Happy Easter – again! Six more weeks of Easter to go! A week of weeks. We’ll conclude our Easter celebration on June 5 th when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But until then, we’ll continue focusing our attention on the resurrection of Jesus. This week we’re given the famous story of doubting Thomas for our reflection.
The account begins on the day of the resurrection. Very few of the disciples were brave enough to be with Jesus when he died, only Jesus’ mother, Mary and her sister, another Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary of Magdala, Salome and the beloved disciple, John. At his death, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus carried the body of Jesus and buried him in a tomb. After the burial, the Eleven, Jesus’ mother, and a group of disciples went into hiding in a space they had rented in Jerusalem. But they didn’t feel safe there. They were gripped with fear. They were sure the Jewish authorities would be looking to arrest them, too, at some point.
Suddenly, Jesus was with them. The doors were locked. No one saw him come in. But Jesus was standing there, right in their midst. He greeted them with the holy greeting, “Shalom,” peace. They stood in silence as he showed them his hands and his side. It was Jesus. His wounds were raw but he was alive! The room broke out in jubilation.
Then Jesus began an odd ritual. He came up to each person and breathed on them. Each one felt his warm, moist breath. He was bringing them back to the first moment of creation. “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while the Spirit of God breathed over the waters.” Their lives had become a dark wasteland of chaos and fear. He whispered in their ears, “Receive the Holy Spirit” planting the seed of divine light into them. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained.”
As suddenly as he appeared, he vanished. Shortly after the event, Thomas knocked on the door. Waiting for someone to open, he was surprised to hear loud, excited talking inside. The moment the door opened everyone at
once began to tell him that Jesus had appeared to them.
Even though Thomas knew them all and trusted them, he couldn’t believe their crazy story. “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.”
A week passed by. Another Sunday arrived. Everyone was gathered in the room. Thomas, too, was there. Again, they had the door securely locked, but somehow Jesus stood in their midst. Again, he extended the holy greeting, “Shalom,” peace. He walked right up to Thomas and addressed his disbelief. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believing.”
Then Jesus turned and looked into the distance. He was looking at you. He was looking at me. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Our reflection today need only focus on that one sentence. A number of questions should cross our minds and challenge our faith when we think about it.
We’ve listened to the accounts of the resurrection and we believe that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago. But that isn’t enough. It’s true that we haven’t seen Jesus the way the early disciples saw him that day. We haven’t touched his wounds. But Jesus’ statement about believing reaches wider and deeper than that.
In today’s account Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples who had gathered in fear. It rested within them for a while but burst forth on the day of Pentecost. That day, their belief exploded into witness, powerful witness. Their belief was like a light that burst into the hearts of those who listened to them.
We’re the ones who believe though we haven’t seen. Now, the question for our reflection today is very important. Have we freed the power of the Spirit that was planted within us when we first believed? It’s not enough to believe – we have to succumb to the Spirit so that the Spirit can give witness to the resurrection – so that those still in the dark can open their hearts to the light of the risen Lord.
It was very early Sunday morning. It was that still moment just as the light begins to dissolve the darkness. Mary Magdalene stood at the tomb of Jesus, confused and shocked. The tomb had been opened. The bruised body of Jesus was no longer there.
No matter how brilliant the rising sun might have been, Mary saw only darkness. She had witnessed the religious leaders challenging and attacking Jesus during his preaching journeys. Two days ago, her heart wrenched, she stood at the foot of his cross. Anger burned in her heart. His death wasn’t enough. Now they’ve taken his body, desecrated it. She ran back to the city to tell the group.
Simon Peter and John ran back with her to the tomb. Peter noted the burial cloths neatly folded. The tomb wasn’t plundered. No one stole the body. But what could have happened?
John stooped down to look into the tomb. A flash of understanding came to him. What Jesus taught, what he did, suddenly seemed to make sense. He walked back to the city with Peter in silence. Mary remained at the tomb, the morning sun burning her tear-filled eyes.
Every year I wish I could read the end of this account on Easter morning. It has a much happier ending. This portion of the account leaves Mary weeping, Peter confused, and John sorting out his new understanding of Jesus.
But perhaps, this portion of the account is meant to be an invitation for us to look into the empty tomb. What do we see? Is it daylight or darkness? What questions about the resurrection haunt our minds? What insights into the resurrection still need more light. If Jesus isn’t in the tomb, where is he?
