What do you do when bad things happen to good people? This is the difficulty that Peter is faced with in the second reading today. His communities are having a torrid time. The risen Lord had given them new hope and joy, but now they are suffering for their faith. They have to endure persecution, torture and even death for their belief in Jesus. Peter responds by reflecting on Jesus, who, when faced with persecution did not retaliate but bore his sufferings for love of us. ‘Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps … When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.’ Continue reading
The author John Shea distinguishes three different movements in the mass. First, you gather the folks, then you tell the stories and finally you break the bread. This is what we do every Sunday and this is what happens with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Many scholars have taken up this story as a great example of what every mass should be like. Continue reading
In today’s gospel, we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. They are not in a good space. This is the proverbial ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Even though Mary Magdalene had come to them from the empty tomb announcing, “I have seen the Lord,” this was not enough to overcome their fear. And they had every right to be afraid. What had been done to Jesus could also be done to them so as to get rid of every trace of Jesus. But it wasn’t just fear that kept them indoors. They were sore with grief and guilt for having deserted their Master in his hour of need. They sought refuge in each other’s company but there is a hole in their little community that they cannot fill. They lack Jesus, the one they had pinned their hopes on. Whom will they follow now? What will they be able to do without him? They are a community without a mission and without vision; a frightened group closed in on itself. The darkness that covered the whole earth on Good Friday still lingers on painfully in their hearts.
Then, suddenly, Jesus takes the initiative and effortlessly comes to them. He simply stands in their midst and says to them, “Peace be with you.” We’ve heard the story so often that this extraordinary statement fails to surprise us. For the disciples, however, this was really a bolt from the blue. How could someone dead and buried suddenly appear? What’s more, his greeting of peace is extraordinary. There is no reproach or recrimination, just peace, flowing like a river, pouring the oil of gladness and forgiveness over their grief-stricken hearts. This little community, recently so distraught, begins to be transformed. From fear, they pass to the peace that Jesus instills in them. From the darkness of night, they pass to the joy of returning to see him full of life. Jesus had broken through their walls of unbelief and they were all filled with incredible joy.
But then, there is another twist. Incredible though this joy may be, it doesn’t seem to last. True, they got out of there and found Thomas to tell him the good news but then their joy appears to wear thin. Eight days later we find them once again huddled behind closed doors. Presumably fear had once again entered their hearts. But there is another issue. Time wise it’s only three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, but emotionally it’s a much bigger deal. All the resurrection stories spell out the great struggle the Apostles had in coming to terms with this radical transformation. It’s not in our DNA to jump from deep mourning to great joy in a matter of days. This can only be encouraging for us also as we too struggle to believe that God can be such a God of surprises!
And then there is Thomas, who, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack. There is something very modern about this man who lays down certain conditions before he can believe. Yet in wanting to see the wounds of Jesus and place his finger into his side, Thomas is merely making sure that the risen Lord is not just some fantasy or hallucination but is the same Jesus who died a cruel death. He does not want to separate the resurrection from the cross which has implications for all of us. It means we cannot live the “risen life” of Jesus authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross. This means being conscious that we develop the capacity to love and to be loved only by dying to ourselves. Our wounds are also a constant reminder of our frailty and that it is God’s grace that raises us up to new life. When Thomas touched the wounds the true greatness of Jesus dawned on him, his doubts vanished, and his faith was reborn. In the end, his confession of faith far outstrips that of the other apostles in confessing that Jesus was not only Lord but also God.
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday and the risen Lord is Divine Mercy in action. In all the resurrection stories, we find God’s mercy reaching out and tracking down all those who felt scandalised and abandoned by Jesus’ death on the cross. The risen Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Twice, as we heard today, he appeared to the disciples behind locked doors. Then he tracks down the disciples on the road to Emmaus and gently opens the Scriptures to them so that they can come to believe once more. Finally, in John 21, when Peter and a few others aimlessly go back to their former lives of fishing he is there waiting for them in the morning with a cooked breakfast. The point cannot be clearer. Nobody is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. No matter how much we feel we have neglected or denied Jesus — and don’t forget, Peter did that big time — God’s mercy is there for us. The Book of Revelation has Jesus say, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” God in Jesus, can reach beyond our human imaginings into places and situations that we can’t.
Today Peter tells us, “God, in his great mercy, has given us a new birth as his sons (and daughters) . . . so that we have a sure hope and promise of an inheritance that can never fade away”. Peter is writing to people who probably had never seen Jesus yet loved him. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ The same goes for that little community so devoted to the teaching of the apostles, to prayer and caring, not just for each other, but the wider community. We too have not seen Jesus, but may these wonderful stories allow Christ’s word of peace and reconciliation to touch us and move us into mission!
Sunday, 23 April 2017
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is the day when God raised Jesus from the dead and fulfilled all promises made of old to his people. This is the day when death has lost its sting when the prison gates are flung wide open and God’s people can once again walk in freedom and in the light of the Lord. The old man Simeon, at the presentation in the Temple, rejoiced that he could set his eyes on the infant Jesus. How much more does he rejoice today to see the adult and crucified Jesus raised from the dead and take his seat at the right hand of the Father. This is the day when the blind Bartimaeus is no longer a beggar on the side of the road but is set free to follow Jesus along the road. This is the day when the woman bent double for eighteen years is set free of her complaint and can stand upright and give praise and thanks to God. This is the day when the old wineskins are well past their sell by date and are confined to the dustbin of history because there is now a new wine flowing in abundance and we need new wineskins to contain it. This is the day when the new water of life is given us to drink so that we can all become fountains of living water welling up to eternal life. Continue reading
Way back in the past, when street lights, one by one, had to be put on and later put out, an old municipal lamplighter was asked by a reporter if he ever grew weary of his work. After all, it was a lonely job and the night was cold and damp. “Never am I cheerless,” said the old man, “for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on.” “But what do you have to cheer you when you have put out the last light?” asked the news writer. “Then comes the dawn,” said the lamplighter. Continue reading
St Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the city was in tumult, quaking indeed, with people asking, ‘Who is this?’ As Christian believers, we need to keep asking this same question so as to deepen our own faith, and help those who in different ways still ask about Jesus Christ: who is this? The answer is given to us in full measure in Holy Week and Easter and it is shattering in its power. Jerusalem quaked when Jesus entered it, the earth would quake as Jesus died, and there was a strong earthquake as the angel descended onto the empty tomb. The impact of Christ’s life, death and resurrection has reached down the ages to us here today and is continuing to spread to all peoples and all generations. It is an impact without precedent. Continue reading
The raising of Lazarus has much in common with the story of the Samaritan woman which we heard two weeks ago. Jesus’ interaction with women is uppermost in both stories. I find it interesting that the few deep, person to person conversations Jesus has in John’s gospel are all with women. They seem to ask the questions that get to the heart of the matter. In both stories the women had issues with Jesus. The Samaritan woman did not expect Jesus to be sitting at the well, nor did she want him there. Martha and Mary, on the other hand, had the opposite complaint, namely, why wasn’t he there? Each of them used the exact same words: ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died.’ In both stories, Jesus makes no effort to apologise but simply invites them to go deeper. With the Samaritan woman, he moves on from ordinary water to living water that can well up in one’s heart. With the Bethany sisters, the issue is living life as compared to ordinary life. Continue reading