One week ago, on Easter Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection – a real, historical event, but one which no one witnessed first-hand. What was witnessed initially was an empty tomb – a necessary condition, of course, for any claim about Jesus’ resurrection to be true, but hardly sufficient confirmation of it. Tombs can be empty for all sorts of reasons, and the immediate result the empty tomb produced among Jesus’ friends and followers was confusion. Something more had to happen; and something more did happen when the risen Lord himself appeared to his disciples, demonstrating that the same Jesus who had lived and died was now alive again in a gloriously new way.
The gospel we just heard [John 20:19-31] recounts two such appearances – the first on Easter Sunday itself, the second one week later (that is, today). Understandably still fearful for their safety, the disciples had hidden behind locked doors. Perhaps their hiding place was the same “Upper Room,” where they had so recently celebrated the Last Supper and where they would soon assemble again after Jesus’ ascension to await his promised gift of the Holy Spirit. If so, that would be very appropriate, wouldn’t it? Since the time of the apostles, Sunday, the first day of the week, has been the special day, the privileged day, when the risen Lord’s followers everywhere meet in their churches to experience the risen Lord’s power, present through the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacramental celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. And it was on Sunday, the Lord’s Day as John calls it, that (as we just heard [Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19]) John in exile on Patmos experienced yet another vision of the risen Christ, once dead but now alive forever and ever.
Like Thomas, we were not there that first Lord’s Day, but we are here today, on this Lord’s Day. With Thomas, we too are invited to believe and so to experience the peace that flows from the wounds of Christ. For the same God who raised Christ’s wounded body from the tomb has, by the gift of his Holy spirit, brought into being a Church, which is Christ’s body in the world, with all its wounds.
And we, who have been united with the risen Lord in his Church are the same fearful, wounded individuals who first came to Jesus for mercy and peace – not unlike the many who carried their sick and disturbed to shelter in Peter’s shadow [Acts 5:12-16]. The risen Christ incorporates us all in his Church, just as his resurrected and glorified body still retains his original wounds. Those wounds, which confirmed for the disciples the connection between Jesus’ earthly body and his risen body, confirm for us the connection between our ordinary earthly lives (wounded in so many different ways) and our new lives as members of Christ’s Church.
Hence the central importance of Sunday for us. From the first half of the 4th century to the last half of the 20th, both Church and State collaborated in keeping Sunday special. That is obviously no longer the case. But none of that changes the fact that Sunday remains the special day of the week when we come together to express our identity as the Church of the risen Lord. As Blessed John Paul II reminded us just 15 years ago, “among the many activities of a parish, ‘none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist’.” [Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, 35]
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, Saturday, April 6, 2013.