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Terrance KleinApril 03, 2024
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Sunday of Divine Mercy

Readings: Acts 4:32-35 1 John 5:1-6 John 20:19-31

It is typically the first liberty we take with those to whom we are attracted: We reach for their hands. We do the same, without a thought, in the face of some perceived danger. We take the hands of our companions. In weal or woe, holding hands is a great sign of human solidarity.

We humans are both bodies and souls. To be one without the other is to be dead. Perhaps that is why we never say “soul and body” but always put the physical first, “body and soul.” We first meet souls in bodies.

We rightly say that our souls distinguish us from all other earthly creatures, but whether attracted or afraid, we reach out to hold the hand of another. We need to touch.

We call him Doubting Thomas, but the apostle was not less devoted to Jesus. Like the others before the Lord had appeared to them, he simply had no cause to jettison his reason: Once departed, souls do not return to bodies.

So how does the Good Lord gently lay aside the skepticism of his friend? He tells Thomas to touch him.

Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe (Jn 20:27).

For ages that which is spiritual has been sought by disdaining, casting away, the physical. The physical has been judged inferior to the spiritual because of what we call the weaknesses of the flesh: It can be wounded; it ages; it dies. But Thomas is told to seek and to find the spirit in the flesh.

Some people struggle to believe in what we call the Real Presence. How can God, who is spirit, be upon our altars, in our hands and on our tongues? Why would God, the creator of heaven and earth, make himself so ready to hand and be so contained by the material and hence so vulnerable?

But this is the vulnerability that the Word assumes. In Mary’s womb, he was already in our midst, silent and susceptible. The Magi were able to adore him but only because the babe bared himself in the stable. In his ministry, Jesus reaches out; he touches us and allows himself to be grasped by us. On the cross, he is ridiculed and reviled in the flesh.

The challenge in believing that God has become so vulnerable, has stretched out his hand, if you will, is that it requires a response, a vulnerability on our part. Do we take the proffered hand?

The first risk we run in embracing the Christian faith is the requirement of community. The physical becomes a portal to the spiritual but only when we gather. The assured presence of the Lord is predicated upon the physical act of congregating,

For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them (Mt 18:20).

This notion of the individual truly finding self amid community is becoming increasingly difficult in a culture predicated upon sovereign, yet sadly isolated, individuals.

Yet ours is a sacramental faith because it is a deeply human creed. We believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The night before he died, our Lord established the Eucharist as the primordial sacrament, an “outward sign of inward grace.” Christ comes to nourish our souls, but he does so through the portals of the flesh, which he himself assumed.

For St. John, the great proof of sacramental efficacy is the continuing manifestation, in the power of the Spirit, of the vulnerable, wounded Christ.

This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth (1 Jn 5:6).

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen Christ is present whenever and wherever hearts open themselves and seek. Sacraments do not limit the savior. No, by his design they continue to make him vulnerable: to ignorance, to abuse, to neglect. But Christ is found, Christ has himself chosen to dwell, in our midst, on our altars, in our hands and upon our lips.

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