Eight days have passed since Easter. But the conditions we are living today seem like we are still in the Lenten season. With the quarantine and lockdown, we are relegated to stay home and distanced ourselves physically from each other. The poor suffer the most as they experienced hunger from the loss of day-to-day income.
Nevertheless, we have 40 more days to go to celebrate and ponder on the meaning of Jesus’ and our resurrection. How are we living the spirit of Easter during these difficult times? The question is not just on a personal level but more so on a communal level. How are we living as a community of the resurrection?
The readings for today’s second Sunday of Easter reflect on the qualities of a living community of the resurrection. The times after Jesus’ resurrection are no different from the times we live now. The early Christians lived in constant fear because of persecution from both the Jewish and Roman authorities. The Christians were also one of the most oppressed and poorest sectors in those times.
Despite the many miseries and difficulties, the early Christians lived out the spirit of resurrection. Our readings today gives us some clues on how the early Christians lived as a community of the resurrection.
First clue: The Community as Signs and Wonders of God
In the first reading we hear about how the early Christian communities witnessed the resurrection. Let’s hear it directly from Luke in his book the Acts of the Apostles
Many signs and wonders were done among the people
at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon’s portico.
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.
The early church after the resurrection of Jesus performed many signs and wonders through the leadership of the apostles. The apostles continued the divinely empowered ministry of Jesus (soon to be illustrated by the healing of the lame man through Peter and John [Acts 3ff]).
Because of this, new converts were “added.” It was God who added them; it was not the Church that added new members. The new converts did not become members on their own, but God brought them into the redeemed community.
Second Clue: Living the Resurrection not as Individuals but as a Community
It is always heartwarming to hear that Jesus died and resurrected for me. But Jesus died and resurrected not for you and me alone. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed not as private individuals but as individuals interconnected with one another, in other words, Jesus died and resurrected for us as a community.
The apostles after the resurrection, despite their fear and misery, did not go on their own but gathered and lived together as a community. After the resurrection, they were able to regain their strength because they came out of isolation and regroup. Although each of them had their own mission territory to go to, they never saw their mission as individual mission but the mission of the whole body of Christ.
The word used in Greek to describe the life of the early Christian church is koinonia. It is a derivative of koinos, the Greek word for common. The word has such a multitude of meanings that no single English word is adequate to express its depth and richness. It can mean either one or all of the following: fellowship, partnership, sharing, friendship, relationship, solidarity, and communion.
The early Church lived in koinonia of the word, prayer, eucharist and material goods.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.
The early Church lived in koinonia of the word: The early Church regularly listened to the proclamation of the Word by the apostles. They constantly reflected on the word of God in the light of their situation.
The early Church lived in koinonia of prayer: The early Church regularly prayed together both in good times and bad times. They regularly prayed for each other.
The early Church lived in koinonia of the eucharist: The early Church always gathered in the temple area and in their homes for the “breaking of the bread”–the earlist term they used for the eucharist. They faithfully fulfilled Jesus’ words: Do this in remembrance of me.
The early Church lived in koinonia of material goods: The early Church had all things in common. They sold their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
Even if one has a deep personal relationship with God, to live the resurrection, therefore, is not to live alone, but to live in communion with fellow believers in prayer, sharing of goods, proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating the Eucharist.
Third Clue: A community forgiven and redeemed by Jesus also forgives and redeem others in Jesus’ name.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were still living in fear and despair. In the evening of Easter, the disciples were huddled in the cenacle afraid to go out because they are terrified of the Jews (John 20:19). The disciples were perhaps thinking that, if they had done this to our beloved master, how much more to us, his ordinary disciples.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them,
‘Peace be with you’ ” (Jn 20:19).
The first words of the risen Jesus was “Shalom”–peace! The disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied Jesus during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death. Despite their cowardice and disloyalty, Jesus unconditionally forgave them. He does not complain or demand an apology. He simply offers peace, no vengeance and holding of grudges. What an act of unconditional forgiveness and unwavering friendship!
The risen Jesus passed through the walls and doors of the locked cenacle. This shows that Jesus’ love and forgiveness will traverse any walls of apathy, betrayal and fear. The resurrection will triumph over any hatred and animosity.
This is the reason why St. John Paul II declared this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday. God’s mercy is infinitely rich and no amount of human transgressions and obstinacy can stop it from being given to all humanity and God’s creation. The responsorial psalm of today’s liturgy proclaims this theme of mercy. In Psalm 118 we sing, “His mercy endures forever.”
As Jesus has forgiven the disciples, he empowered his disciples to pass on the gift of peace to others. The community of resurrection must be a community of healing and forgiveness. He said to them,
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Fourth Clue: Faith amidst Doubt
This Sunday is unfortunately remembered as the the story of doubting Thomas. This is in reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.
While Thomas expressed doubt, when confronted with the resurrected Jesus, he was one of the apostles who proclaimed the strongest expression of faith with his statement “My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28). He was also one of the apostles who travelled the most in proclaiming the gospel. Tradition maintains that he founded churches in Mesopotamia, Ethiopia and even in India. Tradition also maintained that he died a martyred death there. Perhaps, the doubt of Thomas has made him a stronger and more passionate apostle.
Jesus’ response to Thomas’ declaration of faith was a recognition of the faith of the thousands of generation after the apostles who have come to believe despite not seeing Jesus.
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’ (Jn 20:29)
We have not seen with our eyes the resurrection of Jesus but we are blessed because we all have believe! Walking by faith and not by sight is an important mark of the community of the Risen One. This does not mean, however, that we have not experienced doubt in our faith. It rather means that despite our doubts and lack of faith, we continue to follow the Risen Lord and live the new life that he has bestowed upon us.
The heightening of doubt pretty much reflects today’s ethos. There is proliferation of fake news which make us skeptical about the truth across all topics – culture, politics, science and religion. We live in a time of skepticism and doubt that like the apostles of the the early church, believing entails sacrifice of time, talent and even of our very life. The community of the Risen Lord continue to uphold God’s love, life and goodness despite all the doubt and despair in the world today.
Fifth Clue: A Community Transformed and Sent
The risen Lord having forgiven his disciples, empowered them to spread God’s mercy to others and immediately sent them.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The resurrection of Jesus transformed the disciples from a bunch of cowards to a band of brave men who preached the Gospel all over the Mediterranean and confidently faced death, some by crucifixion also. Peter, Paul and most of the Apostles suffered the same fate as Jesus. They were persecuted and martyred because they were continuing what Jesus had started – going against a heartless culture and caring for those in need.
As we continue our journey in Easter, let us continue to receive strength from the Risen Lord so that we may continue to be an Easter people.
Let me end with the opening prayer in the mass today:
God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Amen. Alleluiah, Alleluiah, Alleluiah.