Groundbreaking events change the world. They are unique, revolutionary, and innovative. Groundbreaking events shock, dazzle and amaze us and change the course of history. Sometimes they are an invention like the printing press. They can also be scientific discoveries like the polio vaccine or developments in thought like the Enlightenment. Groundbreaking events make a lasting change in the world.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter was the most extraordinary groundbreaking event in human history. Even today, the Resurrection has a profound effect not only on the one-third of humanity who profess to believe in Jesus Christ but on everyone. Nowhere on earth is there a place that hasn’t at least heard of Jesus’ name and the belief that He was raised from the dead by God the Father.
Think about it. The most famous person to have ever lived was a Jewish carpenter from an obscure village in an out-of-the-way corner of the world. He was a man who only lived to be thirty-three, never wrote a book, and didn’t own more than his clothes. He never led an army, held political power, or made scientific discoveries. Yet He is the inspiration for billions of people today and even more throughout history.
How is this possible?! Jesus’ life has touched the whole world and has influenced believers and unbelievers alike. His teachings have influenced cultures, and He has been the subject of art and literature for two thousand years. Even the most charismatic leaders fade into obscurity after their death, but not Jesus. Jesus’ fame and impact grew after His death. He so impacted the Apostles- His closet followers- that they preached His message to the four corners of the then known world. They were so loyal to Jesus that they endured mistreatment and opposition everywhere they went. All but one of them embraced death rather than deny their belief in Jesus and His Resurrection from the dead. The only one not to lose his life for his belief in Jesus was John, the Beloved Disciple, and he was exiled to a barren island as we heard today.
It all comes down to the Resurrection, the most groundbreaking event in history. Easter is all about our belief that God sent His Only Begotten Son into our world to save us from the fear of death. Death entered the world through human sinfulness, and God wanted to free all humanity from sin’s grip. So, the Father sent Jesus the Son into our world to reveal God’s desire for a personal relationship with each one of us. Jesus came to show us how to overcome sin. God planned to offer His Son up to death and then raise Him from the dead to deliver on God’s promises of the same victory over death for those who believe in Jesus’ Resurrection.
Easter is such a groundbreaking event because this all came to pass. Jesus was who He said He was. Jesus showed He could do anything. He was the Son of God. Jesus revealed God to us and enabled us to establish a loving relationship with God. He obediently suffered His Passion and Death to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. Jesus even engineered His Resurrection to prove He could overcome death and offer that same Resurrection to those who believe in Him.
Easter was so groundbreaking because it launched the movement that became the Church. Jesus’ death didn’t end a movement but caused it to grow and flourish. His disciples brought the gospel to the world. They shared with the world Jesus’ teaching about the dignity and value of every human being, regardless of gender, race, religion, or nationality. They shared Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. Jesus’ instructions on living in peace with everyone as brothers and sisters profoundly affected society and caused many people to want to be part of the Christian community.
These ideals are what continue to make Christianity so appealing today. While the Church has not entirely fulfilled Jesus’ teachings yet, it is the only faith that professes the belief in human equality, dignity, and value. No other organization has been so successful in promoting such ideals. No other organization has tried as hard to work for peace and reconciliation, and we need to work even harder to fulfill God’s objectives.
Last Sunday, I told you during the Easter Season, the theme of my homilies would be a deep look into how the Resurrection was history’s most crucial groundbreaking event. If we want to live up to the promises of the Resurrection and be the Church Jesus called us to be, we need to reflect on the activities of the early Church and how the disciples lived their faith. Maybe if we grew to be as devoted to the Resurrection as those early members of the Church, we could become the followers of Christ we need to be.
During the Easter Season, rather than our first reading coming from the Hebrew Scriptures, they are excerpts from a book of the Bible known as The Acts of the Apostles. The Evangelist Luke, who also wrote one of the Gospels, wrote this book. It is the story of the early Church and how it became the movement that matters so much to our world today.
If you don’t read or pray with the Bible much, the Acts of the Apostles is an excellent place to begin. Luke wrote it in a narrative style, and it is easy to understand. It presents stories of the challenges and triumphs the apostles and early disciples endured. It is an exciting read. We learn how sometimes the disciples were faithful to God, and sometimes they sinned. Through it all, the Church grew exponentially.
