19 April 2020 Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor for 2nd Sunday in Easter

I “Recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (Jn 20.31)

The readings for the liturgy of the Word for this second Sunday of Easter are taken from the New Testament writings. Each one was written for a particular context in the life of the early Church. They differ in form and style. They all date from the closing decades of the first century, a few decades after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

They reflect the living experience and memory of Jesus as known to their authors and their faith communities. The inspiration and purpose of each of these texts was to nourish and support faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God, as the one in whom God revealed Himself and through whom a new hope and salvation are made available to humanity.

II “The doors were closed” (Jn 20.19, 26)

As one reads these texts and ponders their import in the light of the closing lines of the gospel text – “these (signs) are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” –  one wonders what might the author of the gospel according to John mean with that phrase : “that you may have life through his name” ?  

What meaning does that word, life, carry? What meaning can that link, as asserted by St John, between faith and life, have for us at any time in our lives, especially  in the present trying conditions of the prevailing pandemic and the further recent extension of restrictions on our freedom of movement and association for the common good?

A few reflections in the light of these questions may be helpful :

Reading across the three readings, one notices that the experience of Christ, the experience and memory of Christ on the part of the apostles and their witness to Him, is central and foundational to building the identity of the Christian community and identity. The presentation of Christ by his apostles and the works they performed in his name “made a deep impression on everyone” (Acts 2. 43). It caused people to stop and think !

That strong, persuasive and impressive witness, as recorded with ever such light touches in the lines from the Acts of the Apostles, was not automatic, however. Notice the two references to “closed doors” in the gospel text from St John. After the death of Jesus these same apostles, the first witnesses, were fearful. They turned in on themselves. Fear and disorientation after Calvary drove them to batten down the hatches ; Thomas was not the only one who harboured doubts (Mt 28.17)! Yet, they would soon become “looked up to by everyone” (Ac 2.47), as the first reading has it, because of their way of life, their lifestyle and their value system!

In these lines from the Acts of the Apostles, we notice how these fearful apostles, once enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and thus reconfigured in faith in the Risen Christ, moved out from behind the closed doors of fear. Imbued by the Holy Spirit, they presented to society the Good News of Jesus, they exercised care for the needy and suffering and they gathered people, initially in their homes, for prayer and the Eucharist in order to celebrate their faith in Christ and thus energise commitment to the work of charity and care of others.

III Faith and life through his name (Jn 20.31)

The hallmarks of those first Christian communities, which shaped the identity code for all who are Christian, are reflected in these readings. They range across constitutive elements of Christian identity, which are sometimes in tension as they span the betimes seemingly irreconcilable dynamics of existence that we all experience. A brief review of some of them is salutary in the light of the dynamic of our own pilgrimage of faith:

  • the span from fear behind closed doors to a lifestyle of faith and action that evokes admiration – reflecting the Holy Spirit transforming fear and hesitation into courageous action
  • the shift from self-centred fear to sharing and solidarity with the community and with others – reflecting the Beatitudes (Mt5.1-12) in action
  • the assurance of identity in Christ arising from fidelity to the memory, teaching and witness of the apostles – reflecting the inspirational power of the living word of God
  • the spanning of prayer in the Jewish temple and gathering in their homes for the breaking of bread, the Eucharist – reflecting the catholicity, the openness to all others of the Christian vocation
  • the consolation and power of faith in Christ to sustain us in times of adversity and trial, as alluded to in the lines from the first letter of St Peter – reflecting the iconic and saving power of the Cross and Crucified and Risen Christ
  • the assurance and spiritual joy which comes from the recognition of God’s mercy enacted and made available to us in Christ, as referred to in the same letter.
  • And from among Christ’s immediate followers, we learn that even in our darkest doubt, like Thomas, by touching the wounds of existence in human flesh, it can be granted to us to recognise and confess divinity, God, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ

So many of these characteristics mark our own experience of life and faith, the lives of our neighbours, colleagues, friends, of our parishes and Christian communities generally and in the current circumstances of this COVID-19 pandemic, reminding and assuring us all of the vitality of religious faith and human kindness.

Across the thresholds of our doors, closed not in fear but to protect our neighbours and ourselves, there flows massive solidarity in so many forms – telephone calls, contact with others via IT and social media, participation in worship and prayer across continents and oceans, contributions to food banks,  care for neighbours, food deliveries, assistance and care for the housebound and isolated, countless acts of philanthropy, kindness and charity …

All of this, and the more of the promise of life eternal with God, is caught in St John’s use of the word “life” in his gospel and in our effort to respond to the call of the gospel, the living Word of God.  

As we take these readings  from the Word of God into our hearts and minds today, somehow the observation of the late Pope Paul VI, canonised in October 2018, comes to mind  : “ modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 67, 1975).

Let us pray on this second Sunday of Easter that in these times of trial we may continue to witness by our actions to the solidarity, hope and joy at the heart of the Easter mystery of the Risen Christ.