We have come to the end of the Octave of Easter, the eight day period of intense celebrations of Jesus’ rising from the dead. Throughout the past week, we have listened to and proclaimed the stories of how Jesus made himself known to the disciples after that momentous day. Each of the evangelists has shown us not only how the disciples reacted to the resurrection, but also an important part of Jesus which we cannot afford to forget; namely, Jesus is present in our midst just as surely as he was present in their midst.
On the Sunday within the Octave of Easter, we are very used to hearing the story of the double appearance of Jesus in the Upper Room from the Gospel of St. John. The lynchpin that holds these two appearances is the character of St. Thomas the Apostle whom we have come to refer to as “Doubting Thomas.” I know that there is no hope of ever rescuing the apostle from this characterization, yet I find it curious that he, who is called “doubting,” is the only person of the Jewish faith who recognizes and proclaims who Jesus really is, “My Lord, and my God.”
St. Thomas’ declaration of faith comes about because of his absence in the Upper Room when Jesus first appeared. He comes to his faith in Jesus as the Lord after being exposed to the wounds which are visible on his body. Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
When we join this reading to the passage from the Acts of the Apostles and to the excerpt from the First Letter of St. John, we find that the Church is focusing our attention on the presence of the Risen Lord in our own midst.
In the first reading, we hear how the early Christian community attended to the needs of all their members by sharing their goods and by seeing to it that no one was in need. Jesus’ followers were mostly Galileans who now find themselves in Jerusalem, the site of the emerging Christian community. They, like the apostles who were first called to follow Jesus, have quite literally left everything to follow Jesus and his disciples. They had come to Jerusalem without their usual resources which would have all been connected to their land and property in Galilee. The Jerusalem community finds that the only way they will be able to survive is through a common purse and common life style. Thus we are told that they are of one heart and mind. The presence of Jesus can obviously be found in the sharing that goes on in the community of believers.
In the reading from the First Letter of John we are reminded that we who place our faith in Jesus are, like Jesus himself, begotten of God. Because we are begotten of God, we with Jesus have also conquered the power of death, the power of the world. We, too, are victorious. The presence of Jesus is found in the Scriptures which proclaim that we are heirs of Jesus’ victory, as well as in the preaching of the apostles who reveal the mysteries of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection to us.
The Gospel reading today is all about forgiveness. When Jesus appears to his disciples, his first words are “Peace be with you.” “Shalom.” Through the peace that he imparts, he forgives them. They had abandoned him in his hour of need, but now they are forgiven. Forgiveness is not his only gift. Jesus also gives them the Holy Spirit so that they can forgive one another. Through the gift of forgiveness, they are able to break the chains that bind them and dispel anything that estranges them. The gift of forgiveness is the gift of freedom.
Lest we feel that this gift was given only to those who were in the Upper Room with Jesus, St. John provides us with St. Thomas. St. Thomas represents all of us. We have not seen the Lord after his resurrection, but we believe. St. John’s Gospel, written so many years after many of the eyewitnesses have died, wants us to know that we have been given the same gift. The presence of Jesus is found in the gift of forgiveness and in the gift of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus proves his identity by showing the disciples his wounds. Not only does he show them, he also invites Thomas to touch them. Lest we think this privilege was his alone, we share in that touch each time we approach the altar for the Eucharist and touch the wounded Body and Blood of Jesus as we accept him in our hands and when his blood touches our lips. Indeed the presence of Jesus is found in our Eucharist.
The wounds that Jesus suffered in his crucifixion continue to spread in our own world as the poor, the refugees, the marginalized, and the unwanted are pushed aside or ignored. Because they are members of Christ’s body, we can also find Jesus present in the wounds of our neighbors.
Jesus is present in our community way of life, present in the Scriptures, present in the preaching of the apostles, present in the assembly of the begotten of God, present in our victory over death, present each time we forgive, present each time we are forgiven, and present each time we receive him in the Eucharist. In the words of a Lucien Deiss hymn from 1973, “Without seeing you, we love you; without seeing you; we believe. We sing, O Lord, in joy your glory. You are our Savior; we believe in you.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator