Year A: Second Sunday of Easter

Appearance to the Disciples

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “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.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What from your lived experience makes you trust in Jesus’ resurrection?
  2. What “doors” might you be locked behind, that close you off from experiencing resurrection in more connected ways? (fear, security, anger, judgment etc.)
  3. The risen Christ is always among us and resurrection means renewal. What kinds of personal regeneration, hope, or new life are you praying with this Easter season?
  4. What is resurrected life inviting you to this year? What new attitudes, service, or other actions could result from your belief?

Biblical Context

John 20:19-3
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

When we read John’s accounts of the community and their experience of the risen Christ, we do well to remember that John wrote for a community that was already formed, a group of disciples who met regularly and were carrying on their mission. John tells the stories of the past to remind us of who we are and what we are called to do.

At the end of the first day of the new creation Jesus returned to his assembled disciples. They are depicted as a fearful group and Thomas’ absence tells us that while some had gathered together, the group as a whole was still scattered as Jesus had said they would be. John doesn’t tell us exactly where they were hiding out, but he does mention that the doors were securely locked. Jesus had promised that they would see him again and now he appears, returning to them and giving them the peace he promised.

As John presents the scene, the appearance of Christ, his gifts of peace and his Spirit, and the mission to forgive are all intimately bound together. We see God’s initiative, the divine outreach, and the commission he gives. The disciples’ experience begins with receiving Christ’s peace, a peace so dynamic that they are impelled to share it with others through the mission of forgiveness.

John has no interest in telling us what happened in the week between Christ’s two appearances. He simply indicates that the disciples had gathered again, and this time Thomas was there, symbolizing that the group was complete. The previously dispersed disciples had heard enough to come together and for John it is significant that it was on another first day, the day when the community traditionally celebrated the Lord’s Supper.

Although John neglects to tell us why the doors were still locked, Pope Francis said something in Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of The Gospel” that may shed light on it. Addressing the danger of closing off our minds and/or our communities, Francis said: “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37)” (#49).

People in our world are starving for food and for peace, needs that go together. Jesus appeared in the midst of his disciples to give them peace, a peace that would impel them to mission, a peace that would underpin a community of solidarity and mission. As Pope Francis pointed out, rigid structures, rules, habits and retribution can make us feel safe, but they do not bring Christ’s peace. We know Christ’s peace only when we get caught up in the dynamic of his ever-expanding forgiving love. That’s the journey we are called to deepen in the 50 days of Easter.

Seen and Touched

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

I’m not exactly sure why, because I usually say no, but yesterday I agreed to participate in a telephone survey about politics. In response to one of the demographics questions I said that I was a priest. At the end of the survey the woman said, “You being a priest and all, can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I said. “Do you believe in once saved, always saved?” she asked.

I could have given a quick one-word answer but she wasn’t really looking for an answer. I could hear in her voice, her question, and our conversation that she stands behind some locked doors. I don’t know what they are but beneath her question was the longing to unlock those doors. She wanted to hear a good word; a word that said, “Everything is ok. You are ok. You can unlock the doors.” She wanted to know she could live a different life and be a new person. She wanted to know there is hope; that all is not lost.

Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, but the doors are locked. Resurrected life, it seems, does not come easily.

One week ago, God rolled away the stone from the tomb. The seal of death was broken and Mary Magdalene saw Jesus alive. That night, despite Mary’s good news, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. Today, a week after the resurrection, the disciples are again in the same room with the same locked doors. Not much has changed. They have traded a tomb for a house and a stone for locked doors.

It’s not just the disciples, however. I suspect we all know about those locked doors. Sometimes it seems that God opens the tomb and we follow behind locking the doors. God opens the tomb and declares forgiveness and we continue to live behind the locked doors of condemnation of self or others. God opens the tomb and defeats death but we still live as if death has the final word. God opens the tomb and offers new life but we lock the doors and live in the past. God opens the tombs and declares we are loved and we lock ourselves out of that love. The locked doors of our lives are not so much about what is going on around us, but what is happening within us: fear, anger, guilt, hurt, grief, the refusal to change. There are a thousand different locks on the doors of our life and they are always locked from the inside.

That is, I believe, what Thomas was struggling with when he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” It earned him the name Doubting Thomas. Jesus, however, never accuses Thomas of doubting. That is how we have translated and interpreted the Greek. Rather, Jesus, says, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” He could just have easily said that to the other disciples. After all, one week after seeing Jesus’ hands and side they are still in the house behind locked doors. Every time we lock the doors of our house we deny the resurrected life of Christ

Thomas’ unbelief is not in his question. He didn’t ask to see more than the other disciples saw a week earlier. His unbelief, and theirs, is in being stuck in the house with the doors locked. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection is not a question of intellectual assent or agreement. It’s not about evidence or proof. It’s not about getting the right answer. Belief is more about how we live than what we think.

Resurrection is not just an event or an idea. It is a way of being and living. It is the lens through which we see the world, each other, and ourselves. Resurrection is the gift of God’s life and love. Living resurrection, however, is difficult. For most of us it is a process, something we grow into over-time. It is neither quick nor magical. Resurrection does not undo our past, fix our problems, or change the circumstances of our lives. It changes us, offers a way through our problems, and creates a future. Christ’s resurrected life inspires us with his spirit, invites us to unlock the doors, and sends us into the world.

I have to wonder, one week after Easter, is our life different? Where are we living? In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors? What do we believe about Jesus’ resurrection? What doors have we locked? If you want to know what you believe, look at your life and how you live. Our beliefs guide our life and our life reveals our beliefs.

Resurrected people know that faith and life are messy. They ask hard questions rather than settling for easy answers. They don’t have to figure it all out before saying their prayers, feeding the hungry, forgiving another, or loving their neighbor. They trust that what God believes about them is more important than what they believe about God. Resurrected people are willing to get out of the house. They unlock doors even when they do not know what is on the other side. They believe even if they don’t understand. They may never see or touch Jesus, but they live trusting that they have been seen and touched by him.