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Friday, 1 April 2016

Homily for the Second (2nd) Sunday of Easter Year C By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu CSSp

Acts 5:12-16,  Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19,  John 20:19-31

-         On the Epistle - Observing the Lord's Day in Patmos
A young man made up his mind to attend Easter vigil midnight service. The service was to begin at 9:00 pm, so he decided to watch some Saturday night movie on television to occupy himself before time for service. While watching the movie he fell asleep and woke up much later in the night. It occurred to him that he must be late for church service so he got up and ran all the way to the church. When he got to the church, there was no one in sight. The service was over. All that he saw was a big banner in front of the church which reads: “He is not here, he has risen!” Without meaning to do so, the banner was announcing the important truth that the risen Lord is not confined to church buildings, he is everywhere. The resurrection marks an important shift in the way Jesus makes himself present to his followers. In his earthly life Jesus was in one place at a time. After the resurrection there is no such limitation. Before the resurrection the usual way to encounter Jesus was in the body. After the resurrection the way to encounter Jesus is in the spirit.

Today’s second reading narrates John’s encounter with the risen Lord in the island of Patmos.
I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day. (Revelation 1:9-10)

The island of Patmos was not a normal city. It was a small isolated island in the Aegean sea of Asia Minor and served as a place of banishment for prisoners sentenced to isolation and hard labour rather than to execution. It was an early version of the labour camp. John was sent there “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” meaning, because of his loyalty to the word of God and his insistence in preaching the message of Jesus. It was a time of persecution of Christians, probably under the reign of the emperor Domitian (ad 81-96). 

John identifies himself to the Christians to whom he is writing as “your brother.” Together with these Christians he shares three things: (a) the present reality of “the persecution,” (b) the future hope of “the kingdom,” and (c) the means to go from the one to the other, namely “patient endurance.” As we celebrate the glorification of Christ at Easter, the church reminds us through John that our hope of future glory can only be attained if we accept with patient endurance the persecutions and crosses that life throws at us when we resolve to live our lives in faithfulness to Jesus and his teachings.

Today’s reading is significant in that here we see, for the first time, the term “the Lord’s day” (dies dominica) used to refer to Sunday, the first day of the week. By the time John wrote, Sunday had become the holy day for Christians, comparable to what Saturday (the Sabbath) was for Jews. It was a day when Christians came together in worship and celebration, a day to connect with one another and to connect with the risen Lord.

So, John is banished to Patmos, this prison island where, obviously, there is no Christian assembly, no church. It is Sunday, the day of the Lord, and what does John do? He cannot attend a church service in Patmos since there is none. So he does the next best thing. He recollects himself and joins himself in spirit with his brothers and sisters in the faith who are worshipping elsewhere at that time. In spirit he connects with them and with the risen Lord. Since he had no liturgy to attend on earth, God admits John into the heavenly liturgy where Jesus, the lamb that was slain who now lives forever, is both priest and victim. The book of Revelation is basically an account of what he saw and heard in his privileged participation in the heavenly liturgy.

Sunday observance, the opportunity to connect with one another and with the Lord in weekly worship, should not be seen as an obligation but as a privilege. Every now and then we find ourselves in situations where it is impossible to attend Sunday service. We could be in places where there is no nearby church, we could be ill, or we could be caring for someone who is ill. Whatever be the reason, we can always recollect ourselves in God’s presence, like John did in the island of Patmos. We can read the word of God, pray, and do a spiritual communion. The Lord himself will meet us in our place of need and grant us the same blessings that he has reserved for those who worship him in spirit and in truth.

-         On the Gospel - Meeting Christ in Christian Worship

An elderly pastor looks over his large congregation on Easter morning and startles them with this announcement: “My friends, realizing that I will not see many of you until next Easter, may I take this opportunity to wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” The difference in the size of the congregation on Easter Sunday and on the other Sundays of the year is very noticeable. Many of our Christians, as far as church attendance is concerned, have indeed become Holy Week Christians: you see them in church only during the Holy Week. Like a certain man who was criticizing his pastor. “I have attended this church for three years,” he says, “and each time the homily is always on the same topic. Doesn’t he have something else to talk about?” Yes, this man has been attending the church for three years alright; but he only attends on Easter Sunday and he always hears a homily on the resurrection of Christ.

Why are many well-meaning Christians so uncommited to attending regular Sunday church services? The answer can be given in one word: doubt or crisis of faith. People today, like people of all times, do have a hunger for God. They are searching for the meaning of life. But they doubt whether the answer to these existential questions can be found within the four walls of the church. For this reason they are more disposed to spend time in social action, in work, and in intellectual pursuit rather than in church worship. Today’s gospel gives us an example of a man who felt exactly like that. His name is Thomas.

In the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week, ... the disciples had met ... Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:19).” The disciples gathered together on Sunday, the first day of the week. Since the disciples were Jews they would attend synagogue services on the Sabbath (Saturday) and on Sunday they would assemble together as believers in Christ. Since they are gathered together in his name, Jesus would appear to them as he had earlier promised them: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). In this way Sunday became known as the day of the Lord, the day Christ comes to meet and strengthen his people, the special day of Christian worship. So, in fact, today’s gospel is describing the first Christian Sunday worship following the resurrection of the Lord. The services were usually held in the evening.
So all the disciples are gathered for Sunday service and what do we notice. Thomas is not there. Where is Thomas? You can see that Thomas is like one of these modern-day Christians who do not go to church regularly on Sundays. Such people are not there in church when Jesus comes to meet his people and to strengthen them in their faith. As a result, they remain with their doubts. Initially all the disciples had their doubts. But because of their encounter with the risen Lord in Sunday worship their doubt was turned into faith. Thomas missed that experience.

But, being a wise man, Thomas resolves never again to miss the Sunday gathering of believers. The gospel reading continues, “A week later [i.e. the following Sunday] his disciples were again in the house, and [this time around] Thomas was with them [and as usual] Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:26). This time Thomas had his own share of the resurrection experience. Immediately his doubt changed into faith and he fell down and worshiped, saying, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28). Now ask yourself, What if Thomas had stayed away from church saying, “Prove it! Prove it to me that Jesus is risen and then I will come,” would it be possible to prove it to him by arguments alone? Sometimes the best argument you can give to someone out there who is in doubt and does not believe is a sentence in three words: “Come and see.”

Come in and let the risen Lord who is here with us in Sunday worship, the Lord who is here in his word and in the Eucharist, let him, himself, speak to you and touch your heart and then you will doubt no longer but believe. The answer to our religious questions and doubts is not out there. The answer is right in here. When you are in doubt, think of doubting Thomas and learn from his own experiences. Come and you will see.

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