Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 27 April 2014 [Second Sunday of Easter]
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31. [Find the readings here].
St John gives us many stories in his Gospel which show the journey toward or away from believing in Jesus Christ. Today’s Gospel gives us the story of St Thomas, known as doubting Thomas. Many of us find it easy to identify with Thomas. He was as committed a disciple as the rest of them, but he just wasn’t content with hearsay. How could he believe anything as radical as the resurrection of his master simply on the say-so of a bunch of his friends, people who were still hiding in terror behind locked doors after the trauma of the crucifixion? He wanted proof, and he got it when the risen Christ appeared in their midst and invited him to touch his crucifixion wounds. That was enough to bring Thomas to his knees in worshipful adoration. But most of us will never have such dramatic proof upon which to ground our faith. Jesus tells Thomas that he has believed because he has seen, but then pronounces a special blessing on those who have not seen and yet have believed. When Jesus speaks of those who believe without seeing he is looking forward to future disciples, including us. We are those who haven’t seen Jesus of Nazareth, and yet by hearing his story told and responding in faith have also placed our trust in him. But to believe without seeing is not the same as believing without experiencing. When Thomas believes he falls at Jesus’ feet proclaiming ‘my Lord and my God!’ To give mental assent to something we’ve been told without that ‘belief’ affecting us won’t actualise the blessing that Jesus speaks of here.
The resurrected Christ appeared only to his disciples. But he bestowed upon them the Holy Spirit and commissioned them to continue his mission. The power of Jesus’ life continued in that of the disciples. Those who were struck by the transformation in these disciples and who heard in their message an answer to their own deeply felt longings, joined the fledgling community and there they experienced the Holy Spirit in action. There were signs and wonders, but I think that the greatest miracle was seen in the quality of the communal life. There was genuine fellowship and generosity, the acceptance that can only be offered by those who know complete forgiveness. The lifestyles of the first Christians were evidence of a dramatic divine encounter which shifted their life commitments fundamentally. Like the psalmist, the early Christians had a testimony to share. They could tell a story of how God saved them and radically changed their lives.
Peter writes to Christians who love Jesus and believe in him without having seen him. It is clear that they haven’t even experienced ‘salvation’ in the sense of having been rescued out of a crisis, because they are having to endure all kinds of trials and tribulations, a ‘testing by fire’. What do they have then? They have a living hope and an indescribable joy because they have experienced the presence and power of God in their lives. The resurrection faith is real in their lives, and the peace that Jesus gave his followers is guarding them too.
The call to believe without seeing reminds us that our encounter with God comes through faith; it can’t be measured, controlled and repeated at will like a scientific experiment. But that does NOT mean that it is not real. If we believe what we have been told without experiencing the reality of it, then we do not yet know the indescribable joy and living hope of which Peter writes. Believing without seeing is not the same as believing without experiencing. A genuine encounter with the living God changes us fundamentally. It gives us hope, energy, peace, endurance and joy, the fullness of life of which Jesus spoke. It is the resurrection faith that is offered to us in Christ Jesus. Don’t settle for anything less.