Year B: Second Sunday of Easter

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. When have you found yourself doubting the resurrection, and what brings this up for you? Explain
  2. Have you ever experienced the presence of someone you loved after their physical death? What happened?
  3. The opposite of faith is fear, not doubt. Do you think of faith as only “rock solid certainty” or are you growing more comfortable with doubt being part of your faith journey and experience?
  4. In what ways do you relate to the post Easter “back to business as usual, with no change” that Fr. Marsh describes in his reflection.
  5. 5. From the reflection: What missing element or action in your life would help you to unlock the “house of your heart, love, compassion and empathy in new ways?

Biblical Context

John 20:19-31
Mary M. McGlone CSJ

This is Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast established by Pope St. John Paul II to celebrate the merciful love of God that has been revealed most completely through Jesus. The church has chosen to use the same Gospel on this Sunday in each year of the liturgical cycle, a sure sign that it has something vital to tell us about what we are celebrating.

One of the first things we might notice is that this Gospel passage seems rather repetitious. It includes two very similar appearances of the risen Lord, and Jesus’ theme song is “Peace be with you,” a phrase he uses twice in the first story and again in the second. Additionally, both times that Jesus appeared among the disciples, they thought they were in a well-locked room. Jesus twice made a point of showing them the scars of his passion.

Beginning with the first story, John takes care to let us know that it was still the first day of the new creation, even though evening had come and the doors were locked. Both details are signs of the fact that the disciples were still in the dark. When John tells us that Jesus stood in their midst, he is indicating that Jesus became present among them, startling them by breaking through the barriers of their fear and confusion, obstacles that were actually more formidable than locked doors. At that point, the risen Lord needed to say nothing more than “Peace be with you.”

As John tells us this story, he is careful to point out that it was the wounded-risen Christ who appeared in the midst of the frightened disciples to offer them peace. Peace was the gift he had promised at the Last Supper, but it had a much deeper meaning as the disciples faced the crucified and risen Christ, the very person they had abandoned and denied. Jesus’ offer of peace was a profound expression of mercy, the love that nothing can overcome.

In his message on this feast in 2014, Pope Francis indicated that as Jesus showed the disciples his wounds, he was calling all disciples to abandon their fear of confronting the wounds of the world, trusting that the love of God is more powerful than evil and all the woundedness of history. Speaking of the recently canonized popes, Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II, Francis reminded all Christians that only by facing our fear of suffering and struggle can we come to know the joy which the risen Christ wishes to bestow on us. John would add that only when we allow the risen Christ to face us in our weakness and guilt can we hear his offer of peace.

The second time Jesus blessed the disciples with peace he added their mission to it. This is the first commissioning of the disciples in John’s Gospel. It is as if John says that until the disciples had been through the entire process of being with Jesus, abandoning him, suffering the pain of his death, and being received back with mercy, they were not ready to carry on his mission.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, our readings remind us that God’s mercy is God’s steadfast love. This love permeates the being and life of anyone who is open to it and impels them into the mission of sharing it with the world. Those who get caught up in this dynamic, those who meet the love of the risen Christ in the midst of their fear or shame, understand what it means to sing,  “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” 

Easter Unlocked and Opened

John 20: 19-31
Fr. Michael K. Marsh

Every year I come to this day – the Second Sunday of Easter – and I wonder what difference last Sunday- Easter Sunday has made. Are our lives and world different because of Easter and, if so, how and in what ways?

Look around. What do you see? Has your life changed? Are you living differently today than you did before Easter?

When I look at my life today it looks a whole lot like it did last Sunday, the week before, and the week before that. And when I look at the world today it looks pretty much the same as before.

Before Easter there was a pandemic. After Easter there’s still a pandemic. Before Easter there was illness and death. After Easter there’s still illness and death. Before Easter there was pain and brokenness in the world. After Easter there’s still pain and brokenness in the world.

The list of before and after comparisons could go on and on. Things today look a lot like they did before Easter. What do we do with that?

