Jesus is social. It is manifested in forgiveness, reconciliation and love, not by violence, war and death. Voices such as Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis have been telling us that war is one ‘non-essential activity’ .We need to resist violence and war, hunger, sickness and homelessness. We might question what difference we can make, but it is important that we hold on to the confidence that we do make a difference but we cannot do that in a locked room, ghetto, church building. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Do we do life differently? Do we live differently? What god dominates our life? Is it the god of individualism, patriarchy and capitalism that ignores the wounds of the earth and all living things? Is the God who breathes life and peace into our lives that holds us together by the presence of one who speaks words of peace, wholeness, connectedness, and inclusiveness? Our scars will reveal which God it is.
Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]
President, Pax Christi Australia