Many people who hear the Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday only remember the role of Thomas. We hear of his refusal to believe unless he sees Jesus and touches His wounds. The part that is often forgotten is that Jesus had to go through locked doors to get the rest of His apostles and disciples. The whole group had locked the doors for fear that what happened to Jesus might happen to them as well. Thomas and the rest of the group had failed to believe the promises that Jesus had made, and they had begun to live in fear. None of them believed until they had experienced the presence of Jesus after His death and resurrection. Thomas wasn’t the only one who didn’t believe, he just continued to disbelieve even though others shared their testimony with him.
This Gospel reading can be both convicting and freeing. Most of us are convicted by the example set by the early apostles and disciples. We can each pinpoint a time in our lives when we locked ourselves up physically, emotionally or spiritually and demanded proof that the promises God made to us were true. What is most freeing about Jesus’s response to His disciples is that He gives them what they need so that they can believe. There weren’t more hoops to jump through or punishments for disbelief; just the incredible love of Jesus poured out on His fearful disciples and apostles. He gives them what they request to heal their fear and allow them to continue on their mission. This mission would eventually cost them their lives, but it is probably good they didn’t know that at this point. It was what they were most afraid of, but they eventually were freed even from that fear.
Each week of the Easter season, we will be given the opportunity to examine our discipleship as people who live in this post-resurrection time of the Church. Each week, we bring a part of ourselves into the story of the disciples and apostles as they encounter Jesus in a way they never imagined. They had all kinds of images about what kind of leader Jesus would be and the effects His life would have on the world, but little if any of what they imagined actually happened. Once they began to grasp the extent of the power of Jesus even after death, we see the fruit that is born from people who live in that freedom.
In addition to the Gospel reading each week, we will read from the Acts of the Apostles. These tidbits of the apostles’ testimony tell us of the power of living in the hope of the resurrection. We hear of the tremendous number of people who are brought into the community by the actions and example of the disciples and apostles. Somehow their belief in the promises of Jesus being fulfilled and the way that they lived that out caused other people to want to be a part of that community. It allowed people to set aside their fears of the unknown and embrace that discipline and joy.
Two things that might help us to live in this Easter Season in a freer and more hopeful way might be looking at how we are locked up by fear and reflecting on the example that we set for others.
Where has your fear of the other — especially as you have evidenced their behavior toward others — led you to lock yourself up out of fear? Where have you doubted the promises that Jesus has made because of your hurt, pain or experiences of betrayal or abandonment? How thick are the walls that you have erected in your own mind and heart that keep you from experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life? Can God surprise you and set you free? Will you allow that?
You can imagine that a community that lives free from fear and exercises love in all its actions can be particularly attractive to those who seek to be loved, seek to belong with others, and seek to have lives that are less fearful and more fruitful. Are you the kind of person that others would look at and experience the freedom of love? Are you the kind of person who professes trust in God but in whom people experience fear, distrust and even hatred?
Even though Lent is over, it’s not time to quit growing. Let us be set free in love and freedom by the Spirit of God!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.