Today’s reading from Chapter 5 of Acts is a good example of the life of the early Church and how the disciples shared their faith in Jesus. It told us that the disciples felt compelled to share their experiences of Jesus with everyone. Threats and bullying by the religious authorities didn’t frighten them. They gathered under Solomon’s Portico, which lined one side of the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple. Here Jews and non-Jews passed by and could hear the disciples preaching and witness Peter heal a lame man. This reading related that many people were too frightened to join the disciples of Jesus but held them in esteem. People admired Peter and the disciples because of their willingness to heal others, and they felt a healing power flow just from Peter’s shadow.
Healing was so fundamental for the Apostles that it wasn’t only something they did for strangers but each other. That is the point of today’s gospel story. John’s gospel tells us that the apostles and disciples were all hiding behind locked doors in the Upper Room on the first evening after the Resurrection. Despite Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb, Peter and the beloved disciple’s confirmation of her finding, and then Mary’s encounter with the Risen Lord, they didn’t know what to believe. They were fearful they would be arrested by the authorities next.
Then Jesus appeared to them, wished them peace, and showed them His wounds. After they rejoiced, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and commissioned them to heal others from their sins. This healing was the way others would come to worship Jesus. Jesus then disappeared from their midst.
John tells us that one of the Apostles- Thomas- wasn’t present in the Upper Room when Jesus appeared to the others. For some reason, Thomas isolated himself from the other apostles. It may have been grief, anger, or shame that he had abandoned Jesus. When Thomas heard of Jesus’ visit, he refused to believe and told the others he would have to probe the wounds from the nails in Jesus’ hands and insert his hand into Jesus’ side before he could believe.
The following week, a similar thing happened, but Thomas was present with the other disciples this time. Jesus invites Thomas to do as he had pledged and to examine the wounds on His body, but Thomas doesn’t do it. Instead, he gives the most profound witness proclamation of all the Apostles as he proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”
Thomas doesn’t need to touch Jesus physically because, during the week, his fellow apostles had brought him healing. Their sharing of the Holy Spirit with Thomas helped him overcome what was isolating him from the others, and the apostles helped Thomas feel whole again. He was healed and able to proclaim his belief in Jesus raised from the dead.
The understanding that Jesus was a healer and the apostles had that gift, too, was groundbreaking. It was surprising because pagans believed their gods were out to hurt them, not heal them, and pagans thought they needed to coax and prod their gods into helping them.
The realization that the Apostles God brought healing to those who believed in Jesus caused that message to spread throughout the world and gain acceptance from many. Great numbers received the concept of a loving God who was merciful and compassionate with faith. A Church that preaches the same God is well received today too.
Face it: life can beat us up badly every day. We face illness, financial worries, broken relationships, and disappointments at every turn. There are many instances where we become damaged by life and need healing. That opportunity to offer to heal was groundbreaking at the time of the early Church and is the same today. The Eucharist allows us the chance for healing. We are healed when we come together with other people and feel loved, valued, and respected. We feel whole again when we allow God’s grace to transform our sadness into joy.
One of the views expressed during the synod listening sessions was a desire for the parish to play a more prominent role in our community. I don’t feel that comment is a criticism but rather a great victory for our parish. I don’t feel it would have been a concern of many in the parish when I first came to Holy Redeemer. Awakening a desire for more outreach on the part of the parish is a great triumph. It isn’t only my responsibility, though. We don’t have to wait for a program or organization to lead us. Becoming a healer like the early disciples begins in our family, in the supermarket, and at the hair stylist. Becoming a healer happens behind the steering wheel of our car and while we watch the news. Working together as a community to heal our world is essential, but our efforts as individuals have a greater impact. Resolve to become a healing disciple of Jesus right now.
Besides being the Second Sunday of Easter, today is also Divine Mercy Sunday; it is the day to celebrate Jesus’ incredible mercy for us all. Today accept Jesus’ compassion and love for you and help others experience its groundbreaking effect in their lives too.