As you know, Easter is not a one-day holiday. In fact it last for fifty days, beginning with the Easter Vigil and lasting until the feast of Pentecost.
In the liturgical year, the same Gospel reading is heard on the second Sunday of Easter in all three reading cycles. The reading is from John 20:19–29 and is commonly referred to as the story of “doubting Thomas.” The reading gives us several clues to the early Church’s understanding of the Risen Jesus.
First, Jesus appears to the disciples “when the doors were locked,” showing that his body was not made of flesh and bone. Jesus greets the disciples with “Peace be with you,” reminding them of his words at the Last Supper when he said, “Peace is my gift to you.” When Jesus showed them his hands and his side, the disciples recognized him and were joyful. Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This recalls the second creation story from Genesis 2 where God brought Adam to life by breathing on him. Now, Jesus brings life in the Spirit to the disciples by breathing on them.
One of the disciples, of course, Thomas, was not present during this appearance by Jesus. If you recall the story of Jesus raising of his friend Lazarus, Thomas was the one who was afraid to return to Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem, in fear that Jesus would be harmed by his enemies. When Jesus said, “Let us go to Lazarus,” Thomas added: “Let us go to die with him.” It’s easy to notice the skepticism in his voice.
Sometime after the Risen Jesus’ appearance, Thomas returns and utters his famous words: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later Jesus returns and allows Thomas to do just as he requested. Jesus tells him: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas then declares Jesus “My Lord and my God!” He is the first disciple to utter these words.
When you and your students hear this reading on the Sunday after Easter you may feel that is intended just for you and that you have even more esteem as a disciple of Jesus living two thousand years after he walked the earth. After all, we believe in the Risen Jesus without ever having seen him, something even St. Thomas, the Doubting Apostle, first failed to do.
Meditate this week on the words Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
- Uncover more of the life and legend of St. Thomas, including his missionary role in India.
- Read and share biblical commentary on the other resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in John 21.
- Read St. Paul’s answer to the questions, “How are the dead raised? And “With what kind of body will they come back?” from 1 Corinthians 15:36–49.
- Have the students work in small groups to prepare a pantomime of John 20:19–29 and other resurrection appearances of Jesus. The characters should act out the scene in silence as a narrator reads the passage.