By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47; Response: Psalm 118; 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9; Gospel: John 20:19-31
The reading from Luke’s Acts of Apostles is the second in a series of seven readings from Acts, which began on Easter Sunday. It follows Simon Peter’s first homily after Pentecost. That homily resulted in the conversion of 3,000. Luke describes the activities of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, as they gathered in groups to celebrate the Breaking of the Bread, an early name for the Eucharist. Paul describes the ritual in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 with insightful comments. These earliest Christians were doing as Jesus commanded at the Last Supper in Luke 22:19: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke notes, but does not describe, the “wonders and signs . . . done through the Apostles.” He will describe some of the wonders later in Acts. He describes a parish that would appeal to any pastor: “They were together and had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them all according to each one’s need.” The Breaking of the Bread took place in homes, “with joy and sincerity of heart, praising God.”
Luke has been described as wearing rose-colored glasses, resulting in a too-idealistic depiction of the early Christians. He composed his Book of Acts decades after what he is describing. If this harmony did exist in the beginning, it did not last long. Luke himself will soon tell us about problems among Christians in Jerusalem. There was the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. They did not live up to their “CPC pledge,” lied about it to Peter and fell dead at his feet. Author’s note: This story could make a profound impression in the annual appeal for CPC pledging!
Paul’s sometimes-angry letters are witness to disunity in other early Christian communities. Luke also notes that the Christians of Jerusalem met in the temple for prayer. This may surprise some, but they thought of themselves as faithful Jews. Their worship in the temple, however, came to an end when the Jews rebelled against Rome beginning in 66 A.D The Christians of Jerusalem fled across the Jordan to the city of Pella. The Roman army destroyed the temple in 70 A.D.
Psalm 118 is the same responsorial as last Sunday. It is the last of a group of six psalms, 113-118, called The Hallel (The Praise). These psalms were chanted in homes at the close of the Passover meal. Jesus and his disciples did the same to close their Passover meal – and the institution of the Eucharist. For Christian interpretation, the major verse selected from the psalm is verse 22: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Christian preachers and teachers used these words to explain the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders of his own people, yet He has become the cornerstone of a new building. The next verse assures Christians that this was God’s doing. Verse 22 was also used to justify the Christian mission to the Gentiles. Our response: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love is everlasting.”
The second reading begins the First Letter of St. Peter to Christians living in parts of what is the nation of Turkey today. The author speaks of the resurrection of Jesus as our new birth. Thanks to his resurrection, we are part of God’s family – expecting an eternal inheritance. He takes note of some kind of persecution they are suffering, but this is a test of the genuineness of their faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is an acceptance of what we cannot see. Therefore, the author writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not see him now, yet you believe in him.” The goal of this faith: “The salvation of your souls.”
In the Gospel of John, the empty tomb was discovered before sunrise on the first day of the week, our Sunday. That same evening, Jesus appears for the first time to his gathered disciples, who were hiding in a room fearing arrest as accomplices of Jesus. Suddenly he was in the room, though the doors were bolted. The resurrected body is no longer subject to laws of physics, though the wounds can be seen as Jesus displays them. Before the appearance to the disciples, he had greeted Mary of Magdala and made a quick roundtrip to heaven. Now, he was back with heavenly greetings in Hebrew, “Shalom alachem!” from his Father, “as the Father has sent me . . . .” The second part of today’s gospel is the bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples for the forgiveness of sins. This is also the gospel for Pentecost. Comments can wait until then.
The third part is the story of Doubting Thomas’ main claim to fame. Thomas had been absent at the first appearance, but he returned later. He is called “Thomas Didymus,” that is, “The Twin.” John withholds the reason for this mysterious name, and we shall follow his pattern. When Thomas returned, the other disciples revealed, “We have seen the Lord!” Enter the famous doubt! “Unless I see, etc., I will not believe!” Jesus returns eight days later, making this day the octave (eighth) day after Easter. Jesus again appeared without coming through a door or window. Again we hear, “Shalom alachem!” Jesus takes Thomas up on his demand that seeing is believing. He invites him to check out the wounds, as Thomas had demanded when told about Jesus’ first appearance. John does not tell us whether Thomas accepted the invitation. Instead, we hear Thomas’ famous response: “My Lord and my God!” John throws in a consoling thought for us who have not seen Jesus but who believe on the evidence of those who did see him, as Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Our gospel closes with the author’s affirmation that Jesus did many other signs not recorded in this gospel. Thus, oral tradition does exist! Signs is the term John uses for Jesus’ miracles because they are signs of his various identities. John gives us the reason why he chose seven signs that he included — from changing water into wine to resurrecting Lazarus. “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by this faith you may have life in his name.”