Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
Meeting the Risen Lord
Have you ever wondered why we observe Sunday as a holy day rather than the Sabbath (Saturday) even though the Ten Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8)? The gospel readings of the Sundays after Easter give us the answer.
The gospel writers were not particularly interested in telling us the precise day of the week in which many of the events they recorded took place. With one exception. In the public ministry of Jesus they often told us that many of the healing miracles of Jesus took place on the Sabbath day. And this got Jesus into a lot of trouble with the religious leaders of his day. But as soon as Jesus dies and rises from the dead we do not hear about the Sabbath any more. Instead we begin to hear about the first day of the week which is Sunday.
It all began on Easter Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, and appeared on the same day to Mary Magdalene and the other women, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to the gathering of the apostles. He did not appear to them again until “a week after” (J0hn 20:26), that is, the following Sunday. Without exception, all the recorded appearances of the risen Lord to his followers took place on no other day of the week than Sunday. This made the group of believers set Sunday apart as the day when the risen Lord comes to be with his people gathered in worship to share with them the word of life and to break bread with them. This is how they came to recognize Sunday as the dies Dominica, “the day of the Lord” (Revelation 1:10). After the Lord’s ascension into heaven, the disciples continued to gather together in worship on Sundays, in expectation that the Lord Jesus would come to be in their midst and fellowship with them as he had promised.
In today’s gospel we read about the appearance of the risen Lord in the assembly of the apostles on the day of resurrection and a second appearance a week later. The second appearance focuses on Thomas who was not present with the rest of the apostles when Jesus appeared among them. Where could he have gone? We do not know exactly but as soon as he comes back the other disciples tell him that they have seen the Lord. Could it be that when they heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, that he, Thomas, went out on his own to seek him out? Perhaps he went to the houses of Jesus’ friends, to the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany, or to the village where they ate the last supper. He was seeking Jesus alone while Jesus was with the assembly of his followers. Could that be the evangelist’s way of telling the reader that encounter with the risen Lord is something that happens not so much in the privacy of the individual’s religious initiative and practice as much as in fellowship with the community of believers?
So the following Sunday Thomas is there fellowshipping with the rest of the community. Jesus appears as usual and Thomas experiences the desire of his heart and exclaims, “My Lord and my God (v. 28).” Next time around he would not lightly absent himself from the community Sunday assembly.
Do we have to look far to see such Thomases in our society today, men and women who deep down in their hearts seek the risen Lord, but who seek him outside the worshipping and believing community? They try to draw near to God by engaging in all sorts of self-imposed devotional exercises. Religion, they say, is personal, and they are right. But religion is also communitarian, and this they need to learn just as Thomas did.
Jesus in today’s gospel commissions the apostles to forgive sins. This is a function that can be exercised only where there is a believing community, or else each one would be absolving their own personal sins. Today’s Thomases often do not appreciate nor have recourse to this avenue of reconciliation with God and with the community that is affected by our sins. May the success story of Thomas help us all to appreciate the important role of the church and the sacraments in our spiritual journey to meet the risen Lord.