Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014

Homily for the  2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A  2014

The readings that we are presented with today give us as close to a history as we are going to get in the New Testament. Coming a week after Easter, these readings let us know the events that happened immediately after the Resurrection event.

The Apostles were afraid. It had been a traumatic week for them, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when things looked rosy, with the Passover meal which bonded them. But after Judas’ betrayal things went sour. It had climaxed in the death of the person they believed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who would save the people from what? the Romans? poverty and submission? Jesus had often been clear in his mission but that clarity was sometimes submerged in the wishes and expectations of his listeners.

Now, after his death comes word of his being alive again. How confusing things must have been for the Apostles! How afraid were they for their own lives for following and being associated with this Jesus! They had left everything for this man – what would they do now? How could he be alive? Yet people reported he had been seen. His tomb was apparently empty. Would they be blamed for that as well? All of this seems to be implied in the simple phrase from the Gospel today: “the doors…were locked for fear of the Jews.” Fear of what their own people might do to them.

We notice that the door was locked and yet Jesus “came and stood among them”. This is rather mysterious in itself since the doors had been locked. How did Jesus get in? In this first encounter with his followers, Jesus greets them the way Jews greet other Jews: Shalom aleikhem! “Peace  be with you.”  By itself, this was just a standard Jesus greeting like “Hello” might be for us. But Jesus makes it more than that because he repeats it. He is trying to calm their fears by offering peace to them.

Jesus may not have looked exactly the same as he did before the resurrection. You would think the apostles, having lived so close to Jesus for three years would have recognized him, but Jesus felt he had to show them the wounds he endured – the nail holes in his hands and the cut in his side where he was stabbed. Only then did the Apostles really believe it was him and they rejoiced.

Now we know that pentecost was yet to come when the Holy Spirit would descend upon the Apostles, but John today has Jesus breathing on them and giving them a mandate. Perhaps this was more a foreshadowing of what was to come, the breath being a symbol of a new creation, just as God breathed life into Adam. After they receive the Spirit, they will be able, as he did, to forgive sin – the Spirit of God working through them.

Then the story jumps eight days – actually only seven the way our calendars work, but the Jewish way of counting from Sunday to Sunday would count eight days – when the same situation presents itself. They continued to stay locked up in the room even though Jesus had come to them. They had not yet received the Spirit. During that week, Thomas, who had not been present on the first visitation couldn’t believe what they all told him, just as many people today can’t accept the testimony of the Apostles. Thomas wanted to see and judge for himself.  So this time when Jesus comes, he seemed to know what Tomas had said, and he reaches out directly to Thomas’s doubts and asks Thomas to examine his wounds, which Thomas does. Having seen this for himself first hand, Thomas now believes, and his expression “My Lord and my God” is the first direct reference in the Gospel accounts of Jesus being identified as God. This is a very important step because the whole basis of the Hebrew religion was the premise that there was one God, and to change that concept was a heresy of the highest degree. But Thomas now equates Jesus with God. Jesus does not comment on this statement but only notes that those who come to believe without the “seeing being believing”, are more blessed.

John’s Gospel is almost at an end. He says that no Gospel could contain everything that Jesus said or did, but that he has chosen those things that might help us doubting Thomases to come to a belief in Jesus and to receive the life that he brings. This is perhaps why we have four Gospels that don’t always agree on everything.  Based on oral traditions spread different parts of the Eastern world, the writers chose things that would help them to achieve what they wanted to do and wanted to show in the life of Jesus. How they put it together, the facts they chose, the myths they kept, the parables they used, all suited the theological reasons they wrote – to build the faith of those who already believed and to help the unbelief of those who didn’t.

The opening reading today from the Acts of the Apostles showed the life of the early Jewish Christian communities. Note that what was happening had two components – teaching and fellowship celebration. The breaking of bread probably does not refer to mass as we know it, but to a common celebratory meal that begins with the traditional prayer over the bread, which Jesus had elevated to something else at the Last Supper, making his presence at these celebrations real. They would come together for fellowship and prayer. I think that is the reason that I like the approach we take at this parish where the greetings and the after Mass groupings tend to stress the fellowship part of our community. In a small parish we can do that so easily because we all get to know each other so well and there are opportunities for all of us to be known. The celebration we had on Holy Thursday would be more typical of the early church meetings.

We also might get the idea that the early church was rather communistic, or if that is a bad word – commune-like. It probably wasn’t. Because the church was growing and there were more and more people coming from out of town, they had to find ways to care for these people, and through their charity they did this by sharing their food and clothing, their homes even.  It wasn’t so much a common pot, but a charity that extended to all the others, especially those in need.

They still were Jews – they still went to the synagogues and temples on Saturdays but on Saturday evenings they had their services in various homes. Since the Jewish day started at dusk, these were considered Sunday or first-day-of-the-week meetings. That is why we can have Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings in Catholic churches today.

When First Peter, our second reading today, was written, there were probably few people around who had actually met, and listened to Jesus. Peter probably did not write this letter though it is ascribed to him, but it was written in Rome during early Christian persecutions by someone highly educated in Greek. It is concerned with the concept of suffering because the early church in Rome was being persecuted and Christians had become fearful. Peter says that all good things have to go through fire to be tested, and uses the image of testing gold which was put through furnaces to separate the impure elements from it. It is a good image for Peter too use because it is one of the most precious of metals, and when purified is very expensive and precious.  Christians too have to go through testing to rid themselves of impurities. The end result will be something precious to God, and through his resurrection we become that pure gold – “imperishable, undefiled and unfading.

The early church, as we see today, went through a process of fear, belief, celebration, fellowship, and finally testing. That is the progress of the history we read today. If it has any relevance to us today, I think it is that we must recapture the spirit of the early church. Our religion, our belief in Jesus as God, our belief in the Spirit as God, must lead to celebration and fellowship. And the daily things that we have to suffer and endure can be blessings which lead us to greater things. It is all in how we perceive them.

I will close with words of the Psalm today: I was falling, but the Lord helped me. [God] has become my salvation. There are glad songs of victory.”  We must always keep in mind the Jesus who rose from the dead and how he gave us new birth and celebrate that in everything we do. Being Christian doesn’t mean for an hour on Sunday. It has to become the integral part of our daily life, just as it was for the early church members.

Let us rejoice in this Good News and put it into practice as we go through our coming week! May God bless us all.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – Teaching the Church Year”]


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One Response to “Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014”

  1. neodecaussade Says:

    Dear Bishop Ron Stephens,
    I enjoyed the blog post. Recapturing the spirit of the early Church resonated with me along with the notion of fellowship. When you stated that “no Gospel could contain everything that Jesus said or did” and “Gospels don’t have to always agree on everything” I sensed your pedagogical leanings and and wanted to encourage you to continue the exegetical dialogue.

    I pray you have a Happy Easter,

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