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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Second Sunday of Easter 2021  - St. John's Cathedral

Second Sunday of Easter

St. John’s Cathedral

The first part of the Gospel today gives us an account of the Risen Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room. Let’s think about that. Think of all Jesus has gone through and what the disciples have been through. From Gethsemane to Calvary, Jesus had become increasingly abandoned. And the disciples themselves had slid almost into despair when they thought of how easily they had abandoned and fled Jesus in his hour of need. You’d imagine Jesus would have had a thing or two to say to them about all that! But instead his first word is “peace”. The Risen Jesus spreads peace, reconciliation and joy. The battle of resentment, hatred and failure is over. The victory of mercy is now the order of the day. And he pours that out over the disciples and sends them out as ambassadors of that mercy.

It’s not that the Cross is simply forgotten. No. The disciples see the signs of the wounds in his hands and side. But Jesus shows the wounds not as a reminder of the terrible crisis of the Cross that they were part of, but rather, as St. Peter would write it later in one his letters, “by his wounds we have been healed”.

The following week, when Thomas was present. Jesus appeared again among them and said to Thomas: ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ One of the great Church writers, Peter Chrysologus, wrote about these words, that it’s as if Jesus is saying to Thomas, perhaps you are ashamed or afraid but “these nails no longer pain me… I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart...”

Mercy, love, forgiveness, reconciliation. Yes, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them because they are to go out in mission, no longer afraid, ashamed, closed in on themselves in self-pity or semi despair.

And the First Reading gives us the effect of their mission. They are one heart and soul, sharing their goods. We know from the Gospel that the disciples during the earthly life of Jesus had their squabbles, but now they are united and not just spiritually. They share. Unity, share, reconciliation – this is the work of Jesus and this now is how Jesus appears in the world through us. That is what makes our divisions even among us in the Church so damaging.

We remember what Jesus said to Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. We can no longer see Jesus with our natural eyes but because of the Spirit working in our lives we can “see” Jesus with eyes of faith, every time we see reconciliation.

That’s why too we must pray with great faith today, the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. It breaks many hearts, I’m sure, to see rioting back again in several spots in Northern Ireland. It is not just a problem “up there”. It is our problem. They are our brothers and sisters. We need to make our own that suffering, those divisions and pray that reconciliation will prevail even if the wounds are so painful. By his wounds we have been healed.

Yesterday I heard a testimony from a member of the Society of Friends, the Quakers, that struck me. A woman who has dedicated herself to raise consciousness about the scandal of our time, as Pope Francis calls it, of the arms trade. So much money goes into producing arms sometimes with the excuse that it provides employment whereas it is estimated only 2% of the world’s employment is in this trade and yet how much destruction all over the world. But in telling her story she remarked how her own brother is a major designer of arms weapons in the United States. In the conversation that ensued, a man present said something that was helpful. He said that the same seed that had produced in her such a desire for peace and the abolition of arms and warfare has also been planted in her brother’s heart and that she could hope and trust that in time that seed for peace would grow in him. Indeed, she went on to tell of significant conversations between her brother and herself in recent years.

That’s the invitation to us too from today’s Gospel. The Risen Christ is active bringing peace and reconciliation. He has healed our sins by his wounds. He has poured out the Holy Spirit to help us as we go out in mission, united together.

One last point. Doubting Thomas gave us the greatest act of faith in the Bible when he says of Jesus: “my Lord and my God”. It’s a favourite line said by Irish people throughout the centuries after the Consecration: my Lord and my God.

With our Lord and our God, among us we do our part as ambassadors of the Risen Jesus breathing the Spirit of peace by our love for one another.