The Easter season is replete with accounts of apparitions of the risen Lord. The Gospel for today relates two of them. The first occurs on the evening of the resurrection itself, the second a week later. The disciples’ reported fear of the Jewish authorities suggests that they have not even a glimmer of the immense power of Jesus’ resurrection. Only when they see his pierced hands and side do they believe. The absent Thomas is no different. He needs tangible proof as well. But if there is tangible proof, is this really faith? For we have been told that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb 1:1).
We should not be too quick to criticize the early disciples for their initial lack of faith. How could they possibly have anticipated the wonder before whom they now stood? True, Jesus had earlier told them that he would rise from the dead. But how could they know that he was not speaking in metaphors? After all, the prophet Ezekiel employed the metaphor of dry bones when he promised the rebuilding of the disseminated nation of Israel (37:1-14). No, the disciples could hardly have anticipated this wonder. And when it did happen, they could hardly comprehend it.
Frequently we occupy ourselves with trying to figure out just how the resurrection happened, but the basis of faith is the belief that it happened. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find the disciples wondering, “How did he do that?” Rather, they are overwhelmed with the realization that something momentous has occurred, and they are simply awed and stop in their tracks, without questioning. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord,” and Thomas professes his faith: “My Lord and my God!”
In today’s Gospel, we see the reconciling power of God unfold before our eyes. The disciples are reconciled with the one they deserted out of fear for their own lives. Thomas is reconciled with the one he refused to believe had risen from the dead. Jesus welcomes all and commissions them to be agents of the reconciliation of others with God and with each other. This reconciliation is to be accomplished through the power of his resurrection. In a world torn apart by hatred and violence, reconciliation may well be our most prized Easter blessing.
The reading from 1 Peter was directed toward second-generation Christians, who had never met the historical Jesus personally. Their knowledge of him came through the example and preaching of others: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice.” This exhortation could be directed toward us today. Our faith too comes to us through the witness and words of others. Thomas initially refuses to accept the testimony of his companions. But when he does recognize his error, his proclamation of faith is especially profound. He does not merely declare that Jesus is Lord and the Messiah of God. He cries out, “My Lord and my God!”
The reading from Acts is less an actual depiction of the early Christian community than it is a model of ideal communal living, the kind of living toward which we should all strive. Membership in this community was based on faith: “All who believed were together.” Their faith expressed itself in various ways. The members were open to the teaching of the apostles. They both received and nurtured their faith on the word of others. Their faith strengthened the bonds that united them, and what resulted was an extraordinary degree of communal sharing. No one’s basic needs were left unmet. Finally, the community came together for prayer and for the ritual breaking of bread.
The Gospel furnishes us with an example of one of the fruits of the resurrection, namely, reconciliation with God and with one another. The first reading cites some of the characteristics of genuine Christian living: openness to new religious insights, sharing with those in need, communal prayer and worship. The second reading alerts us to the price that may be exacted of us: “You may have to suffer through various trials.” It is not that God wants us to suffer. Rather, faithful Christian living often comes into conflict with some of the standards and customs of the world within which we live. We suffer when that world strikes out in anger against us.
The dynamic power of the resurrection of Jesus breaks through the doors behind which we have huddled, afraid of what the enemies of goodness might do to us. It invites us to foster openness to God’s word, generosity in sharing with others and genuine communal prayer. It charges us to be reconciled with others and to work for reconciliation and peace in our battered world. This is what it means to be “resurrection people.” Our Christian lives are the tangible proof that the Lord is truly risen.