The wounds of the risen Lord
The gospel reading (John 20:19-31) for the Second Sunday of easter is repeated every year. Narrating two appearances by the risen Christ, the text gives the fulfillment of all his promises to his disciples: his abiding presence, the gift of the holy Spirit, forgiveness of sin, peace, and eternal life. The fourth gospel merges into one event Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, the gifting with the Spirit, and the send-off on mission.
The peace and the Holy Spirit
TWICE the risen Christ imparted and announced peace to his disciples. In the context of his victory, his peace (shalom) and joy are the signals of the messianic era (Isaiah 11) inaugurated by his death and resurrection. It is a peace based on an irrevocable reconciliation with God upon divine initiative. As a gift to humankind, it might and it would be broken again and again from below, but it is definitive and will ultimately triumph.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.” The mystery of Pentecost is already now part of the glory and victory of the resurrection. In bestowing the Spirit upon his followers, Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling the prophecies about the
messiah who would pour out his spirit upon all humankind and within his people (Joel 3:1; Ezekiel 36:27). Jesus in victory empowered, inspired and anointed his disciples with the same Spirit of God that brought forth order and life at the beginning of creation, and breathed life into created humanity, and anointed prophets, priests and kings, and God’s own servant (Isaiah 42:1).
Great importance is given to the wounds of Jesus. Jesus volunteered to show his disciples his pierced hands and wounded side. Their contact with his wounds was not only the answer to their fears and doubts, but also the guarantee to their future and for their mission. The wounds of his passion proclaimed the continuity between the cross and his glorification, as the joyful recognition of his disciples proved. From Jesus’ pierced body on the cross flowed blood and water (John 19:34), in allusion to the Eucharist and baptism, the sources of life for the believers up to the end of time. And the connection is clear that the Holy Spirit now imparted to the disciples is poured out upon humankind by virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
THE second salutation of peace and the gifting with the Holy Spirit is together with the mandate for the disciples to go on mission. As Jesus was sent by the Father, so now his followers are sent forth to share in his work of salvation. The peace they receive and the Spirit given to them should mean healing and forgiveness to sinners they encounter, both within and outside the Christian community. The fruits of Jesus’ victory over sin and death are to be shared with all who believe. The rabbinical terminology of “binding and loosing,” i.e. retaining and forgiving sins, means acceptance into, or exclusion from, the community of Christ’s saving presence.
The commissioning of the disciples is illumined by the story of Thomas. It is a case both of encouragement for doubting and struggling believers of all ages, and of clarification to a problem that started when the authoritative eyewitnesses to the resurrection have passed away already. Faith is not an automatic result of hearing the testimony of eyewitnesses; Thomas refused to believe what the other disciples said they saw. Neither is faith guaranteed by seeing firsthand; even when Thomas saw the Lord he still had to come to faith. Thomas was moved to faith, not because he actually touched Jesus (apologetically, the disciples did not just imagine the appearances of the risen Lord), but because Jesus challenged him: “Believe!” Faith is a personal response to a personal invitation.
Alálaong bagá, it is natural enough in life to rely on the guarantee of our senses, but our personal communion with the risen Jesus calls for a supernatural act of trust beyond our doubts and questions. To accept Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” finally trusting together with Thomas, is to believe that Jesus is one and equal with the almighty Father of all peoples. It is to be included in Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”