2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 5:12–16; Revelation 1:9–11, 12–13, 17–19; John 20:19–31
My Lord and my God
Each of us must make a personal act of faith in Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God.’’
Adoctor who specializes in hand surgery wrote in a ational publication that at some point in every operation he says, “My Lord and my God!’’ The story behind this unusual practice
dates back to when he was in Vietnam.
One night, fresh out of medical school, the surgeon was called upon to remove a bullet from a soldier’s hand. Moreover, he had to do it by flashlight. That operation moved him so deeply
that, after the war, he decided to specialize in hand surgery.
Because of his specialty, the surgeon has a deep appreciation
of the terrible pain caused by something, like a bullet, ripping through the bones, muscles, and nerves of the human hand.
He says he winces every time he things about the excruciating pain that Jesus endured when his hands were nailed to the cross.
Referring to today’s gospel, the surgeon says he thinks Thomas’s cry, “My Lord and my God,’’ was more than a profession of faith. He thinks it was also a cry of shock at seeing how torn and mangled the hands of Jesus were.
Only then did Thomas fully realize what Jesus had suffered
on the cross. And that discovery, says the surgeon, “was almost more than Thomas could bear.’’
The surgeon ends his moving article with this testimony:
“Every time I operate and look beneath the skin . . .of the human hand, I am reminded that Christ gave up his perfect hands for me. And I say, with Thomas,‘My Lord and my God.’ ’’ Dr. C. Scott Harrison, Guideposts (April 1985)
Ilike that story because it makes a point about faith that we tend to forget. The point is this:
Each one of us must come to our own personal faith in Jesus.
We can’t believe just because our friends do. Oh, their faith helps us, but it’s not enough. We must arrive at our own personal faith in Jesus, just as the surgeon did in the story
and just as Thomas did in today’s gospel.
And so let’s consider, briefly, some examples of how some people, like us, came to their own personal faith in Jesus.
Author Robert Cleath was moved to faith by meditating
on the incredible transformation that took place in Jesus’ followers on Easter.
Before Easter they were disillusioned and defeated. After Easter they were amazingly transformed. They even experienced the power to work miracles. Cleath says:
“No reasonable explanation has ever been given to account for their transformed lives except their own: they had seen Jesus . . alive.’’
Blaise Pascal, the mathematical genius, was moved to faith
by meditating on the fact that no threat of death could stop the disciples of Jesus from shouting to the world that he was risen.
Pascal said he readily believed people who were willing to “get their throats cut’’ for what they preached.
And, finally, there are the prisoners in the camp on the River Kwai. They were moved to faith through their own experience
of the power of Jesus at work in their lives.
Recall how the prisoners were forced to work bareheaded and barefooted under the blazing tropical sun. Husky men became walking skeletons in weeks. Morale dipped to zero. Something had to be done.
It was at this point that two prisoners organized the others into Bible study groups. From their study of the Bible, the prisoners learned that Jesus was risen and in their midst.
All they had to do was reach out to him.
When the prisoners reached out to Jesus, they experienced
an amazing transformation in their personal lives. It was
this experience that enabled them to fall on their knees and say to Jesus,“My Lord and my God.’’
This brings us back to ourselves in this church. We too must come to personal faith in Jesus. We too must find our own personal reason that will enable us to fall on our knees
and say to Jesus,“My Lord and my God.’’
We can’t hop aboard a time machine and fly back into
history 2,000 years to the first Easter. We can’t put our
finger in the nail holes in the hands of Jesus, as Thomas
did. We can’t operate on a human hand and learn through this experience how much Jesus suffered, as the surgeon did.
What, then, can we do?
We can do what the prisoners on the River Kwai did.
We can believe in the Gospel.
We can reach out in faith to Jesus.
We can discover from our own experience that Jesus
is risen in our midst and is ready to help us,just as he
did the prisoners.
This is the invitation that today’s gospel holds out to us. This is the invitation that Jesus himself held out to us when he said to Thomas: “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” John 20:29
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when Jesus said to Thomas,
“How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” he was talking about us.
He was saying to all the millions and millions of Christians down through history:
“Blessed are you if you believe in the Gospel. Blessed are you
if you reach out in faith to me. Blessed are you, indeed, for you will discover what the prisoners did. You will discover that I am risen, that I am alive, that I am in your midst right now,
ready to help you.’’
Let’s close with a poem. A reader in Cedar Rapids, Iowa,
sent it to Ann Landers. She reprinted it in her column on Easter Sunday.
