8 Apr 2018

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter - Fr Martin Browne OSB, Glenstal Abbey

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
Fr Martin Browne OSB
Glenstal Abbey

The Church treats the entire week after Easter Sunday as if it were a single celebration. The mystery is too big for us to simply pack it away and go back to normal life the day after Easter Sunday. And so, Mass was festive and solemn all week. The hours of the Divine Office were almost identical every day. It has been a single feast. Some denominations call the third day of the Triduum ‘Easter Day’, whereas we call it ‘Easter Sunday’, and I think we’re right, because every day this week has been ‘Easter Day’. Easter Sunday was followed by Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, Easter Wednesday, Easter Thursday, Easter Friday and Easter Saturday.

In the Gospel readings at Mass throughout the week, we’ve been hearing of some of Jesus’s appearances to various groups of his followers after his resurrection – followers who were often ‘foolish… and … slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had declared’. Today, on the last day of the Octave, the second Easter Sunday, the Gospel begins on the evening of Easter Sunday, where we left off a week ago. Last Sunday’s reading ended with that heart-jolting tender encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus in the garden, when she mistook him for a gardener until he called her name. Then when she responded by addressing him as ‘Rabbouni (which means Teacher)’, he commissioned her to announce his resurrection to the disciples – to be the Apostle to the Apostles. Last Sunday’s reading ended with the glorious announcement by Mary; ‘I have seen the Lord’. Today’s Gospel reading begins at the very next verse: ‘When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…’

It’s hard not to wonder: Did they not hear what Mary had announced to them? Did they not believe what she told them? Or were they just confused by it all? Because the scene at the start of today’s Gospel doesn’t suggest that they were filled with resurrection joy and singing alleluias…. ‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews’. Because we hear these two readings on two different Sundays, it’s easy to forget that they are consecutive passages. It’s a striking detail, and one which is easily overlooked: even when they had heard that Jesus was alive, the disciples were afraid.

And as they huddled in fear, somehow, Jesus ‘came and stood among them’. They might have barricaded themselves in for fear of the authorities, but no door was going to keep out the One whom neither a tomb nor Death itself could contain. Like the scene with Mary in the garden, this encounter is a tender one. He could have complained and berated them for their stupidity and unbelief. But no. He simply said, ‘Peace be with you’ and showed them his hands and his side. The hands that were pierced by the nails that bound him to the wood of the Cross… and the side that was pierced after his death, releasing a saving torrent of blood and water. And that was it. Then, ‘…the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord’. 

The Gospel doesn’t give us many details of this encounter. But it does tell us that Jesus said ‘Peace be with you’ twice. In a story that is so short on details, that this detail is reported surely means that it is important, and invites us to consider it with care. ‘Peace be with you’… Some might say it was just a greeting – a stylised way of saying ‘Hello’, like we find in other parts of the New Testament. But here, ‘Peace be with you’ is more than a greeting. It echoes words Jesus spoke to the disciples at the Last Supper just days before. ‘Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid’.

As he prepared for his crucifixion, Jesus bequeathed peace to his disciples, encouraging them to not be afraid. Now, risen from the dead, he brings the same blessing. Peace. A peace that dispels fear. He repeated the phrase after they had recognised him and rejoiced. It’s clearly more than a nice greeting. Peace be with you - a prelude to sending the disciples in his name. Peace be with you – a prelude to Jesus breathing on the disciples and giving them the power, comfort and fire of the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you – a prelude to their continuing his mission in the world. It is an important ‘word’ from the Lord at an important moment. No wonder he said it twice! By it, the disciples’ timidity was transformed into joy. And just like Mary last week – or rather, ‘like Mary earlier that same day’, they weren’t allowed to simply luxuriate in the joy of the extraordinary news that Jesus was alive. Instead, they were sent out to continue his ministry – ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’. Like Mary earlier in the day, their encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus was both a moment of joy and a moment of commissioning.

The story moves on, with the arrival back to the group of Thomas. He has been saddled throughout history with the unfortunate title of ‘Doubting Thomas’, but when you read this text carefully, you see that he is no different to the rest of the disciples. He’s just a bit more direct. One poet describes him as the ‘Courageous master of the awkward question, [who] spoke the words the others dared not say’. Thomas is famous for not believing the other disciples’ story of seeing the Lord. But the other disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene either. When Jesus appeared among the barricaded disciples on Easter Sunday he did exactly as he did with Thomas eight days later: He showed them his hands and he showed them his side. The description of the encounter with Thomas is a bit more detailed and graphic, but the action is the same: the greeting ‘Peace be with you’, followed by the manifestation of his gloriously transformed wounds.

Today’s Gospel shouldn’t be known as the Gospel of ‘Doubting Thomas’. It is the Gospel of ‘Revealing Jesus’. It is Good News. And here is more Good News: Today, in our midst, in his Word and in the gifts of bread and wine over which we give thanks, the risen and glorified Lord Jesus is present and is revealing himself again. He greets each one of us with his peace, empowers us with the Holy Spirit, and sends us forth to continue his work in the world.

Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, alleluia, alleluia!

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