Easter isn’t just a historical commemoration. It’s a reminder of the risen Lord’s presence today. Through our prayer, reflection, and our communal and sacramental lives can we meet him and hear him speak our names.
Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, you touch our lives by the healing power of your love. Watch over us now, and unveil for us the glory of the resurrection. May the life we receive through the Eucharist we celebrate continue to grow in our hearts. Amen.
Palm Sunday begins the Christian High Holy Days, seven days of prayer, reflection and remembering. Holy Week is a spiritual pilgrimage by which we experience the events we remember. We’re not to be distracted from the events of this week, so we cover the statues in the church to help us focus on Jesus. I encourage you to gather with the community this year to experience these, as our Jewish brothers and sisters would describe them, Days of Awe.
The drama begins. Two Gospel passages are read today. At the very beginning of Mass, we remember Jesus’ spectacular entrance into the city of Jerusalem. We gather outside the church in the vestibule, carry the same palm branches the people carried that day, and walk in procession into the church, symbolically, Jerusalem.
But a shadow quickly comes over this short celebration. We listen to the first scripture reading, the prayer of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked by beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord is my help, therefore I shall not be disgraced.”
For a moment, light pours over Isaiah’s prayer as we read the second scripture from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!”
Then, we read the Passion. We eat with Jesus at his last supper, join him in the garden of olives, witness his arrest and trial, and walk with him to the cross. Palm Sunday sets us on the path we’ll walk with Jesus for the next six days.
Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the savior of the world.
We’re reflecting on a famous scene in the gospel of John today. Jesus had spent the night in the garden of olives. In the morning he crossed the Kidron Valley, entered the city and walked into the area outside the temple. As soon as people caught sight of him they gathered around him. So, he sat down and began to teach them. Some Pharisees and scribes interrupted the scene by bringing a woman to him who had been “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” They led her into the middle of the group. A trial began, but it wasn’t the woman who was on trial, it was Jesus.
There was no question about the woman’s guilt. The Pharisees had already judged her. Now they were going to use her to entrap Jesus. “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?”
To their surprise and frustration, Jesus didn’t give them an answer. Still in his seated teaching position, Jesus bent over a bit and began writing on the ground. Everybody must have been looking at each other. The Pharisees and the scribes were silent for a moment but then began to hassle him for an answer.
Their question was a theoretical one. It was true that several passages in the Law, Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 for instance, prescribed the punishment of stoning for adultery. Jesus didn’t contradict these laws and didn’t agree or disagree with them. This would have been exactly what the Pharisees and scribes expected him to do. In Jesus’ day, only Rome could dictate who would suffer capital punishment. Recall that the Jewish authorities had to ask Pilate to crucify Jesus. They didn’t have the authority to carry out an execution.
Still in a seated position Jesus spoke but didn’t answer their question. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” Then he returned his attention to writing on the ground.
Jesus’ answer avoided an interaction with the religious leaders. In fact, it brought their smug self-
righteousness into public focus. How could they possibly continue with their scheme to catch him saying something contrary to the Law? He had thrown the question back to them. They had no answer for him. They remained silent and then walked away.
It’s important for us to note that Jesus sat throughout this encounter. In other words, everything that took place was a teaching. Remember the crowd still surrounded him. They heard what he said. They saw what he did.
When the Pharisees and scribes left, Jesus spoke to the woman while the crowd listened. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” He used the term of high respect when he addressed her, “woman.” Jesus addressed his mother as “woman.” His question was a gentle acknowledgment to everyone that no one was without sin, and that only God could judge the human heart. Then he told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, do not sin anymore.” Jesus acknowledged her sin. He didn’t brush over it. Hopefully, she would learn from this event and not repeat this sin.
Ironically, the Pharisees were publicly embarrassed for using the woman as a tool to attack Jesus. He turned the tables on them. His statement, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone,” publicly exposed their sin against the woman.
Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees is a challenge meant for each and every one of us. We need to digest this teaching. We need to take it to heart and to practice it in our daily lives. The Church, as an institution, also needs to take this teaching to heart, to use it as a foundation for its moral teaching. The whole world sat up and listened when, early in his papacy, Pope Francis commented, “Who am I to judge.” These weren’t prophetic words; they simply echoed this teaching of Jesus. This phrase should be a spiritual foundation for Christian and non-Christian, for saint and sinner. If we took it to heart and acted upon it, it just might change the world.