By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
First Reading: Acts 5:12-16; Response: Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Second Reading: Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; Gospel: John 20:19-31
Thus far in Acts of Apostles, Luke has introduced us to the ascension of Jesus, and to a gathering of disciples and Jesus’ family to elect a successor to Judas as one of the 12. Then comes the election of Matthias; the first Christian Pentecost; the immediate conversion of 3,000 to the Jesus movement after Peter’s first sermon; the communal living of the faithful in Jerusalem; the cure of a lame man who became a joyful jumper; a second sermon of Peter; the arrest of Peter and John and their pretrial before the High Council; their release with a warning; community prayer and total common ownership; and introduction of the great and generous Barnabas.
Then, Oy Vey! – suddenly fallen human nature asserted itself in the story of Ananias and Sapphire, who cheated on their “CPC pledge,” lied about it and fell dead. As today’s reading begins, the brethren are meeting regularly in the temple area in Solomon’s Portico. Though named after Solomon, who died in 922 B.C., this colonnaded, covered walkway on the east side of the temple was built during the renovation and rebuilding of the temple during the reign of King Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C.
The enthusiasm of the membership of this new movement, soon called “the Way,” was so great that people admired them – but did not mingle with their gatherings. These were something like the meetings of the charismatic movement in the 1970s. One has to imagine a crowd speaking in tongues, and others interpreting tongues, swooning and praying. It was scary to outsiders. Nevertheless, more believer – women and men – joined the movement. There were numerous healings. People brought the sick on cots and mats onto the street so that when Peter (and his sidekick John) passed by, his shadow touched them. Luke tells us that people came from Jerusalem and surrounding towns bringing their sick, “and all were cured.” The closest we come to that situation today would be the procession of the sick at Lourdes in France and their blessing with the Blessed Sacrament – an unforgettably emotional experience.)
Psalm 118 is an ancient song of thanksgiving. When it is adapted to this Sunday’s liturgy, it becomes a response to the healing of the sick in the first reading, as expressed in the people’s response to the three sections of verses, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love is everlasting.” The first section calls on the House of Israel, the House of Aaron, and all who revere the Lord God to shout, “God’s mercy endures forever.” The second section is personal. The psalmist was in trouble, “but the Lord helped me.” The third section contains the famous verse that Christian interpretation understood as referring to Jesus, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The selected verses close with another Christian interpretation of ancient words, which the liturgy of the Easter Season often applies to the resurrection of Jesus: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice!”
The second reading serves as our introduction to John, the author of Revelation, and describes the first of his many visions. He is on Patmos, an island of volcanic rock in the Aegean Sea, 37 miles west-southwest of the coast of today’s southwest Turkey. The island was used as a place of banishment for political prisoners, which fits the situation of Christians persecuted toward the end of the first century. Refusal to worship the goddess Roma and the emperor put them into a political category. It was Sunday morning, already called “the Lord’s Day.” A loud voice commanded him to write what he was about to see. He turns to the voice and sees “one like a son of man,” that is, a human being dressed like royalty. John is scared. The man lists his credentials. He is the risen Lord Jesus.
Last Sunday’s gospel left us in suspense. Mary of Magdala, then Simon Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” found Jesus’ tomb empty except for Jesus’ shroud and head cover. The other two went home, but faithful Mary of Magdala stayed by the empty tomb. End of story? Not quite! What happened between then and today’s gospel scene? She looked into the tomb again. She saw two angels sitting where the body had been. They asked why she was weeping. “Because they have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they placed him.” She turned around and there stood Jesus. She did not recognize him. Thinking he was the gardener, she accused him of taking away Jesus’ body. He called her name. Now she knew him. Mary reported the sighting to the disciples, who were hiding out of fear of arrest. In the meantime, Jesus ascends to his Father and returns on the evening of the same day, the day of the resurrection. Note how different from John’s narrative in Luke’s Acts of Apostles. There, the ascension happens 40 days after the resurrection – a quite different way of proclaiming Jesus’ return to glory.
Our gospel reading begins with Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples, minus Thomas, after the resurrection and ascension. He brings them the promised gift – the Holy Spirit. This visit is also the gospel for Pentecost, so we move on to the next part of today’s gospel, the second appearance of Jesus to his disciples one week later. First, doubting Thomas must be handled. He did not believe the news about the first appearance a week earlier. To him, only seeing was believing. Jesus invited him to see, to touch, to believe. Thomas is convinced. He makes his profession of faith in Jesus, “My Lord and my God.!” What about the rest of us who believe without experimental proof? Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John opens the door to an acceptance of unwritten tradition – so important to Catholics, “Jesus did many other signs (miracles) in the presence of his disciples not written in this book.” At the end of the next and final chapter, he will write that, if everything Jesus did were to be written down, the world could not contain the books that would have to be written. But John closes this chapter stating the purpose of the written gospel, “But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”