We have seen the Lord!” Who has not longed to hear those words? Or who has not longed for the experience that gave birth to the words? Most of us are like Thomas in today’s Gospel—not that we are doubters, but that our faith is based on the words of others. Someone else has the experience, and we hear about it.
But that is not exactly true. God does not favor a chosen few with an experience of the risen Christ and then require the rest of us simply to take it on their word. Not at all! The resurrection means that Jesus is alive for each of us. At the end of his book Life of Jesus, François Mauriac reminds us that since the resurrection, we are apt to encounter the Lord when and where we least expect. Today’s readings provide us with a few examples of this.
The description of the early Christian community found in Acts reminds us that Christ is indeed among us, living in the community, in the members of his body. He is alive in those who are one in heart and mind, who share what they have with each other. These early Easter-people were so transformed by their resurrection experience that nonbelievers looked in wonder at them and exclaimed, “These Christians, see how they love one another.”
We are no different. We too find Christ in our community. His vulnerability can be found in children and in the elderly, his courage in those who stand bravely for principle or who accept suffering with dignity. His kindness shines forth in the smiles of others, his healing power in their gentle touch.
We also meet him in the weaker members of his body. Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds. He extends that same invitation to us. It is his fear that we see in the eyes of the mentally ill; it is his terror that grips the refugee; his need reaches out to us in those who are hungry or imprisoned. As Mauriac reminds us, this risen Christ might be just around the corner. Have we experienced him? Can our contemporaries say of us, “These Christians, see how they love one another”?
“On the evening of that first day of the week,” Jesus granted his disciples the power to forgive sins. It might seem strange that he chose that day to bestow this power, but the time was well chosen. Just as through the resurrection we step into a new transformed life, so by means of forgiveness we enter transformed into a new life.
Forgiveness may be as difficult to understand as it is to practice. The cliché “forgive and forget” is misleading. We are not really expected to forget, to overlook offenses as if they had never happened. That would be naïve, and it might suggest that sinning against another is not really so bad. Genuine forgiveness acknowledges that sin, particularly serious sin, has been committed. It may also demand that punishment, even severe punishment, be exacted. But it does not condemn the offender to a lifetime of guilt. It believes in transformation. In fact, the act of forgiveness can itself be transformative.
Jesus extended his forgiving peace to his disciples and then gave them the power to extend that same forgiving peace to others. This scene is traditionally associated with the sacrament of penance. However, forgiveness can be granted many different ways. The troubling times in which we live remind us that we are all in need of forgiveness. We are either perpetrators of some offense against another or we harbor resentment and animosity toward the offender. Before we can begin anew, we need to forgive or be forgiven.
There might even be times when, like Thomas, we have to forgive ourselves. I was struck by the comment of a father whose son was fighting in Iraq. When asked for what he prayed, he responded, “I pray that whatever he has to do, my son can live with himself when it’s all over.”
“On the evening of that first day of the week,” Jesus sacramentalized the very human experience of forgiving, thereby assuring us that we act in this way through his power. Whether the circumstances be trivial or heroic, whether the forgiveness be extended or received, in situations such as these we do indeed encounter the risen Lord.
Reflection on today’s readings reminds us that the world is charged with the glory of the resurrection. What we need are open eyes that can recognize the risen Lord in our midst and willing hearts that will enable others to encounter Christ through us. Only then will we be able to proclaim: We have seen the Lord!