Readings for the second Sunday of Easter in year A

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 117

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

Homily

Last Thursday we heard the announcement that the so-called ‘lockdown’ will continue for at least another three weeks. Obviously, this also means that we can forget about having public acts of worship for the time being. I am aware that many people struggle with the fact that they cannot come here and be physically present at mass.

In saying this, I am aware that I and the other members of the resident community are blessed that we are able to continue to gather and celebrate the Eucharist. Be assured that those of you who are at home are very much present here with us although we cannot see you.

When the decision was taken to suspend public acts of worship, I could understand the reason for it. Public gatherings run the risk of spreading the virus.

But I must admit that I really struggled when I was asked to keep the church closed. I am aware of the restrictions on social mobility, but even if parishioners want to, they won’t be able to enter St. Elizabeth’s at the moment. I suspect many people would like to come and just spend a few quiet moments in this sacred space, say a prayer or light a candle, to find some nourishment and strength. But no, the doors are closed, for fear of Corona which indeed is a real threat.

It made me smile when I read the gospel and noticed that the disciples also find themselves in a room where the doors are closed, not for fear of Covid-19 but – we are told – for fear of the Jews. That fear was also real if you call to mind what happened to Jesus only a few days earlier.

Somehow, the closed doors are not an obstacle for the risen Jesus. He manages to enter and helps the disciples to overcome their fear. He empowers them to go out in his Spirit and set people free. That sounds quite uplifting in the current time. But reading these words also makes it seem easy and could make us feel depressed about our situation. May we be stuck in fear or lacking in faith?

However, I am aware that there is another part to the gospel reading. It tells us about the journey of Thomas. Having experienced the trauma of Jesus’ painful suffering and shameful death, he cannot belief what the others say about the risen Christ. He demands proof and only when he gets that, he is able to say ‘My Lord and my God’. Seeing the signs of the Lord’s passion enables him to make his profession of faith.

The wounds that led to death become a gateway to life for him. Suffering leads to transformation and Thomas raises to new life in the spirit of Christ.

I have a lot of sympathy for Thomas. When confronted with suffering and death, I also struggle with faith in the God of life and may fail to see the glimpses of light that point in the direction of the resurrection.

The experience of suffering can challenge and undermine our faith, but it can also deepen it and make it stronger. This is suggested in the words of the First letter of Peter. The author invites us to see our human reality in the bigger context of the journey of salvation. He even speaks about joy this may give.

I am always a bit reluctant to talk about it in this way. Telling others to see their life and their pain in a particular light runs the risk of denying the reality of suffering they experience. But at the same time it may open new perspectives and give us food for thought, especially when we reflect on what is happening at the moment and do so in the light of faith in God who is a God of mercy.

Yes, on this Sunday of Divine Mercy we are reminded that God’s abiding presence is a merciful, compassionate and loving presence. Thomas experienced this in his encounter with the Lord as so many other did. May the same happen to us.

Although some doors will continue to be locked, others may open to us, doors leading to a deeper life in the spirit of Jesus, doors through which we enter a space that invites us to reflect the mercy and compassion of God in our lives and the way we reach out and relate to the world around us in whatever limited ways. These days we often hear people talk about the day normality will return. I hope that day will come soon, but I suspect it will be a different normality and hope it will be a better one…

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. May the peace of the risen Christ be with you this Eastertide.