2nd. Sunday Eastertide (C),
Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31)
The visceral attraction of Catholic faith and worship which we acknowledge as the mysterious power of divine holiness was quite perceptible when the early Church gathered together for prayer and celebration. In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we were told that, although the first Christians used to meet openly in the Temple at Jerusalem along with thousands of other fellow Jews gathering for the Passover celebrations, and despite the fact that ‘many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles’, nevertheless:
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
This reluctance of many to ‘be seen with’ the Christian company was mainly, no doubt, due to the fact that, as St. John (9:22) tells us:
The Jews had agreed already that if anyone acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, he would be expelled from the synagogue;
and we, of course, understand such fears easily enough today when many tremble before the censures of mere political correctness.
Nevertheless, that most mysterious power of holiness would not allow certain others to remain as distant onlookers, for we are told in the next verse that:
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord -- great numbers of men and women -- were added to them.
So, Christian worship was not for the casual or curious: it was for believers who found that the worship of the early Church corresponded with and confirmed their deepest human aspirations, and nurtured a God-given hope for the future in Jesus Christ; nor was it for drifters and dabblers, but for the committed who realized that faith in Jesus could overcome the greatest fear of all, that of death itself:
I am the first and the last, the One who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. (Revelation 1:17-18)
That distinctive character of early Christianity is made abundantly clear at the very end of St. John’s Gospel where we are told:
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Now, no one liturgy can adequately express the full significance of Holy Mass, and so, whatever liturgy Mother Church might adopt, it would not be without its weaker aspects. The atmosphere of our old Mass, for example, although clearly divine, could, and did for some, seem humanly distant and cold: for holiness over-emphasized can become humanly alienating. Our modern, post Vatican II liturgy, on the other hand, although more clearly inviting and friendly as a family celebration, can -- and in some cases does -- easily become over-human with little sense of divine presence. Too much emphasis on family easily degenerates into familiarity.
Therefore it is fitting that we who celebrate the Eucharist according to the modern, family, liturgy, take careful notice of the reverence which is so prominent a feature of today’s readings:
When I saw One like the Son of Man, I fell at His feet as though dead. He touched me with His right hand and said, "Do not be afraid; I have the keys to death and the netherworld”.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you!" Then He said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see My hands, and reach your hand and put it into My side; do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
We must never forget that we meet Jesus most nearly, most clearly, most surely, at holy Mass. You will remember how the two disciples on the way to Emmaus met a most impressive and sympathetic stranger who walked and talked with them on the way; and although this man was able to explain all the scriptures concerning Jesus in such a way that their hearts burned within them; nevertheless, they did not recognize Him as Jesus until the moment when, as St. Luke tells us (24:30-31):
While He was at the table with them, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.
It is the same for us today: our key to understanding life, our key to appreciating the Scriptures, is given us through our personal appreciation of, encounter with, and response to, Jesus at Holy Mass; it is here that we are closest to Him, because it is at Mass that He comes closest to us, bestowing His Spirit of wisdom and understanding upon all who look for Him in sincerity of faith and love.
Although still one of us, Jesus is now in glory, and as the first Christians came to recognize and most firmly believe, He holds the keys of death and the netherworld. He is the One rightly addressed as “My Lord and my God”, the only One able to demand faith without sight. And indeed, if we look a little closer we can see the divine majesty of Jesus even more clearly, because in our second reading we heard of the Risen Lord saying:
"Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”
Now, those words “I am the First and the Last” were spoken of God Himself by the prophet Isaiah on three occasions, of which here is one:
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel: 'I am the First and I am the Last; there is no God but Me. (Isaiah 44:6)
And so, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us both gratefully tell out our joy and renew our reverence during this holy Mass in which we offer both the sacrifice of our crucified Saviour and celebrate the presence of the Risen Lord, before most humbly opening our hearts to welcome Him and His most Holy Spirit into the ‘nitty, gritty’ of our lives and being through reception of the Eucharist. For, recalling how much Jesus suffered for us, we rejoice in and give thanks for the love that drove Him to such lengths; and we likewise draw deep confidence from our awareness of the fact that He is indeed our Brother, thanks to the flesh and blood He glorifies and yet deigns to share with us. Above all such joy and confidence, however, when we go on yet further to consider the fact that He wills to eventually make us, in Himself, true children of the Father and sharers in His own eternal glory and blessedness before the Father -- only then, can we begin to realize how deep should be our reverence for Him Who, though being Himself the only-begotten and eternally-beloved Son of the Father, has become for us the Conqueror of sin and death, and Lord of Life, able and willing to offer us the possibility of such a transcendent destiny through the Gift of His most Holy Spirit that we might both embrace and fulfil it.
Though called, endowed, and destined thus to become true children and heirs in the Father’s heavenly kingdom, so long as we live on this earth we walk by faith, as St. Paul, the ‘Doctor of the Gentiles’ said:
In the gospel, the righteousness from God is revealed, from faith to faith, as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)
And it was for that reason that Paul told his converts in Philippi (2:12):
My dear friends, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
And again in his first letter to his converts in Corinth (15:53-57):
This corruptible (body) must put on incorruption, and this mortal (body) must put on immortality … when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory”.
Only when that final victory is secured will our rejoicing be such as to totally express and transfigure us; and then indeed, confirmed as children and heirs, we will sing with sublime and totally reverential love and awe:
Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Until that moment of eschatological fulfilment, People of God, this our Easter Eucharist offers us the most authentic foretaste of the heavenly and eternal celebration of God and His Christ; and therefore it is here at Mass that we can and should most fittingly give whole-hearted expression to our present joy and reverential gratitude as disciples of Him Who is:
The first and the last, the One Who lives: once dead but now alive forever and ever, holding the keys to death and the netherworld.
(Adapted 2016; not given anywhere in this form.)