In this morning’s 1st. Reading, St. Luke describes life in the early Christian community in idealistic terms. (Acts 4:32-35).
-- All reading the Scriptures together.
-- all one in mind & heart.
-- the better off members of the community sharing their possessions with the more needy members.
St. Luke has the habit of describing events, not as they actually are, but as they ought to be. The Apostles were witnessing to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power and had the respect of the community. (v. 33). Those, who had property, sold it and gave the proceeds to the Apostles. The Apostles distributed it according to the needs of the members of the community.
As a result, there were no needy persons among them. (v. 34, Deut. 15:4). One cannot but admire the sense of community of the early Christians
-- All reading the Scriptures together.
-- All one in mind and heart. (v. 32).
-- All community members having their needs met – no one hoarding selfishly, while others are in need.
Especially in these difficult times, the example of the Early Christians can inspire us to reach out to the more needy members of our parish community & our neighourhood to see in what ways we can be a good neighbour to them. Some may be just lonely. Others may need someone to shop for them.
Always remembering the words of Christ -- whatever you did for the least of these brothers & sisters of mine you did it for me.
From the 1st. Reading it would seem that the community to which St. Peter is writing was being persecuted by their pagan neighbours, St. Peter exhorts them to pray for relief & remember that God is watching over them. We can make our own the words of St. Peter.
Let us pray for relief from the coronavirus & remember that God is watching over us.
APPEARANCES TO THE DISCIPLES -- 20:19-28
That the Risen Lord appeared suddenly to his Disciples in Jerusalem and greeted them with "Peace" is part of the Easter tradition. (cf. Lk.24:36). In this morning's Gospel St. John describes 2 different appearances of Christ to his Disciples after his Resurrection.
On the evening of the 1st. day of the week, the Disciples were locked in a room, somewhere in Jerusalem, scared of the Jewish authorities. V. 19 -- Christ appears & greets them with: "Peace be with you". This is the normal Jewish greeting: "Shalom".
V. 20 -- After greeting them, he showed them his hands and his side. (Jn. 20:20). By showing his hands and his side, St. John is telling us that it was the Crucified Jesus who was there. The Risen Christ is the same Christ, who was born in Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary.
The Disciples rejoiced, when they saw the Risen Lord. V. 21 -- After greeting them again, the Risen Lord continues: "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you". Just as He Himself has been sent by the Father, so Christ is now sending His Apostles. He is sending His Apostles to continue His own mission. (e.g. Jn.13:16; 20; 17:18).
Earlier in his Gospel, St John describes the mission of Christ for us. He quotes Christ as saying: “God loved the world so much that he gave us his only Son, so that everyone, who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him”. (3:16-17) The Church has always taught that the Father reconciled the world to Himself -- through Jesus of Nazareth, His only Begotten Son.
So, Christ's mission was to save mankind or to reconcile mankind to God, the Father. The Risen Lord is now sending His Apostles to tell all peoples that they have been reconciled. They are to tell all peoples that this reconciliation becomes personal by repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
(i). Gives the Holy Spirit
To enable His Apostles to continue His work of reconciliation, Christ breathes on them and says:
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.
For those, whose sins you retain, they are retained".
In these words, Christ communicates the Holy Spirit to His disciples to enable them:
(i) - to continue the mission which He Himself received from the Father (ii). - to enable them to reconcile sinners to God, the Father. From that moment until the present time, the Church has always been aware of the fact that it has the power, given it by Christ, to forgive & reconcile sinners to God. (20:22-23).
Down through the centuries, some wanted to limit the power of the Church to reconcile sinners. But no one seems to have doubted the existence of the power itself. The Church reconciles sinners primarily through the Sacraments of Baptism & Reconciliation.
V. 24 -- When the Disciples mentioned this appearance of the Risen Christ to Thomas, who was absent, he refused to believe. He wants concrete proof that the Risen Lord is truly the Crucified Lord. V. 25 -- He said that he will never believe until he puts his finger into the nail marks and his hand into Christ's side.
(ii). Christ's 2nd. Appearance -- vv. 26-29
Seven days later, Jesus appears to his Disciples again. This time Thomas was with them. The doors are again locked. V. 27 -- Jesus speaking directly to Thomas, asks him to put his finger into the wounds in his hands and his hand into his side. In the words: "Doubt no longer but believe" Christ is reprimanding Thomas for wanting concrete proof, before he would believe in His Resurrection. He should have believed on the basis of the words spoken to him by others. (E.g. 17:20). V. 28 -- We are all familiar with Thomas' response: "My Lord and my God".
The Early Christians expressed their faith that Jesus is God by using the phrase: "My Lord and my God" of him or by describing the Risen Jesus simply as "Lord". (1Cor. 12:3).
The words "Lord" & "God" (Eloihim &Yahweh) are Old Testament words used to describe God. (Ps. 35:32). They are used extensively of God throughout the Psalms. By using these words to describe the Risen Lord, the Early Christians are expressing their faith in His divinity.
St. Thomas' profession of faith is the culmination of St. John's Christology, since it recognizes the Glorified Christ as "Lord & God". We are all familiar with the opening words of St. John’s Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God”.
Now, towards the end of his Gospel, he has St. Thomas profess his faith in the Risen Christ as "Lord" & "God". The author ends his Gospel on a pastoral note:
V. 29 -- “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”.
What St. John is saying is that the faith of those, who believe in the Risen Lord, without ever having seen Him, is just as valid as the faith of the First Disciples.
By making this statement St. John has his own community in mind. Obviously there were some members in St. John's community who were acting like St. Thomas -- they wanted concrete proof that the Risen Lord is truly the Crucified Lord.
We sometimes forget that St. John was writing towards the end of the 1st. c – 60-70 years after the Resurrection took place.
Vv. 30-31 are obviously the ending of St. John’s Gospel. In these verses, St. John tells us that he had only one purpose in writing his Gospel -- to exhort his readers to believe that,
as the Messiah & Son of God, the Glorified Christ is the source of our eternal life.
Even though we have never seen the empty tomb or met the Risen Lord, St. John is exhorting us to express our faith in the Risen Lord. It tells us that our faith in the Risen Lord is just as valid as the faith of the Apostles, who actually saw Him. We are doubly blessed because we believe without having seen.
There are many phrases we can use to express our faith in the Risen Lord.
We can use the words of St. Thomas: "My Lord and my God!". (Jn. 20:28).
In these words, we are expressing our faith in the divinity of Christ.
We can use the words of the Early Christians: "Jesus is Lord". (1Cor. 12:3, 8:6, Phil. 2:11, 2Cor. 4:5, Rom. 10:9).
Or, we can use one of our own Acclamations to express our faith in the Risen Lord:
"Christ has died -- Christ is risen -- Christ will come again"
The words we use to express our faith in the Risen Lord are not important. The important thing is that we all express our faith that, as the Messiah & Son of God, the Glorified Christ is the source of our eternal life.
In these words of St. John, we have the core of our Easter message. If you were to remember just one phrase from this passage, that is the one I would like you to remember:
As the Messiah & Son of God, the Glorified Christ is the source of our eternal life.