John’s account of the first appearance of the Risen Lord to his Apostles links the Resurrection to mission and the enabling gift of the Holy Spirit.
The ministry of Jesus had been to reveal the Father, to bring sinful humanity into the presence of the Father. The Resurrection, therefore, could not be other than the continuation of this ministry. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”
As those whose lives are lived in communion with the Risen Lord, we are, by our very nature, called to share in his mission.
We do not undertake this ministry alone. After commissioning the Apostles, Jesus, echoing the life-giving Spirit at the first creation, breathed the same Holy Spirit into his disciples. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”
This Resurrection narrative clearly understood divine forgiveness as a primary demonstration of Christ’s presence with his disciples. The Apostles would become the ministers of this forgiveness in a sacramental sense. We, who have received such forgiveness, proclaim the Risen Lord by our willingness to forgive.
Thomas, who had not been present at this initial encounter with the Risen Lord, had been reluctant to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. “Unless I see the holes that the nails made I refuse to believe.”
This initial resistance on the part of Thomas was recorded as an encouragement to subsequent generations. Every believer faces new challenges to faith. It is not always easy to believe, let alone witness to our faith. Ultimately Thomas’s doubts were resolved as the Lord met his apostles for a second time. Thomas surrendered his doubt. “My Lord and my God!” Precisely because faith is a matter of trust and surrender, it can never be, at its deepest level, a matter of proof. To demand proof is to establish a relationship on our own terms. To believe is to entrust oneself to another. The response of Jesus to Thomas anticipated the faith to which we are called. “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
The Gospel passage is concluded with a far-reaching observation on the part of the Evangelist: “These signs are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing this you may have eternal life.”
To believe that Christ is Risen is more than the passive acceptance of the Resurrection as a fact.
Such belief brings with it a new way of life, what John described as eternal life. In his First Letter John described such faith as a new birth in Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God.”
The consequences of this new life, flowing from the Resurrection, were clearly evident in the life of the early Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. “No one claimed for his own use anything he had, as everything they owned was held in common.”
The Risen Lord was manifest in the selfless love of this early community. A broken world still longs for the healing of such selflessness.