Homily for Second Sunday of Easter
Sr Anne Morris dhs
One way of praying with scripture is to imagine yourself into the scene. You can find yourself being, or shadowing, one or other person involved in the story and gain a deeper insight into what was going on for them. For example, I’ve often tried to imagine where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles. Perhaps he was out visiting his twin at the crucial moment when Jesus appear to the other Disciples and he came back to a completely altered scene. In effect the ten Disciples had experienced Pentecost in his absence. Jesus had breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit”. This is John’s much quieter description of a Pentecost that takes place before the Ascension. It’s the introverts experience of Pentecost. The extrovert version will come after. Its telling us that there are many experiences for us.
We all know what it’s like to be with a group who have been to see a film, or a football match and you haven’t. They’re full of an experience that you are removed from. In a more charitable frame of mind you try to enter into the experience, but if you are, like Thomas, in a state of grief and loss, then anger is an understandable response. At least before, he could share the loss and grief with them. Now the other ten are in a very different frame of mind and he’s cut off in his loneliness. A defiant anger is understandable. “Unless I see the wounds…and can put my hand into his side…” he’s not having any of it. I wonder too if, underneath it all Thomas had a question. Did Jesus come when he knew I wouldn’t be there? That would be a very painful question to sit with for another eight days.
We know from experience that it isn’t easy to believe in someone or something that we cannot see for ourselves. Thomas’ absence and subsequent struggle is the story for everyone not present in the upper room on this Easter evening. That obviously includes ourselves. Today’s Gospel builds a bridge between those that saw Jesus and those who did not. “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe”, says Jesus. In effect it is a ninth beatitude. We are in effect a ninth beatitude. Happy are they, blessed are they when…. It’s also true that many people did see Jesus and chose not be believe. Faith is a free choice.
In Robert Browning’s poem “A Death in the Desert”, he imagines the last of the Apostles, John, looking over his life in the days before his death, and wondering what will happen after his death, as the last person to have known Jesus personally.
“What will happen when there is left on earth
No one alive who knew
Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
That which was from the first, the Word of Life
How will it be when none more can say “I saw”?”
How can the Church speak about Jesus in a compelling way when no one can see him? That is precisely the problem that the evangelist John faces us with in today’s Gospel. We have no experience of the physical presence of Jesus, but our understanding of him is linked through time, through all previous generations of Christians, back to the Apostles themselves. It is a great chain of faith. You may think that the chain gets weaker the more it is distanced from the time of Jesus, but the Spirit which Jesus gives us is a present, living reality. The Spirit is present in you and me and enables each of us to have a living relationship with the Lord, as if we too were present in that upper room.
Poor old Thomas had to sweat it out for eight days. Perhaps the Lord knew it was the best way forward with him? He becomes the patron saint of all who doubt, of all wanting tangible proof, or who slip out at the crucial moment, or who arrive late. But the fact that we are gathered here today is sign of our faith in Christ. Future generations depend on us handing on what we have received, so that that chain of faith can continue. The sentiments expressed in the First Letter of Peter are addressed to us also. “You did not see him, yet you love him”. If we all do that, there will never be an end to the story of Jesus.
(With appreciative thanks for Denis McBride’s commentary on this text.)