The poem addresses people like us, who in times of weakness
are sometimes tempted to doubt that God really exists, or if he does, that he really cares for us. It reads:
Oh you who could not put one star in motion, Who could not build one mountain out of earth, Or trace the pattern of a single snowflake Or understand the miracle of birth,
“Presumptuous mortal who cannot alter the universe in any
way,Or fashion one small bud, release one raindrop Or toss
one cloud into a sunny day,
“Oh earthling who could never paint a sunset Or cause one dawn to shine. Oh puny man who cannot create a single miracle,
How dare you doubt the only one who can.Author unknown
2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 5:12–16; Revelation 1:9–11, 12–13, 17–19; John 20:19–31
The elephant man
The important thing in life is not what we are on the outside but what we are on the inside.
Years ago there was a play called The Elephant Man. It was based on the true story of John Merrick, who lived in England in the late 1800s.
John was afflicted with a disease that left him terribly deformed. He was like some of the sick people in today’s
first reading, who were brought into the street to be healed
But John was much worse off than they were. He was so deformed that he could hardly walk. He was so deformed
that he could not even lie down to sleep.
The most tragic deformity about him, however, was his head.
It was immensely oversized. This led people to refer to him
as “the elephant man.’’
The play opens with the elephant man on exhibition as a freak in a carnival sideshow. People pay money to stare at John. It’s a terribly degrading experience, but it is the only way John can earn a living.
As the play progresses, a young doctor discovers John and becomes interested in his tragic disease.
The young doctor hires John and uses him as a live model
when he lectures to medical students about John’s rare disease.
The elephant man sits in a chair; and the young doctor stands beside him, pointing out his deformities as he lectures.
John is still a sideshow, but at a more sophisticated level.
As the play develops, an interesting turnabout takes place.
The audience becomes more and more aware that on the outside John has nothing. He is deformed; he is ugly; he is diseased.
At the same time, however, the audience becomes more and more aware that on the inside John has everything.
He has love for other people; he has an appreciation of beauty and goodness; and, above all, he has faith in God.
On the other hand, the audience becomes more and more aware of the doctor’s situation also.
They see that on the outside he has everything. He has good looks; he has good health; he has great wealth.
At the same time, however, the audience becomes more and more aware that on the inside the doctor has little or nothing.
He has very little ability to love. He has very little appreciation
of beauty and goodness. Worst of all, he has no faith in God.
Inside, the doctor is a hollow, empty person.
In the final act of the play, the elephant man dies.
The play concludes with a strange epilogue. In it the roles of the doctor and of the elephant man are reversed.
The doctor now sits in the chair; and the elephant man stands at his side, lecturing to the medical students about the doctor’s disease.
As you listen to the elephant man speak, you become aware
that the doctor is afflicted with a spiritual disease far worse
than the elephant man’s physical disease.
The doctor’s life is without any real purpose or meaning.
The doctor’s heart is without any real love. The doctor’s
soul is without faith in God.
Suddenly the audience begins to see that the real tragic figure in the play is not the physically deformed elephant
man but the spiritually deformed doctor.
They begin to see that the important thing in life is not what we are on the outside but what we are on the inside.
They begin to see that the important thing in life is not our physical health and wealth. Rather, it is our spiritual health and wealth.
What is important in life is what John talks about in today’s gospel reading. It’s our faith in Jesus.
What is important is whether we believe “that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him
you may have life.”
This is what really matters in life.
What does all this have to say about our practical, everyday lives?
It says to us that what really matters in life is not what we are on the outside but what we are on the inside.
It says that what really matters is not our physical situation:
whether or not we are good-looking, whether or not we are healthy, whether or not we are wealthy.
It says that what really matters is our spiritual situation.
It says that what really matters is whether we believe in Jesus
and try to carry out his teaching: whether we love as Jesus did
and use our talents as God intended us to use them.
In a nutshell, what is important in life is our faith in Jesus.
What is important in life is whether, like Thomas, we can say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!’’
This is the message of today’s readings. This is the message
that Jesus wants us to take to heart this Second Sunday of Easter. This is the good news that we celebrate in this Eucharist today.
2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 5:12–16; Revelation 1:9–11a, 12–13, 17–19; John 20:19–31
Sharing our faith
“Every believer is called to become a spark of light.” Pope John XXIII
Unless I see the scars of the nails . . . I will not believe.
During World War I Eddie Rickenbacker served in the Air Force and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery.
