Even though Easter Sunday was a week ago, we are still celebrating it – today is the final day in the octave of Easter. What we celebrate on Easter – the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – is so great that we need not one day but eight days to properly celebrate it liturgically. And just as we had 40 days of Lent, now we have 40 days of Easter up to Ascension Thursday, plus 10 more days of the Easter season up to Pentecost. So the 40 days of penance of Lent gets superseded by the 50 days of rejoicing of Easter.
And the Gospel readings that follow Jesus’ resurrection focus on various encounters that the Risen Jesus has with his disciples and how they move from unbelief to belief. After his resurrection, Jesus appears to among others Mary Magdalene, two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, and to Peter and the apostles. But when he appears to Peter and the apostles, Thomas happens not to be with them. Talk about the Fear of Missing Out! Maybe he had just stepped out to buy some oil for the lamps or something and when he comes back, he finds out that none other than Jesus Christ risen from the dead has appeared to the others! Perhaps that is one reason why he is so obstinate in refusing to believe them.
Before Jesus appears in this Gospel reading to the apostles, it notes that it is the evening of the first day of the week – it is the evening of the day when Jesus rose from the dead. The darkness outside is symbolic of the darkness that the apostles are experiencing. Although they have heard the report from Mary Magdalene that Jesus has risen from the dead, they still do not believe. They are afraid, gathered behind locked doors. And suddenly Jesus appears to them, somehow passing through the locked doors and the walls. These things are no longer obstacles to his glorified body.
And the first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” No doubt for the last three days their hearts have been tormented and anguished. Jesus wants to relieve them of this torment and to give them peace. This is what Jesus desires to give each one of us. And when we truly encounter Christ, this is what we will experience. Peace is so elusive; we are constantly in search of it, even when we do not realize it. No one wants to remain permanently agitated; but unfortunately, so many aspects of our society and the world we live in produce not peace but agitation. When we turn everything off, and step out of the raging river of news, entertainment, and social media, and withdraw to a quiet place to spend time with Jesus, we will start to experience some of that peace which only he can give.
And of course, Jesus’ appearance happens while Thomas is gone. The other apostles have experienced that movement from unbelief to belief. Thomas, who has not yet encountered the Risen Lord, still does not believe. So he insists on seeing Jesus himself and even touching the wounds of Jesus with his own hands. The wounds in Jesus’ hands and his side are what will identify Jesus for him; they will give him the physical proof that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. Even though Jesus has risen from the dead, he still bears the marks of his wounds. They have completed healed, but the scars remain. They are signs of the sacrifice he made for us, signs of his love for us, and they are eternal.
A week later, Jesus reappears to them. That would be today – one week after the resurrection. And this time Thomas is with them. Jesus proves that it is really he when he shows Thomas his hands and tells him to touch them and to put his hand into his side. Thomas responds with the greatest act of faith in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!”, he says. This man Jesus who has risen from the dead is truly God himself.
I think that what Jesus says next is meant for all of us, for the generations and generations who have come after the apostles and the disciples who actually saw the Risen Jesus with their own eyes. Jesus says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” None of us have that opportunity to encounter Jesus in the way his disciples did, with our own eyes. Jesus is telling us that faith is necessary because we do not have that advantage.
Our belief that Jesus rose from the dead has been passed on to us by someone else: perhaps parents, family members, teachers, catechists, friends, or Scripture itself. And God gives us reason to believe in it – we have the accounts of Jesus appearing to his disciples even after his death as recorded in Scripture; we have the teachings of the Church, the witness of the early disciples, the faith of others and how belief in Christ has transformed their lives. But even though what we believe is supported by these testimonies, we do not have the experience of our own senses to give us proof. That is where faith comes in – faith is like the bridge between the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and our own ability to say, “My Lord and my God!” God requires a leap of faith to believe in him. And he requires it because it involves a free choice, a free assent of our will. If we had scientific proof, then faith would not be necessary, and we wouldn’t really make a free choice to believe in God. We would believe in God the way we believe in the sun – because it’s there and we can see it (some days).
However, often our faith is weak, and we don’t always call Jesus our Lord and our God with the same conviction that Thomas had. But God can work with our little bit of faith. We must ask him to increase our faith, and then do what we can to cultivate it with prayer and the sacraments so that it will increase. Let us pray for the faith to be able to say to Jesus with conviction, “My Lord and my God!”