I know the usual answers. Jesus overcame death. Sins are forgiven. Love prevails. All things are being made new. Alleluia. Christ is risen.

I get that. And on most days, I believe it. I’m just not sure what all that means or looks like on a day-to-day basis. And I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with that. I think we all do, and I think that’s why every year we come to this day – the Second Sunday of Easter – and hear the same gospel story. Today’s gospel is the same one we heard last year on this day, the year before, and the year before that. It’s the disciples’ story of uncertainty, fear, and struggle with what to do with Jesus’ resurrection. And it’s our story with those things too.

Here’s why I say that:

  • Easter morning, “while it was still dark,” Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb. She saw and spoke with Jesus. He called her by name. She left the garden of resurrection, went to the disciples, and told them, “I have seen the Lord.”
  • And what did the disciples say and do in response to that good news? Do you remember? Nothing. They didn’t do anything. They didn’t jump up and down and shout for joy. They didn’t say, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” They didn’t give thanks and praise to God. They weren’t filled with courage and hope. They didn’t make radical changes in the way they lived. They didn’t claim for themselves a new life or a new future. Instead, they locked the doors.
  • Apparently, they didn’t do or say anything on Easter day. And if they did, St. John didn’t consider it worth including in his account of the gospel. The next thing we hear after Mary’s good news is that it was the evening of Easter. The disciples were afraid. And they locked the doors of their house.
  • Jesus steps into the midst of their fear. Locked doors cannot keep him out. They only serve to keep the disciples in. “Peace be with you,” he says. He breathes on them. He shares his life with them. He gives them the Holy Spirit. He sends them even as the Father sent him.
  • And a week later? Nothing has changed. The disciples are in the same house behind the same locked doors. And it’s hard to see or say what difference Jesus’ resurrection has made for any of them.

Jesus is free, but the disciples have imprisoned themselves. The tomb is empty, but the house is full. The stone has been rolled back from Jesus’ tomb, but the doors of the disciples’ lives are closed and locked. And they’re afraid of what’s on the other side of those doors.

That sounds a lot like life today. I wonder what doors of your house you’ve closed and locked. What are you afraid of? And what will it take to unlock the doors of your house?

I’m not asking about the house in which you are social distancing or quarantining. I am asking about the house of your heart, the house of your imagination, the house of your creativity. I want to know about your house of love, your house of compassion and empathy, your house of hope and courage. Tell me about the house of your marriage, the house of your parenting, the house of your forgiving. In what ways have you used or allowed guilt, regret, disappointment, anger, resentment, sorrows and losses, wounds and hurts to lock the doors of your life? What houses your deepest longings and desires? What houses your dreams, delights, and the things that enliven you and make your heart beat faster? What doors need to be unlocked and opened in order for you to live more whole heartedly?

As long as we remain behind the locked doors of our houses nothing will change. The world today will look the same as it did before Easter. Our lives today will look the same as they did before Easter. If today our lives and world look the same as they did before Easter, then you and I need to start looking for and unlocking some doors.

Every time we unlock and open a door in our house we step into our own resurrection. Easter makes a difference. And the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Easter is Jesus inviting, asking, calling, insisting, and wooing us into life and more life. It means the unattainable is within reach. The impossible is possible. The never before imagined doesn’t sound so crazy. And maybe there really are unicorns everywhere. Easter is Jesus’ promise that there is a future on the other side of our locked doors. But it’s up to you and me to unlock and open those doors.

Did you notice that in today’s gospel? Jesus did not unlock the doors for the disciples. They would have to do that for themselves, and so do you and I.  No one else, not even Jesus, can open the doors you’ve locked. No one else, not even Jesus, can open the doors I’ve locked. That’s for you and me to do. That’s our Easter life, and you and I already hold in our hands the key.

What doors will you unlock and open today?

Reflection from: Interrupting the Silence. Fr. Michael K. Marsh