St. John recalls in the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy the first Easter evening. It is dark and the disciples are gathered together. They are fearful due to what has just happened to Jesus – arrest, torture, conviction and execution. Questions like “will they come after us next” surely ran through their minds.
In the midst of the darkness and fear, Jesus appears to them and greets them saying, “Peace be with you!” In this appearance Jesus restores their faith, lifts them out of the darkness and takes away their fear. He is risen!
The peace of which Jesus speaks is far greater than any security a locked door can offer. His peace is beyond anything this world can offer. His peace is stronger than any fear or anxiety we might face in life. The peace unites us to God and to one another in a bond more resilient than anything we can experience in this world. The peace comes from the experience of God’s love and mercy shared with us through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
The union experienced is reflected in the first reading from Acts of the Apostles. The “community of believers” are of “one heart and mind,” and “they hold everything in common.” The community or Church is built on the foundation of Christ crucified and risen. They live in the love and mercy he has poured out on them. They live in peace among themselves.
The passage from the First Letter of John, which serves as the second reading for Sunday’s liturgy, speaks of this union in terms of family. Jesus taught us to call God our Father. Indeed through union with him, as St. Paul notes elsewhere, we become “adopted children,” of our one heavenly Father.
St. John terms it in this way: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him.” He further notes that “we love the children of God” when we love God and keep his commandments. We are all bound together in the saving love and mercy of Christ Jesus.
This love is powerful. It is the love that saw Jesus through his passion and death to his resurrection. It is the life we share in Christ Jesus. It is the peace that Jesus offers. St. John describes this as a victory over the world.
You may recall that in the fourth Gospel, the Gospel according to John, Jesus often made a contrast between the heavenly and earthly. He did so using language like “above” referring to the heavenly and “below” referring to the earthly. He also used the term “world” to represent the earthly, specifically meaning anything that is not of the divine: darkness, evil, hatred and so forth.
The theme is picked up in today’s reading from the First Letter of John in terms of Jesus’ victory, a victory in which we all share through faith. Hence no power of the “world” can defeat the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. His peace endures through any trial or tribulation, suffering or grief, pain or persecution.
In the Gospel account of Jesus’ Easter appearance, he thrice offers the greeting of “peace be with you.” He wants the disciples to know, understand and experience the peace that follows his resurrection. He further wants that peace shared by all so he commands: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” He breaths forth the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.
The call to spread the peace of Christ through faith and sacrament is a call that continues today. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to invite others to share in the life we live in Christ Jesus; to witness to faith in our lives and to invite others to experience the salvation offered in and by Christ.
The Gospel passage continues with a focus on Thomas. He was absent when Jesus appeared that Easter evening. He did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” The doubt Thomas experiences robs him of peace. He is anxious; fear remains.
Jesus will not let Thomas stay in this state so he appears again. He offers Thomas his hands broken by nails. He offers Thomas his side pierced by the lance. Thomas does not need the sensation of touch for seeing the risen Lord he believes. His faith fills him with the peace Jesus offers so that he can proclaim the great profession of faith in Christ: “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus then goes on to say: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” The call to faith continues today. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to offer the call to faith to everyone we encounter.
The peace of Christ Jesus is for everyone to experience. He does not appear to people today as he did to Thomas but through his brothers and sisters, you and me, specifically in the way we live. The call to faith is offered through the love and mercy that we share.
John concludes this passage with a note on his writing. He says: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” He will later explain that no book could contain all that Jesus did and said; it is impossible to limit Jesus in this manner. John makes a selection so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you [we] may come to have life in his name.”
Today we continue to celebrate Easter. Jesus is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia! Through his passion, death and resurrection he has freed us from sin and death. He leads us out of darkness into light. He dispels fear. He gives us life and offers us his peace. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.