The Gospel passage for this Second Sunday of Easter is the account of Thomas seeing the risen Jesus. But before we reflect on Thomas, I want to go back to the passage we read on Easter morning. It’s the scene before the account of Thomas: Mary Magdalene at the tomb.
John the evangelist frames his accounts of the resurrection in darkness. He first presents Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb of Jesus very early on the Sunday morning after his death – “while it is still dark.” At the discovery of the empty tomb, distraught and somewhat hysterical, Mary runs to Peter and John to tell them that the body of Jesus has been stolen. They immediately run back to the tomb with her.
Looking into the tomb, their reactions are quite different. Peter takes note that the burial cloths aren’t tossed carelessly around the tomb but neatly rolled up. He walks away scratching his head in puzzlement. John also notices the rolled up cloths but, unlike Peter, experiences a flash of inner light. “He saw and The Pastor’s Reflections believed.” Peter and John spend but a short time at the tomb before returning home. We’re not told what their conversation was about, or if they walked home in silence. Mary, however, remains at the tomb sobbing.
She bends down to look inside once again, as if she expects to see Jesus’ body miraculously returned. She doesn’t see the body but she does see two angelic figures dressed in white sitting at either end of the burial slab. “Woman, why are you weeping?” they ask. She’s so fixated on the pain of her loss that she isn’t even a bit shocked by their presence. She simply answers them. “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they laid him.”
With that, Mary turns around and there, standing near the tomb, is Jesus. He asks her the same question as the angelic figures, “Woman, why are you weeping?” For whom are you looking?” Mary, presuming that he’s the gardener, pleads with him. “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus’ eyes pierce deeply into her heart as he gently speaks her name – “Mary.”
That one word cut through her wall of mourning. In an instant of recognition Mary throws her arms around him. Jesus immediately sends her on a mission. He tells her to return to the disciples as a witness to his resurrection. This is the account of Easter morning. Now we move to the events that take place later that evening.
Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark. The following scene again takes place in the darkness. It’s evening and the disciples are in hiding. They’re a community bonded by fear. Jesus was arrested and bru- 2 tally executed three days ago. Will they be next? They speak in hushed tones discussing what their next step might be. Suddenly, the energy in the room changes. Everyone stops. They look around the room. They gasp. Jesus is standing in the middle of the room. He looks around at them. With a wonderful smile he greets them. “Shalom.” No one speaks. No one moves. Still smiling, he extends his arms and shows them his hands. The marks of the nails that pinned him to the cross are clearly visible. He pulls his garment at the waist revealing the gash where the soldier had thrust a lance into him. There’s no sadness in him – only his wonderful smile. He greets them a second time. “Shalom!” The room bursts into cheers and gasps, and laughter and cries. It’s a chaotic moment. Jesus shouts over the din. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He moves from one disciple to another pulling each one’s head to his mouth, expelling great warm breaths onto them. “Receive the Holy Spirit! Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” He’s alive. They touched him. They felt his breath!
He fades away as quickly as he had appeared. Everyone is speaking at once. What just happened? Jesus is alive! Did he anoint us with the Spirit? Did he say we could forgive sins? The comments and questions went on and on. There’s a knock on the door. It’s Thomas. He’s barraged by their voices. “We have seen the Lord! We have seen the Lord!”
Thomas had come in from the dark night only to find his friends and comrades quite hysterical. What had happened to them? They were speaking foolishness. Jesus was dead! He was there when he was arrested. Hiding in back of the crowd, he saw him hanging on the cross. His reaction is immediate and defiant. “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 disciples must have rehashed the experience over and over again throughout the week that followed. The experience is difficult to process. They still had that terrible fear in them. They still locked the doors of the house. But no matter how much Thomas might protest, they know that they saw Jesus.
John then shifts the scene to the following Sunday. The disciples are together again. Thomas is with them. They all feel the energy change. Again, Jesus is with them. Again, he smiles and greets them. “Shalom.’’ He then focuses his eyes on Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” It’s very interesting how Thomas responds; he makes a profession of faith. “My Lord and my God!” In response, Jesus reaches out beyond that room. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Jesus is reaching out to us.
These three accounts of the resurrection are very rich. We can interpret them in many ways and on many levels. I’m going to point out a few themes for your reflection.
In John’s gospel, the resurrected Jesus brings divine light into the darkness of the human experience. Each of the characters in the accounts represents us in some way. Mary is the person who is searching for Jesus but somehow can’t go beyond the empty tomb. Her reaction isn’t one of immediate faith in his resurrection as it was with John who “saw and believed.” Her faith is still bound by the darkness of her loss. Mary has no doubts that Jesus died. Though the empty tomb is telling her that something happened, she can only imagine that someone has stolen his body.
When she looked into the empty tomb a second time she saw two angelic figures dressed in white baptismal robes. They represent the newly baptized who have just come to believe that Jesus is alive. But she’s still not ready to hear their message. She turns away from them. She still can’t see through the darkness.
Then, Jesus himself directs his light on her. He whispers her name. His light floods her heart. Her inner darkness dispelled, she clearly sees him. Calling out his name she throws her arms around him.
The account of Mary at the tomb teaches us that faith is a process that begins at the empty tomb. Our hearts ask the question, where can I find him? But if I persist, the day will come when I will hear him speak my name. That day the darkness will disappear. The light of his love will enter my heart. I will know, without any doubt; he’s alive and he knows my name.
We move from the image of Mary to the disciples, a community imprisoned in the darkness of fear. What will free them from their fear? Here we stand back to look at the scene. The last time all the disciples were together was at their supper with Jesus. It was the night he gave new meaning to bread and wine. It was the night he gave them his body as bread, and his blood as wine.
The story of Thomas is told through the events of two consecutive Sundays, the Christian day for the celebration of the Eucharistic meal. John is refocusing his account of the resurrection. He’s moving from the empty tomb to the Eucharistic gathering.
Thomas wasn’t with the community that Sunday when they saw the Risen Lord. Like Mary hearing the witness of the two men dressed in white, Thomas didn’t believe the community’s witness, “We have seen the Lord.” He had not gone to the empty tomb, and he had not joined the disciples at the gathering on Sunday. When he joined them the following week – he, too, saw the Lord, risen from the dead and bearing the marks of his passion.
John is telling us that there should be no such thing as blind faith. If we search the mystery of the empty tomb we’ll hear the Lord call our name. Our darkness will lift, and the risen Lord will bathe us in divine light. If we stay with the community of believers, we will see him. He’ll wish us peace, and we’ll receive peace. The darkness will lift. The fear will fade, and we’ll have the courage and the conviction to witness, “We have seen the Lord.” We’ll hold in our hearts the mystery of the empty tomb. We’ll hold in our hearts the mystery of the Eucharist, “This is my body! This is my blood.” We’ll touch his hands and his side. We’ll fearlessly profess, “My Lord and my God.”