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Second Sunday of Easter (1)
Do you remember the name we used for last Sunday? Easter! What a wonderful Sunday it was with so many people here that we hardly had room, and the people sang with such beautiful voices and flowers were everywhere. It really was a special day. Did you know that every Sunday should be Easter, or like a little Easter? That’s right, the first Christians called every Sunday the Lord’s Day because they remembered that it was on Sunday that they saw Jesus alive again after he had died on the cross and was put in the grave. The disciples used to worship every Friday night and Saturday, but after the Easter experience, they started having their big service of worship on Sunday, the little Easter. We still do it today just as they started it almost 2,000 years ago.
Sometimes people find it hard to understand why we love Jesus so much. They read the Bible, and some even go to church, but they still wonder why Jesus means so much to us. Some say they wish they could love God as much as we do, but for some reason, they just don’t know him the way they should. Well, we feel bad for those people, but we say there is something they can do about it if they want to. Let me show you a little experiment that might help you understand how God works with us. I have to use my special glasses that are kind of dusty and dirty. [Have a volunteer examine the glasses and admit they are hard to see through.] Now you must remember that when the disciples first saw Jesus after the resurrection, they didn’t know what to believe. They were sad that Jesus had died, and since they didn’t understand the fantastic way God can work, they were very puzzled to see Jesus alive again. But Jesus came and breathed on them and told them they were about to receive a special gift called the Holy Spirit. Once they had the Holy Spirit, they would believe.
This is where the experiment comes in. Have you ever seen someone clean his glasses? How does he do it? That’s right, he breathes hard on his glasses, and when he wipes them off, he has clean glasses. Though he couldn’t see before, he can now see well. Just by breathing on the lenses and wiping them off, a person can see clearly whatever he wants to see. Now Jesus breathed on the disciples, and when he did he breathed into them the Holy Spirit, and they could not only see, they could see things they had never seen before.
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to people, and it helps them to believe what they could not believe without him. We need the Holy Spirit if we’re going to believe like the disciples. Without him, we are like people who look through dirty glasses. They see a little, and if they don’t take off their glasses and check they might even think they can see pretty well. But people with dirty glasses are missing so much in life that they could have if they just cleaned them by breathing on them and shining them with a handkerchief. It’s the same way with God. Here God has this beautiful gift to give us called the Holy Spirit, who is just like Jesus except that you cannot see him or touch him or hear him speak with a voice like your voice.
We need to pray for people to receive the Spirit so they can see as you do.
Harold F. Bermel tells of driving through Pennsylvania Dutch Country with his daughter and seven-year-old grandson. They passed an Amish horse and buggy, and the grandson asked, “Why do they use horses instead of automobiles?” Bermel’s daughter explained that the Amish didn’t believe in automobiles. After a few moments, the grandson asked: “But can’t they see them?”
I’d say that’s a reasonable question, wouldn’t you? Once you’ve seen something with your own eyes, it’s hard not to believe in it. That’s why followers of Christ are so often considered fools. We believe in a God we cannot see, in a Savior who performed miracles and came back from the dead, and a Holy Spirit who lives in us and guides us in the way of truth and of love. No wonder so many people reject our faith.
There is one kind of doubt that is mostly about knowledge. Was there a conspiracy, for example, behind Kennedy’s assassination? Do we know why the stock market goes up or down? Another kind of doubt is about ourselves: whether we will pass a test, or get a promotion, or be able to face something difficult. Yet a third kind of doubt is the appearance of doubt, when it’s convenient, and when we want to get out of something. I doubt I’ll be home in time to help with painting the bedroom, sorry! Or, I don’t think I’m going to do well in this course.
Each Sunday after Easter, when we read the story of Thomas, we mostly want to think of this as some kind of intellectual doubt, that Thomas was this intellectually honest and rigorous thinker who had specific criteria—and the stories of his brother apostles just didn’t meet the test. But the more I think about Thomas, the more I see his doubt as something apparent, something convenient.
Why else would he change his tune so quickly? All Jesus has to do is say, “do not be unbelieving but believe,” and presto! Thomas has a new view on things? The other apostles must have told Thomas about Jesus’ appearance—including his words. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” I suspect that Thomas was reluctant to be sent, so it was easier to say he didn’t believe.
This may not be just an ancient tactic; in fact, it might be very contemporary. All kinds of studies show people saying they do not have a church, they are agnostics, they do not believe. This is particularly true among younger generations. There certainly are things that make faith more difficult today, and younger generations certainly grow up with different assumptions about church. God knows between scandals and distractions, people can claim many reasons to be distant from the Church.
But I wonder if Jesus appeared today as he did that Easter morning what people would really say? Would we run up to Jesus and ask for some kind of proof? Would we have some sort of philosophical conversation about risen bodies, space, and time? Or would we see what Thomas saw, that God has broken through our questions and doubts, that God has crushed death, and now Jesus stands before us, offering himself once again?
We can see from the first reading that the Easter presence of Jesus continued on in the life of the believers. People were so filled with Easter that it spilled beyond them, in the healing and hope that they gave to others. In different ways, isn’t this our task a well: to be an Easter presence in today’s world, an Easter presence especially in the face of doubt and disbelief. Doesn’t Jesus say to us: “Be not unbelieving . . . but believe.”
A few Sundays ago the world watched as a golfer crushed the doubts that people had about him, and undoubtedly that he had about himself. For years people asked if Tiger would be back. For years most people doubted that he could make a comeback. In fact, the betting odds were so against Tiger that someone won over a million dollars on the bet he made. Whatever he says about the game of golf, Tiger said something more about hope overcoming doubt.
To overcome years of illness, surgeries, scandals, well that is indeed notable. But to overcome the forces of sin and the destruction of shameful death, that says something entirely different. It is Christ, now raised, who stands before us as the conqueror of doubt. He leads the way, a path that leads to the fullness of life, wondering why we hesitate to follow. Jesus, the beginning and the end, takes everything into his Risen glory, all time and space. Only our refusal to hope and commit can keep us away from that.
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Look at the picture of the Divine Mercy. Look at the Lord risen, with the tomb behind him and white and red beams flowing from his side, and then read carefully what is under the picture: Jesus, I trust in you. We trust in his care and concern for us and all the people of the world. And when we hear about horrendous things happening, as we do every day, we trust that the Lord will care for the victims. St. Peter says that in the war against evil our ancient enemy, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He tells us to be strong in faith and stand up to him. We cannot let Satan’s temporary victories turn the tide in the war for God’s Kingdom.
There is a wonderful group of contemplative sisters from Watertown, New York, the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood, who have promoted this short prayer from a hymn written by Lucy Bennet:
Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee,
Trust Him, when thy strength is small;
Trust Him, when to simply trust Him,
Seems the hardest thing of all.
Trust Him. He is ever faithful,
Trust Him! for His will is best;
Trust Him! for the Heart of Jesus,
Is the only place of rest.
“Jesus help those parts of us that don’t trust, that don’t believe.”
On Divine Mercy Sunday we pray: “Jesus we trust in you.” Casting aside our doubts.