During World War II he served as special representative to the Secretary of War.
One day during World War II, he was on an official mission when his plane and its crew of seven went down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
When the newspapers reported the story, tens of thousands prayed for their safety. Mayor LaGuardia of New York City
asked the entire city to unite in prayer. Weeks passed with no sign of anyone.
Meanwhile a remarkable story was unfolding in the Pacific. The plane’s entire crew survived a crash landing,
and were adrift with little food or water in rubber life rafts.
It turned out that the only atheist among the crew was Lt. James Whittaker. Later,Whittaker described the experience
in a best-selling book. He said that just as they were preparing
to crash-land in the ocean, he was annoyed when the plane’s navigator began to pray.
After they survived the crash-landing, they inflated the rafts
and tied them together with long ropes.
On the fourth day they were in dire need for food and water, so they pulled the rafts together for a prayer service.
Capt. Cherry began with the Lord’s Prayer and followed
with a reading from a pocket Bible that included the words, “Do not be worried about the food and drink you need to
Whittaker said to himself skeptically, “I’ll believe that
when I see the food and drink.”
On the sixth day they were all growing weak from hunger and thirst. That evening Whittaker joined in the prayers passively.
Then Cherry fired off a flare, hoping a ship or plane would see it; but the flare’s propulsion charge was faulty and the
ball of fire fell back among the rafts.
As it did, it attracted a school of fish. In their excitement, two fair-sized fish leaped into one of the rafts.
The next day Lt.Whittaker said he joined in the prayer service wholeheartedly. That prayer session ended with a tremendous rainstorm. The men drank all the water they could. Then they filled their mouths with water and blew
it into the air space of their life jackets for future use.
On the ninth day Cherry caught a tiny two-foot shark on an empty hook.
A few days later, something even more amazing happened.
A seagull landed on Rickenbacker’s head. He caught it, divided it, and used its intestines for fish bait.
By the thirteenth day all men were suffering from massive skin ulcers and were also showing signs of delirium.
On the eighteenth day they cut the ropes of the rafts, hoping this would increase the possibility of being seen by planes.
On the twenty-first day they spotted land. Lt.Whittaker manned the oars and reached land seven-and-a half hours later. In his book,We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing (1949), he wrote:
As soon as we got to the shore, we knelt down and gave thanks to God.
Whittaker ended his account, saying:
I have told this story as often as I could . . . the story of the rafts and of how during those blazing days out there I found my God.
And so it happened that the man who started out as an unbeliever became the most ardent believer of all.
The similarity between the story of Lt.Whittaker and Thomas the Apostle in today’s Gospel is obvious.
Both began by doubting. Both became believers. Both responded to their gift of faith by going forth and telling
the Good News to others.
Years later, while talking to Billy Graham, Eddie Rickenbacker said of the experience, “I have no explanation except that God sent one of his angels to rescue us.”
Max Lucado has penned a beautiful sequel to the
story. He said that for years, every Friday evening after
his retirement, Eddie followed the same ritual. After supper he would walk to the beach with a bucket of shrimp. By the time he reached the pier,the air was alive with gulls.
They knew what was coming. Eddie would dip his hand into the bucket, take a handful of shrimp, and throw them to the gulls.
As he did, you could almost hear him say to them: Thank
you! Thank you! Rickenbacker’s Friday ritual was his way of thanking the seagulls and never forgetting what he owed them.
That brings us back to today’s Gospel. Like Thomas the Apostle, Lt.Whittaker was the only doubter of the group.
Yet, he was the one God chose to tell the story of God’s goodness to the group. And so, like Thomas, he became
God’s special witness, just as Thomas was.
There’s a lesson here for all of us.
Many of us have gone through periods of doubting.
We may even have left the Church for a period of time.
Whatever the case, however, Jesus did not desert us. He reached out to us as he did to Thomas the Apostle and Lt.Whittaker.
Like Thomas and Lt.Whittaker, we are to share our renewed gift of faith with others.
God doesn’t want us to lock our faith away in our hearts. He wants us to share it, especially with those who are inactive in their faith.
How we do this is up to us. But do it we must, whether it be
by prayer, by example, or by sharing our material blessings with the needy.
This is the message of today’s Gospel. We are not just called to believe in Jesus and leave it at that. We are called
to become what God created us to be.
In the words of the Holy Father, “Every believer is called to become a spark of light.”
In the words of Jesus himself, every believer is called to be a light in the darkness of our world just as Jesus was a light in the darkness of his world.