Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Peace Be With You", Jesus Said, "As The Father Sent Me, So I Am Sending You."

Second Sunday of Easter
Reading I
Acts 5:12-16
Many signs and wonders were done
among the people at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon’s portico.
None of the others dared to join them,
but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women,
were added to them.
Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets
and laid them on cots and mats
so that when Peter came by,
at least his shadow
might fall on one or another of them.
A large number of people
from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem
also gathered, bringing the sick
and those disturbed by unclean spirits,
and they were all cured.
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Psalm 118
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,

his love is everlasting.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
his love is everlasting.
I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just.
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
his love is everlasting.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
his love is everlasting.
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Reading II
Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
I, John, your brother, who share with you
the distress, the kingdom,
and the endurance we have in Jesus,
found myself on the island called Patmos
because I proclaimed God’s word
and gave testimony to Jesus.
I was caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day
and heard behind me
a voice as loud as a trumpet, which said,
“Write on a scroll what you see.”
Then I turned to see
whose voice it was that spoke to me,
and when I turned,
I saw seven gold lampstands
and in the midst of the lampstands
one like a son of man,
wearing an ankle-length robe,
with a gold sash around his chest.

When I caught sight of him,
I fell down at his feet as though dead.
He touched me with his right hand and said,
“Do not be afraid.
I am the first and the last,
the one who lives.
Once I was dead,
but now I am alive forever and ever.
I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.
Write down, therefore, what you have seen,
and what is happening,
and what will happen afterwards.”
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John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked,
where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this,
he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced
when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again,
“Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me,
so I send you.”
And when he had said this,
he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive
are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain
are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus,
one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him,
“We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side,
I will not believe.”

Now a week later
his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came,
although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst
and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas,
“Put your finger here
and see my hands,
and bring your hand
and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving,
but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him,
“My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him,
“Have you come to believe
because you have seen me?
Blessed are those
who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written
that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief
you may have life in his name.
On this First Sunday after Easter, the Gospel takes us back to the Upper Room, where the disciples are gathered, with the doors firmly locked “for fear of the Jews”. At any moment, the police might arrive to arrest them as accomplices of that dangerous subversive who had been executed on Golgotha the previous Friday.

Then, all of a sudden, Jesus is standing among them. “Peace be with you!” he says, echoing the usual Jewish greeting, “Shalom!” But it is more than that – the disciples are filled with the same inner peace that came when Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and with great joy “when they saw the Lord” – the title John gives to the Risen Jesus.

But this is not just a happy reunion. After Jesus returns to his place at the Father’s right hand, the work he began will be theirs to continue. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” They are being given a mission. The word “mission” comes from the Latin verb “to send”. Every follower of Jesus has a mission; we are all missionaries.

Jesus breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, the Pentecost experience takes place 50 days after the resurrection; for John, it takes place on Easter day. The meaning is the same: The disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and sent forth to spread the Good News of salvation. What Jesus does echoes the Creation story, when God “breathed” over the waters, and brought order out of chaos; and breathed again, and Adam, a human being made in the image and likeness of God, comes into existence. Now, Jesus “breathes” the Spirit into his disciples, making them, in Paul’s term, “new human beings”, filled with the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The full power of Jesus is given to them: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven; whose sins you hold back, are held back.” When they act in the name of Jesus, they have his authority. Their mission is to forgive sin, to bring about a deep reconciliation between people and God, and among people themselves, to make all one in Him. “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.” We are not talking here just about the sacrament of Reconciliation, although its roots can be traced to here. The forgiveness of sins is much more than a juridical act that declares that a wrongful act is no longer held against the perpetrator. It involves the healing of wounds and of divisions between God and his people, and between brothers and sisters who are members of one family founded in truth, love and justice. That is the mission of the Kingdom of God on earth; that is the task of every Christian community, and of each of its members.

But the story is not finished. One of the Twelve, Thomas, was not there on that Sunday morning. He represents the skeptic in all of us. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my fingers into the nail marks and my hand into his side, I will not believe!” He is not going to take someone else’s word; he won’t be convinced by witnesses; he wants evidence.

The following Sunday – the day we are celebrating today – the doors of the Upper Room are once again locked. And suddenly, Jesus is again present, with his greeting “Shalom!” Then he addresses Thomas directly: “Look at my hands, and put your finger in the place of the nails. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Stop being a skeptic, and believe.”

Then follows the greatest profession of faith in the entire book of gospels: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus has invited Thomas to touch his wounds, but it seems he never did so. His cry of recognition is not “Jesus, it IS you!” but “My Lord and my God!” It is, in fact, a profound act of faith in the reality and the identity of the Person who is standing before him. That is not something he can perceive with his physical senses. Only the eyes of faith can lead him to speak these words, “My Lord and my God.”

At the end of the day, a further word of encouragement is offered for you and me, who have not had the privilege of Thomas’ experience. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” You and I have not experienced what Thomas and the other apostles and disciples have seen and known, the Jesus of the Public Life, before the crucifixion. Yet, our gift of faith makes us able to see him in all the surroundings of daily life, especially in those people who are filled with his Spirit, and who bring him into our lives. We also see him in the sick, the weak, the oppressed, the poor around us who give us opportunities to know, love and show compassion, “for whatever you do for the least of these, my brethren, you do for me.” We can even see him in those who are hostile toward us, in the sense that we are challenged to bring Christ to them by our love and concern for their well-being.

To see and know Jesus in our lives is to recognize when, where and how he comes to us, on the one hand, and on the other, to be prepared for the day-to-day opportunities when we can bring him into the lives of others. Above all, can we meet the challenge to be faithful to the mission Jesus gave to his disciples: to be peacemakers, breaking down walls of hatred, prejudice and fear? We do this by striving to live fully a life of integrity, of love, of compassion, of true justice for all. When, with the help of God’s grace, we do that, then Easter is celebrated, and Jesus is alive among us.

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