What’s happening to the disciples in the gospel of this second Sunday of Easter? The simple answer is that they missed Jesus. We all use this expression a lot of times for someone we love, someone who has been a part of us and separated either by distance or other circumstance, “I missed you.” We could envision the disciples rushing towards Jesus to hug him and say, “Master, we missed you.” We could hear each of them hold him dealry crying and saying, "I missed you dearly!" Truly they missed their master. At his death they felt as if their life was empty and meaningless. Scripture describes how bad their situation had become, “when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews” (Jn. 20:19). Their joy is profound as they sight his presence.
The negative emotions are captured: isolation (doors were locked) and fear (for fear of the Jews). When Jesus was with them, they moved about freely on the streets, in the synagogues, and in the market places. Occasionally, the disciples were afraid, especially when they encountered natural disasters like the raging storms, but Jesus would calm them down and would dispel the disasters thereby restoring peace and serenity. At his death, those are no more. They are locked down and are afraid. This is not an isolated case in the passion narrative, rather a pervasive experience. Mary Magdalene “stood weeping outside the tomb” (Jn. 20: 11). The disciples heading to Emmaus “stood still, looking sad” (Lk. 24:13). The disciples felt completely helpless because their protective immunity is gone.
A little flashback here! Why was the pandemic a horrible experience for the world? The answer is simple; it created a huge sense of fear. People were afraid of dying from the disease. People were afraid of falling sick and possibly losing their loved ones. Significantly, we experienced lockdown; our doors became compulsorily locked. The lockdown in turn created isolation which exacerbated our fears. For people of faith, depriving us of the opportunity to get to Jesus in church posited a greater problem.
Just like the disciples in the gospel, we missed experiencing Jesus. We missed kneeling down before him in front of the altar. We missed touching him in the Holy Communion. We missed sharing with the community of God’s faithful. As with the experience of the disciples, Jesus’ presence provides a supernatural insurance. Our divine immunity and security seemed stripped from us during the pandemic. We felt vulnerable to the forces of death which came in the guise of the COVID 19 pandemic. For fear of the Jews the disciples were locked indoors, afraid and isolated. For fear of COVID 19 we were locked in, afraid and isolated. In either case, the absence of Jesus would always bring a sense of darkness and increases the sense of fear.
Imagine the disciples’ reaction at the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection. The gospel highlights unequivocally, “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” On revealing himself to the disciples going to Emmaus, they exclaim, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk. 24:32) The disciples rejoice. They know what the presence of Jesus means. They know that it would change their desperate, fearful, isolated situations.
Personally, I remember how it felt for us here when the lockdown was declared ended and we found ourselves back in church. I recall the first mass we had on returning from the pandemic. It was an outdoor mass. The joy was overwhelming. Having to receive Christ in the Blessed Eucharist felt like an experience of heaven here on earth. Tears of joy were rolling down people’s eyes. Everyone wanted to hold Jesus in their hands and to tell him how much we missed him. It was like our own resurrection experience. We saw this again at Easter, with the overflowing attendance at Masses in the various parishes. We see the reason why the disciples are excited to announce to Thomas this wonderful divine reunion, “We have seen the Lord.”
Yes, experiencing the Lord and his gifts is indescribable. He is the image of the Father through whom we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus brings us peace and joy. He brings us God’s forgiveness. He empowers us in the world, to go out and witness to this great encounter. He equips us when he breathes freshness and courage into our lives saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Why won’t Thomas want a firsthand experience of this encounter? Thomas doesn’t simply want to share it through his brothers, he wants to experience the Lord personally. He misses Jesus as well, so he wants a direct impact of divine presence. Thomas represents our human desire for Jesus; Like the deer that yearns for the running stream, so my soul is yearning for you my Lord” (Ps. 42:1). Hence Thomas makes one of the strongest biblical statements of faith ever, “My Lord and my God.” An encounter with Jesus is transformative.
This is remarkable as we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy on this Second Sunday of Easter. The church invites us to contemplate the risen Jesus as the ambassador of mercy to the apostles who hurdle in fear behind closed doors. The resurrected Jesus becomes the most perfect gift and revelation of divine mercy. The connection is evidently clear. God’s mercy searches us out. It does not matter whether our doors are closed or not. It does not matter whether we are ready for it or not. The barriers, addictions, failures, make no sense to God. He appears to the disciples despite that the doors are closed. He knows how much they miss him and how desperate they need him. He comes again for the sake of the absentee-Thomas. He is not interested in the reason for his absence. What matters is to restore him back to Mercy.
Jesus says to Sister Faustina, “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender Mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the Fount of My Mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened (Diary 699). The mystery of the Divine Mercy is revealed most fully precisely in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, more than the other periods. Certainly, this is God’s mercy, as Saint Faustina writes, “I see now that the work of redemption is bound up with the work of mercy requested by the Lord” (Diary 89).
John reminds us today, “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” Yes, God’s mercy is astonishing. Touch and feel it in the sacraments. Go to confession and receive the Blessed Eucharist, so that like Thomas you can truly exclaim, “My Lord and my God.” Your fear will be gone. Your isolation will be thrashed. Your anxiety will be eliminated. Your confusion will be dealt with. How much do you miss Jesus when you stay away like Thomas? Come back! Say to him, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Amen.
Readings: 1st- Acts 5:12-16; 2nd- Rev. 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19; Gospel- Jn. 20:19-31