Friday, April 1, 2016

'THE DOORS WERE LOCKED .. . FOR FEAR."

Second Sunday of Easter, Year C. Rev. 1:9-11a,12-13, 17-19; John 20: 19-31.
AIM: To show that the risen Lord, who banished the fears of the apostles, also banishes our fears.
 
Once we have learned the solution to a puzzling mystery, it is almost impossible to recapture our thoughts before the mystery was solved. For this reason we cannot easily enter into the state of mind of Jesus= friends in today=s gospel. We know something they do not yet know: that Jesus= tomb was found empty Easter morning not because his body had been removed, but because he had been raised from death to a new and higher life, beyond death.
Though it is already evening of Athat first day of the week@ (the first Easter Sunday), Jesus= friends know only that his tomb has been found empty. This causes them not joy, however, but fear. If their dead Master was not to be left in peace even in the tomb, what would his enemies do next? No wonder that they lock the doors, hoping by this feeble precaution to shut out the unknown dangers that every man in the room can feel in his bones.
Beneath this fear for their own safety, the disciples have another reason for fear; one so deep and terrible that none of them dares to speak of it. This fear had begun at Jesus= arrest Thursday evening, when Athey all forsook him and fled@ (Mk 14:50). The fear deepened at Jesus= death Friday afternoon. This deepest fear of all was connected with their answer to the question Jesus had put to them at what they now realized had been a turning point in his ministry. 
AWho do men say that the Son of Man is?@ Jesus had asked. They had responded with the various speculations and rumors about their Master. When Jesus pressed them further by asking, AAnd who do you say that I am?@ Peter had answered for all: AYou are the Messiah, the Son of the living God@ (Mt 16:14-16).
And now he was dead.
With him the whole basis for Peter=s confession of faith seemed to have collapsed. God had proved powerless to rescue his anointed servant, the one they had come to believe was the long-awaited Messiah. As Jesus hung on the cross, the bystanders had taunted him: ACome down from the cross and save yourself, if you are indeed the Son of God@ (Mt 27:40). To this mocking challenge Jesus had given no answer. His death seemed to destroy the very basis of the disciples= faith.  What was there left to believe in now? No wonder they were afraid.
Though we who know of Jesus= resurrection have difficulty sharing his disciples= state of mind before the appearance of the risen Lord, we have little difficulty sharing their fear. We all have our private fears. As a cancer survivor, I live, like some of you, with the fear that the disease could return with deadly consequences. Though I normally sleep soundly, there are nights when I do not. So when I awake with an ache or pain, I wonder: Is this it? In the morning, of course, the fear is gone. 
In addition to such private fears there is, for all of us, fear of terrorism: in the air, over our country or elsewhere; in any place were large numbers of people gather. Parents across our country with sons or daughters in military service, some here in our parish, live with fear every day. We pray that the Lord will send his angels to protect these fine young people who have chosen to put country ahead of self.
Whatever our fears may be, we try, like Jesus= disciples in the locked room at Jerusalem, to shut them out. I am surely not the only one who looks away, or sometimes turns off the television, when the screen shows scenes of fiery death and destruction for our own people, and for the long-suffering people in the Middle East. We have also more sophisticated ways of trying to shut out our fears. We have technology which would have boggled the minds of those men in the locked room in Jerusalem: interplanetary travel, computers, machines to save or at least prolong life in the face of accidents and illnesses which were previously fatal. We have ever more sophisticated means of recreation: snowmobiles, water sleds, and computer games. The list goes on and on. What are all these things, at bottom, but desperate attempts to keep our fears at bay? The achievements that these things represent are magnificent. Yet our fears remain.
Equally incapable of banishing fear were the locked doors behind which Jesus= disciples gather in Jerusalem Aon the evening of that first day of the week.@  What turned their fear into joy was the appearance of the Master whose death had plunged them into bitter despair and confirmed their worst fears. His appearance despite the locked doors shows that he had been freed from the limitations of ordinary earthly life. Yet what they saw was no mere vision. The wounds in his hands and side convinced them that they had with them the same friend and Lord whose death they had so recently mourned.
Jesus= first words address their fears and banish fear: APeace be with you.@  This greeting was the fulfillment of words Jesus had spoken the night before his death: APeace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears@ (John 14:27).
At the Last Supper, immediately before speaking those words, Jesus had told them that the basis of this peace that the world could not give was to be his gift of the Holy Spirit (14:26). Now Jesus fulfills this promise as he breathes on them and says: AReceive the Holy Spirit.@ In this Spirit they have the abiding presence of Jesus and the gift of adoption as God=s daughters and sons that is the basis of Christian peace.
At every Mass we recall this imparting of Jesus= abiding peace through the gift of the Holy Spirit in the prayer before Communion: ALord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, peace I leave you, my peace I give you.  Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign for ever and ever.@

Immediately after this prayer, we are invited to share a sign of the Lord=s peace with one another. As we do so, we are united spiritually but truly with that little band of previously frightened but suddenly joyful men in that locked room in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Time and space fall away, as we hear with joy the words of the risen Lord, once dead but now alive forevermore, Aholding the keys of death and the netherworld,@ as our second reading told us. Jesus= closing words in the gospel today were addressed to the apostle Thomas. They refer, however, to us as well. AHave you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.@

The gospel is not just long ago and far away. True to his promise of abiding peace such as the world cannot give, Jesus renews the gift of his Spirit here, and in every Mass. We lay hold of his gift by faith, saying with the apostle Thomas, and with great joy: AMy Lord and my God!@