Easter II, 2015
April 12
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, I John 1:1–2:2, Saint John 20:19-31

The Gospel today begins exactly where the Gospel last week, on Easter Day, ends. You remember that the resurrected Jesus approaches Mary Magdalene, who had come to the tomb to anoint his body, and she does not recognize him. She supposes he is the gardener, but he calls her by name, he gets her attention, and she recognizes him. The only thing she has to do is to recognize him. Frightened, she runs off, back to the house where the disciples were meeting together after the Lord’s arrest and crucifixion, and she proclaims to them that she has seen the Lord.[1]

Today’s Gospel takes place in that house in the evening of that first Easter Day. Some time has elapsed; and the Lord himself comes among them, and shows himself to them. He shows them his hands and his side, and they believe. There is a catch, though. Thomas is not with them, and later he says he will not believe unless he sees, as the other disciples have seen, his hands and his side. A week later, the second Sunday of the first Easter, the Lord returns and gives Thomas what he has said he needs: the Lord shows him his hands and his side, and Thomas believes. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God.”[2]

And then Jesus gives us the main point of these two episodes in the house with the disciples. He says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”[3]

I don’t usually retell the Gospel in such detail as I have just done. I wouldn’t do it without a good reason. And I want to develop that reason now.

Mary Magdalene, then the disciples, and finally Thomas have a direct experience of the resurrected Lord. And they each believe in that resurrection because of that direct experience. Seeing is believing. When Mary Magdalene sees and recognizes Jesus, she believes. When the disciples see Jesus, they believe. When Thomas puts his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in his side, he believes along with the others.

But what about others? What about those who have not put their fingers in the mark of the nails and their hand in the side of the resurrected Lord? What about those who were far away or to whom the Lord in his resurrected body did not appear? And, of course, by extension, what about us, the centuries-removed inheritors of the disciples’ witness, how is it that we could come or have come to believe? How does belief happen if you cannot put your finger in the mark of the nails or your hand in his side?

Jesus is with you in the flesh and the blood; he is with you in the bread and the wine, the sacramental tokens of his presence. The Lord presents himself through the Holy Spirit in two principal ways. First, he presents himself through the witness of those who’ve already come to believe in his resurrection. I mean by this that marks of authenticity, the equivalents of the marks of the nails and the spear, distinguish those who believe in him. Those marks are so numerous as to be almost too many to number. But some of them are: commitment to Christ and his Church, faithfulness, prayerfulness, charity, forgiveness, trust in history as God’s own gift to its participants, and the selfless willingness to serve Christ and each other. There are many others. One reason that Christianity exists in communities is that these marks live in communities. The marks are there for all to see, to rely on, and to encourage in each other. Christ is alive, because the people who put their trust in him live and live not for themselves alone but live for him. We stand the best chance of meeting him when we are with those whose trust is in him. And so, worship and fellowship with each other are important to growth in faith.

The second way that the risen Lord presents himself is through the need of those for whom he died, the need of the poor, and even the need of those who know him not. When we see helplessness, or poverty, or weakness, or sicknesses, we see the need for Christ. We have the opportunity to think of him and the reasons for which he was willing to die. We can see him in the need for him, and in his Spirit, we can give ourselves to meet that need. Our willingness to give ourselves remains an important mark of authenticity. In our words, we can meet him in our mission. We can meet him when we meet someone else’s need. We can meet him, in other words, in our mission as a community of faith.

We stand a chance to meet him in worship, in fellowship, and in mission. He is here waiting to be recognized, waiting to be understood as the meaning of your life, the meaning that draws every experience together, the meaning without which we can make no sense of anything. Alleluia. Christ is risen.

[1] Saint John 20:18.

[2] Saint John 20:28.

[3] Saint John 20:29.