What strikes me most as I read post-resurrection scriptures is how hard it was for the first disciples to believe in the resurrection. What had more than once been foretold by Jesus himself seems to go beyond any human reasoning, beyond any logic.
In our Mass today we have listened to one of those gospel passages that we almost know by heart. On Easter Sunday Jesus comes to visit his disciples, who had been locked up in that upper room filled with fear, while Thomas was not with them. So, Jesus returns a week later, when Thomas is also present. Our first reaction might be “How cute! Jesus returns just for the sake of Thomas, to make sure that he, too, experiences what his friends had witnessed a week earlier”. This is true, but upon reflection we can see that there are truths that are much deeper than this.
It’s true, Jesus returns for the sake of Thomas. This reminds us of how important each and every one of us is for Jesus. Do you remember that one lost sheep of the parable? But then again, one could argue that Jesus could have gone to meet Thomas wherever he happened to be on that Sunday evening. But no, Thomas had to experience the risen Christ when he was with his community. It is there, while the disciples are gathered again the following week, that Jesus comes to meet Thomas. It’s as if Jesus wanted to remind Thomas – and, indeed, each one of us – that one can meet the risen, living Jesus only when one is in communion with the rest of the community. Even if it is an imperfect, broken community like the one of those first disciples. How often do I hear people say they feel it’s enough to pray to God, without the need of being together with the believing community! Somehow, that does not work.
We can imagine the dynamics within that first Christian community during those eight days between the two visits of Jesus. The group constantly insisting that they had seen Jesus, and Thomas adamantly stating that he would not believe a word they were saying, unless he gets tangible proof. We can almost feel the tension and the frustration within that group. Yet, Thomas does not abandon the group. He stays. And he is rewarded. Jesus does return, and Thomas recognizes him not by looking at his face (as we would normally recognize people) but through the wounds of his passion. Those passion signs do not disappear after the resurrection. They remain. But, rather than being a sign of defeat, they become signs and proof of triumph. The body of the risen Christ is not a body without wounds. Thomas experienced this in more ways than one. He saw the wounds in the hands and side of Jesus. He experienced the woundedness of the body which is the Church.
“Put your finger here … give me your hand, put it in my side,” Jesus tells Thomas. The wounds in the body are real, do not run away from them or try to deny them. This is the Jesus I believe in. This is the Church, as Body of Christ, I believe in. And yet, within this context of woundedness and amidst all the fear the disciples were experiencing during those days, Jesus’ first words were “Peace be with you”. The gift of peace is not a denial or cancellation of the woundedness we all experience. It is the result of being in the presence of Jesus who had gone through it all, and came out victorious.
May you all experience this gift of Christ’s peace as you go through the ups and downs of your everyday lives.