Imagine what it must have been like for the Apostles on that first Easter Sunday evening. They were, as the Gospel tells us, in hiding locked away “for fear of the Jews.” Little wonder they had seen Jesus their Master arrested, tried and put to death on the Cross, the kind of death reserved for the worst sort of criminal.
Surely the Apostles must have been thinking, “Are we next? After all, everybody knows who we are. We had better stay out of sight until things calm down; we don’t want to end up like the Lord, do we?”
Into the midst of the Apostles’ fear and confusion, suddenly there appears the Risen Lord who says to them, “Peace be with you.” The Risen Lord brings to the Apostles the fruits of His saving death and resurrection: peace the reconciliation of man with God, the restoration of that friendship with God initiated by the covenant of the Old Testament and completed in the new covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ. “Peace be with you” now, all is forgiven, all is renewed. And it is not only the weaknesses and failures of the Apostles that are made whole, but the weaknesses, failures and sins of all of humanity. Thanks to the resurrection, the peace of Jesus extends to the entire world.
To hand on this peace is the mission of the Apostles (and their successors). The Lord gives the Apostles their commission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The Apostles are to do what Jesus did over the course of His earthly life: to teach, to sanctify and to govern or shepherd the flock entrusted to their care. All these activities involve our being re-created, made new creatures, by Christ’s paschal mystery. So the Risen Lord breathes upon the Apostles an act that calls to mind God breathing life into our first parents at the beginning of creation. New life comes to us thanks to the power of God, displayed in the resurrection of Jesus and in the ministry of the Apostles.
This new life is received principally through the sacraments. At the Last Supper, Jesus had instituted the sacraments of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Now, as a consequence of the resurrection, He gives to His Apostles the power to forgive sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Each time we confess our sins and receive absolution, Jesus’s power, given to the Apostles through the Holy Spirit, is exercised on our behalf. We receive the forgiveness of our sins and find healing, wholeness and new life.
This week’s Gospel points out that Thomas was not initially present in the Upper Room that first Easter evening. Hearing the news of the resurrection from the others, Thomas is not inclined to believe them. The doubt of Thomas is far more common than we might like to admit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the most common temptation for believers is a lack of faith that expresses itself “less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences” (No. 2732). Thomas wanted proof that fulfilled his preferences: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Jesus gently rebukes Thomas and invites him (and us) to open our hearts and minds to the reality of His risen life and presence among us. It is the gift of faith that enables us to “see” Jesus and to respond to Him by accepting His peace, seeking His forgiveness when we sin, and allowing His presence to overcome our doubts and questions. Ultimately, it is our faith in the Risen Lord and His saving activity in the Church that makes us “blessed” and causes us to “have life in His name.”
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)