The Incredulity of St. Thomas, circa 1601, by Caravaggio. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Spirit ignites the power of community

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  • April 12, 2020

Second Sunday of Easter, April 19 (Year A) Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

The quality of the communal life of the early Christian communities was a major source of their power and growth. It was certainly not a once-a-week experience, but an experience of sharing their lives.

They shared all that they had and prayed and ate together. But what they did was not as important as the disposition of their hearts and minds. They did all these things with “glad and generous hearts.”

Potential converts were not attracted to these communities by theology but by their manner of life and their joy. In a world that was violent, oppressive and unjust, it offered something precious: a warm and supportive community, where people care for one another.

We should take heed — all the gimmicks in the world will not attract people to churches if they lack what people yearn for most. Our world is violent, competitive and impersonal. People are often frightened, lonely and at the end of their tether.

If people were offered a supportive and non-judgmental community of friends in the Lord instead of fearing criticism, many would respond eagerly. That would only be the case, however, if that community were a reality and not mere rhetoric or wishful thinking.

When people have a high level of trust and do not have to be on their guard all the time, some very hopeful and even miraculous things begin to unfold. They discover the ways in which they are interconnected, as well as the power of the group.

The author of Acts ties their way of life to the powerful miracles that were worked in their midst. They create “space” for God’s Spirit to work. This is something that many are discovering in the midst of the pandemic, even if the sense of community often has to be virtual and electronic.

Life is not about profit, things and self-promotion, but about people. We discover how important we are to one another when we are denied that contact. Many learn to be grateful for health, relationships and the simple things in life.

As the psalm tells us, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” Let us only hope that the lessons learned outlast the pandemic.

God has granted us a new birth by raising Jesus from the dead. The inheritance that we are promised is beyond our imagination. It is imperishable and undefiled and kept in Heaven for us.

While we wait, our faith is tested and refined by the struggles and difficulties of life in the body. We should not look upon them as punishments but opportunities for growth and deepening of our spirituality.

But how do we know all this is true? The author of 1 Peter insists that the love we have for the Lord is a way of knowing. We do not see Jesus, yet we love Him and believe in Him.

We experience joy, which is the confirmation of our faith. Our faith is not a set of ideas we carry in our heads, but a living and vibrant relationship with the Lord.

Jesus breathed on the disciples in the upper room, filling them with the spirit of God and empowering them to continue the mission He had begun. This was linked to His greeting of peace, “shalom,” the promised peace between humans and God.

Through the Spirit, they were bonded with Jesus and the Father in a very personal way. All things were now possible for them and they could continue the work. Thomas struggled with his doubts and disappointment. Since he was not present when Jesus appeared in the upper room, he demanded concrete proof that Jesus had risen.

In recent years, there have been many attempts to either prove or disprove the words and deeds of Jesus. First of all, neither is possible. And if everything were proven, where would that leave faith?

Jesus chided Thomas a bit by saying that those who do not see and yet believe are blessed. This does not mean blind, uninformed and unquestioning faith. There is plenty of room for questioning and thinking.

But in the end, the reading from 1 Peter provides the answer: Our assurance comes through love, both for the Lord and for others. The proof lies in how our relationship affects and transforms us, and how that is communicated to and shared with others.

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