Second Sunday of Easter

Today’s gospel recounts two events in the life of the Risen Jesus. The first event is Jesus’ appearance to the majority of his disciples, where he offers them peace, he breathes upon them his Spirit and he speaks to them saying, “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”- words in which the church roots the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
 
The second event, took place about a week later, is Jesus’ appearance to the disciples, this time in the presence of Thomas. Outside these this episode, the apostle Thomas or “doubting Thomas”, receives very little mention in the gospels. In the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, his name is noted only once in the list of apostles. In John’s gospel, however, Thomas is mentioned a few times.
 
The first time the evangelist John mentions Thomas is at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, at a time when it was clear that the priests, scribes and elders in Judea were plotting against Jesus. In the scene Jesus is leaving for Bethany, to raise Lazarus from the dead. Since Bethany was close to Jerusalem, the disciples fearing for Jesus life (and I imagine their own) tried to talk Jesus out of going. Among this litany of don’t go, it was Thomas who spoke up: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). Though perhaps naïve these words are not those of a doubter, but demonstrate instead Thomas’ loyalty to Jesus.
 
The second time the evangelist John mentions Thomas is the evening of the Last Supper. Following the washing of the feet, Jesus shares with the disciples once more what the future held for him and them. When Jesus tells his disciples tat h is “going to prepare a place for them, so that where he is, they too may also be” (Jn 14:2). Thomas responds: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (Jn 15:5). Thomas isn’t doubting Jesus, he is instead asking a question, desiring not to be left behind.
 
So, what happened to Thomas, Jesus’ loyal and faithful disciple? Well, exactly what happened to all the disciples, including Peter. With the exception of Mary Magdalene and the “other disciple” (sometimes called the beloved disciple), Jesus disciples, all left him in his final hours. These same disciples did not “rejoice” upon seeing the empty tomb, nor did they “rejoice” from the testimony offered by Mary Magdalene. The gospel says that the disciples only “rejoiced” after Jesus showed them his hands and his side.
 
When the disciples tell Thomas “we have seen the Lord”- he too doesn’t rejoice at their testimony; he retreats in pessimism: “unless, I see and touch the mark of the nails in his hands and put my hand in his side I will not believe .” Perhaps Thomas strong words reflected his hurt that the Lord had not appeared to him or waited that he too be among the others. Or perhaps Thomas simply dared not hope it could be true- his Lord and his God was alive!
 
The gospel of John was the last of the gospels written; close to the end of the first century. We can confidently assume that no one in this community had met Jesus. Thus, though Jesus speaks the words: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” to Thomas, the evangelist is specifically speaking to his community of second and third generation Christians.
 
This beatitude is also addressed to us, a Christian community struggling in this time of Covid-19, asking us to cast aside doubt and to remain hopeful that God will once again break through all the terrible things around us.
 
More than 2000 years later, what are the implications of these words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”?
 
If Christians are to live as people of the resurrection than “belief” is not solely a personal experience, but a communal exercise. Our personal belief, rooted in prayer, must lead to compassionate action, so that this action will lead others who have not yet experienced the Risen Jesus, too also “rejoice”, like the first disciples, when the see the Lord alive in each of us.
 
In a time when we are keeping our physical distance, “belief” inspires us to minimize or social distance, especially with the most vulnerable in the pandemic.  
 
What neighbour will we call or leave a friendly note for? What single parent or overwhelmed young family will we bake a batch of cookies for? Women’s shelters, homeless shelters and food banks are particularly overwhelmed, we can alleviate their burden with gift cards for food, clothing and other staples. In our parish community, where we continue to feed the food insecure, can we commit to giving and for those of us who can, to giving more?
 
On this Second Sunday of Easter and throughout this Easter season what choices will we make so as to cast aside doubt, embrace hope and in so doing give testimony to a God whose love knows no boundaries?
 
Blessed are each and every one of us who has not seen and yet has come to believe. Amen.
Marilena Berardinelli is the Director of Family Ministry at St.Basil’s Parish. She earned her Master’s of Religious Education from the Faculty of Theology at St. Michael’s College and is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program.