The Gifts of the Risen Lord
In this beautiful homily for 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C, Father Hanly talks about the gifts of the Risen Lord.
Readings for Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
- First Reading: Acts 5:12-16
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
- Second Reading: Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19
- Gospel: John 20:19-31
This is the week after Easter, but the gospel is Easter Sunday. If you notice from the opening words,
“On the evening of that first day of the week…”
This is John telling us, not only is it the first day of the week, Sunday, and the day that we revere in the church until this very, very day, but it is also the beginning of a whole new world.
For John is introducing to us Jesus as he, Jesus, introduced himself to his own disciples coming back to them from the dead that they might understand the full meaning of his coming.
The first thing is that Jesus seems to just appear in the room. He walks not through doors, he is just there. And they begin to sense it and they begin to feel it.
And finally he speaks and he says,
“Peace be with you.”
The first word of the Risen Lord, the first gift of the Risen Lord, is: “I give you my peace, harmony among brothers and sisters.
“All that was lost through sin and failure is now restored to you, because I give you myself. My peace is myself and I am here with you now and I will be with you all the days of your life.”
The second gift: he shows them his hands and his side.
This, of course, was the great scandal that they had all run away from, for they felt that given into the hands of men, that men could kill him and destroy him and what he stood for forever. And he stood for one thing most of all, he stood for love.
And that is why he invites his disciples to touch his side, out of which water and blood flowed, and to touch his hands, where the nails pierced them. And he was telling them that this was the sign of his love and this he would carry into everlasting life.
And they too must remember that the love he speaks of is not a cheap love or making everyone feel happy, making everyone feel in a way well pleased. This kind of love is wrought through pain. It is self-sacrificing love.
And so this is the second gift that the Risen Lord gives us. He teaches us how to love, not ourselves, not our little community, but to love the way he loves, with a full heart. And the sacrifice is not supposed to be a terrible thing. It is made joyful and glad because it is the price of a whole new life.
The third gift: the third gift that he gives is the gift we all await, all the time. It is the gift of God’s forgiveness.
All is forgiven. All that has been done in the past that would bring us further and further away from our God who loves us, from a God who aches for us, from a God who comes and dies for us, all this is erased by Jesus the Lord, for he has come to make it firm and everlasting, that nothing, no matter how much fear or how much difficulty or how strong the urge, nothing will ever separate him from us.
And, of course, this is their reason for joy, because the peace of God is God Himself.
The joy of the disciple is knowing that God is with him all through these days, whether they bring great joy or great sorrow, He is with them to be with them and He is with them to suffer with them, He is with them to be joyful with them and it is His tears that we cry when we cry for our own disappointments, for God is inseparable from His people.
And this is what he wants us to bring to each other, not just a nice feeling of being forgiven on Wednesday and entering the old world on Thursday, but the feeling that the forgiveness of God is a given and it is given to us whenever we fall for one reason or another, or slip and go another way for a little while.
It is there waiting for us and with us and never to be taken from us. It’s a simple turn around and saying, “I am sorry,” and once again we experience the presence of Jesus our Lord, the man of sorrows.
Yehudi Menuhin, many of you probably have heard, Yehudi Menuhin was a wonderful violinist. He was from Russian Jewish parentage, but he was born and grew up in New York, and he lived for about eighty-two years. And, in that time, he became, in most violinists’ eyes, the greatest violinist who ever lived.
And they said that when he picked up his violin, it wasn’t a violin he was playing, he was playing his heart. And he really believed that, because he was playing his heart, he was playing God’s heart, and that who would listen to the music very carefully could hear the voice of God speaking to their heart.
One day he said this: “If I could go to the Sistine Chapel” — this, of course, is the famous chapel in The Vatican, it is the chapel filled with the beauty of Michelangelo’s paintings and full of the great tradition of those who serve God — “I thought then, if I played in the Sistine Chapel, I would bring a peace to the world.
“But then I found out that peace, shalom, only comes from something else than a violinist. It comes from a deep change in the heart. It comes from a rekindling of love.”
And that brings us to Thomas the Doubter.
Poor Thomas, two weeks earlier, before Jesus suffered, he was the one when Jesus said, “I must return because my friend Lazarus has died. I must return to the edge of the city of Jerusalem,” and his disciples said, “No, because they are going to kill you if they capture you,” and Thomas, one of them, finally said, when Jesus said, “I must go,” he said, “I will go and let us all go and die with him.”
Great love, but a love based on perhaps a naïve idea of what those words might be, for Thomas ran away when the time came for him to be there with the one he loved most of all. He ran away and he ran away from the disciples as well.
And so when Jesus came on Easter Day into their upper room, it was filled with fear.
And Jesus dispelled the fear and said, “I am here. See me. I have come as I had promised I would rise on the third day.”
And so when the disciples told Thomas, he was not going to believe a second time. There is nothing worse than losing your faith and it’s very hard to gain it back. In fact it took the appearance of Jesus himself.
He appeared once again to the huddled group in that upper room and he looked at poor Thomas — who must have been totally wiped out by his failure at this one time when the Lord needed him most — and he said to Thomas, almost pushing it a little bit he said, “Thomas, come over and put your hand in the wounds and put your hand into my side and believe. Do not be a disbeliever but believe.”
And then Thomas saw Jesus for the very first time, because he wasn’t just listening to the wonderful words that came from Jesus and the wonderful uprising of his heart to follow this man, it was he was believing that this man was in his very soul.
And for the first time he could see who Jesus was and what Jesus was for him and his only response was, “My Lord and my God.”
And this is what Thomas teaches us. Because you must go through a certain kind of agony along the way, a certain kind of pain along the way, so that, at the end of it, when you reach your deeper understanding of who God is and what He expects of you, you are full of joy and great courage.
And so, perhaps, of all the disciples there, it was Thomas who became the model of a believer, one who trusted and one who gave his whole life to Jesus.
What he did was he opened not his mind, not his own ideas of what he was going to do with his life, but he opened up in surrender to Jesus whom he loved with his whole heart.
When Jesus sends us out and says, “Now go through the whole world and tell the people all is forgiven.
“You are to bring them the good news that God is not up in His heavens, He is walking through life with you, the joy of life, the pain of life, never a step behind but always with you, and He will bring you safely home.”
And this is the reason for Easter joy.
And this is the reason why we come, and especially at Mass, for it was the other two disciples at Emmaus, who Jesus walked a long distance with before they recognised that he was the Lord when they said, “We recognised him most when we sat down at a table and broke bread.”
So let us today, on this great feast, let us rejoice and be glad, for Jesus is our gladness, Jesus is more than our hope, he is our companion who will never leave us and bring us safely home.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.