Reflection on the Second Sunday of Easter
The readings for today continue our 50-day celebration of Easter. When I taught English in El Paso, Sister Emmanuel Tonne, who was a master teacher, taught me the ingredients of effective communication. She told me that telling them once is not nearly enough. You have to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Grasping and understanding the awesome message and meaning of Easter takes that same kind of repetitive exposure with many variations on the same theme.
The Gospel for today offers us two vignettes to ponder. One of them took place on Easter Sunday evening and the other one a week later. As a day of confusion and grief was coming to an end, the Apostles were huddled behind locked doors, undoubtedly fearful that the predicted persecution was about to begin. Jesus came and stood in their midst. Just imagine what that moment was like for them. Considering all that had gone before, they must have been in fearful anticipation of what he would say. He said, “Peace be with you.” What was it like to hear those words! Could they even put it together that his presence and his words fulfilled the promises of his farewell discourse — I will return, peace will perdure, your pain will turn into joy, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
After his greeting, in a gesture recalling the breath of creation, he breathed on them and breathed life back into them with the breath of the Holy Spirit. With a breath-borne commission, he sends them to speak words of forgiveness to some and of judgment to others – a command which empowered them to speak strong words of peace and of grace – words of sharp challenge and of abundant forgiveness. Or, as someone put it, words which can afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Resurrection breath empowers us to do the work of mercy and justice. His life-giving breath converted them from cowering, fearful people hiding behind locked doors into people with tough minds and tender hearts having both energy and equanimity, courage and wit. To sum it up, filled with Resurrection breath we can speak what needs to be spoken for the sake of those who might otherwise perish – words of honesty and truth spoken with holy responsibility, compassionate care and urgent attention. (Echo of Kim Klein’s talk.)
The second vignette focuses on Thomas, who seems to be the main business of the second visit. According to Nancy Claire Pitman, the special attention paid to him does more than give Jesus the opportunity to bless those who have not seen and yet still believe. It also makes a strong comment on Thomas’s community-shattering doubt of the word of his companions that they had “seen the Lord.” He rebuffed his friends and stated his need for empirical certainty. Love and trust within the faithful community are the most significant expression of the work of Christ in our midst. Thomas’s proud words of doubt abrogate the work of Christ and destroy the unity of his closest followers. The eyes and fingers of his fellow community members were not enough for him. He must see and touch for himself. Radical suspicion, distrust, disparagement, dismissal and skepticism tear at the fabric of community. Faithfulness to the risen Christ calls upon us to stop distrusting our friends, or, at the very least, stop doubting their sincere dedication. We are called to belief and solidarity even when some in our midst deliver news of the strangest visions of where and how they have “seen the Lord.” Do not be unbelieving but believe!
A final word about Thomas: Elaine Nagels points out that the name Thomas means “Twin,” and that, perhaps, we are all somewhat like Thomas in our struggle to believe. We can learn from his experience. In a powerful moment of grace, Thomas saw, heard, was invited to touch. He gasped, “My Lord and my God.” He “got it,” and he, too, was reborn! So now is perhaps a good time for me to ask myself, “Have I encountered the risen Christ?” Or, in other words, “Does my life embody the breath of the resurrected Christ which Mary Hunt alluded to?”
The Christ who trusted, hoped and loved persistently has been propelled back from death by God, and by his very breath, he calls us into fullness of life. He invites us to walk with him into the struggle and the mystery. He breathes into us the energy to labor, to do all in our power to make things more truthful, more beautiful, better, kinder and more alive. Not easy to do in our present time of violence, turmoil, pain and hopelessness. I close with a message from Clarissa Pinkola Estes: “Do not spend your spirits bewailing these difficult times — Do not lose hope. While we have a history of being challenged, we also have the knack of resurrection. Do not focus on what is wrong. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world but of reaching out to mend that part which is within our reach. Any calm small thing that one can do to help another, to assist some portion of this suffering world will help immensely. There will always be times when you feel discouraged, but do not keep a chair for it. Do not entertain it. Do not allow it to eat from your plate.”