Sunday, April 19, 2020

Behind Locked Doors

It seems like a small detail, one we might even overlook in an ordinary year – the fact that the doors were locked, where the disciples were. The doors were locked, we note, from the inside, out of fear. Well doesn’t that sound contemporary? Our fears may be different, but we too have been behind locked doors for about a month now. (It seems like a lot longer, doesn’t it?)

Eventually, of course, at Pentecost Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to open those doors, once and for all - to open the doors for the Church to move out into the world. But today, although the doors remain locked, Jesus enters through those doors to come inside, to be with us, where we are confined.

Today’s annually repeated gospel [John 20:19-31] captures the novelty and uniqueness of the resurrection in its account of the disciples’ encounter (actually two encounters) with the Risen Christ, in which the Risen Lord demonstrated to his disciples that he was the same Jesus who had lived and died (hence the wounds in his hands and side), now alive again in a unexpectedly new and wonderful way (hence his presence among them, although the doors were locked.)

Understandably fearful for their safety, the disciples had hidden behind locked doors, much as we have hidden in fear this past month. But at least they were together – perhaps in the same “upper room” where they had so recently eaten the Last Supper and where they would gather again after the ascension to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. If so, how appropriate! Since apostolic times (long before it ever became a day off from work), Sunday, the first day of the week, has been the special day, the irreplaceably privileged day, when Christians assemble in their churches to encounter Christ, the Risen Lord, present through the power of his Holy Spirit in the sacramental celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.

On that first day of the week, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Surely, that was no mere wish on his part! Christ, the Risen Lord brings peace – not some social or political peace that passes as quickly as it comes, but the peace that conquers fear. And isn’t that exactly why we so much want him to come to us through the locked doors of our lives today?

Now the time we have been spending apart has bene necessary – “the right thing to do,” as Queen Elizabeth said on Palm Sunday. Still fear is fear, and it exacts its toll on the fearful, wounding us in all sorts of ways we may hesitate to acknowledge.

Yet, when Jesus came to his disciples that first day of the week, far from concealing his wounds, he showed them his hands and his side – and the disciples rejoiced. As the absent Thomas acutely appreciated, Jesus’ wounded hands and side reveal that it is the same Jesus who really and truly died on the cross, who is now-living Risen Christ, who commissions his Church to heal the world’s wounds.

For the resurrection was not just some nice thing that happened to Jesus - and then leaves everything else in the world completely unchanged. It was – and is – the foundation of what the first letter of Peter, from which we just heard [1 Peter 1:3-9], calls an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading future inheritance to which, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we already have access here and now in the present.

Like Thomas, we were not there on that first day of the week, but we are here today, in spirit at least, on this first day of this week. The celebration of Sunday is, as the Catechism says, “at the heart of the Church’s life,” “the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice,” “a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church” – the Church, which professes its faith in the Risen Lord and his new creation, and “so bears, nourishes, and sustains” our faith and the possibility of a whole new way of life, in which, living for ever with the Risen Christ, we will finally become most fully human, freed from all our fears.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, April 19, 2020.

The entire Mass may be viewed on the Immaculate Conception Church Facebook Page and on the parish website

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