Throughout the Easter Season, the Church uses a different order in the lectionary. We set aside the Hebrew Scriptures from which we usually read the first reading and give preference to the Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke as a parallel text to his Gospel. The passages from the Acts of the Apostles will focus our attention upon the life of the early Church, its witness, and its growth. St. Luke writes this text to show that the mission of Jesus continues in the apostles and their successors. Today’s reading shows us that just as Jesus began his ministry by expelling demons and healing the sick, the apostles also begin their ministry in the same way. There are subtle hints in the reading that remind us of Jesus. In the parable of the great feast, the man instructs his servants to go out into the highways and hedgerows to invite people to the banquet. So the apostles move out of Solomon’s portico and into the streets to heal the sick. The reference to Peter’s shadow reminds us of the woman who was healed of a hemorrhage by touching the tassel of Jesus’ cloak. As the Master had done, now the apostles are to do.
Notice that the text tells us that great numbers of men and women were added to the community. St. Luke deliberately writes this statement in the passive voice so that we will realize that it is God who is acting, it is God who is adding to their number. In addition, this statement makes us realize that the community has already been formed and the new believers are added to it. They do not form a new body. They simply add to the already formed Body of Christ.
In this cycle of the lectionary, the second reading on Sundays will be taken from the Book of Revelation, the text that speaks of the Christian community in the midst of persecution. We hear the opening vision of the astral seer in today’s verses. The seer of Patmos, exiled and persecuted because of his faith, sees Jesus as the Risen Lord, much the same as the apostles saw him immediately after the Resurrection. However, in the Book of Revelation, the sacred writer makes it clear that he is in an altered state of consciousness, much the same as the apostles who were present at the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. We know that the seer is an astral visionary, what we might call an astronomer, for his visions all reflect the constellations and planets of the universe. The seven lampstands are the seven planets orbiting the sun with earth. He is looking at one of the constellations that represents some human figure. Using the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah from the Hebrew Scriptures, the seer interprets his vision as the Son of Man, the Risen Lord Jesus. In this way the sacred writer tells us that the visions of the apostles continue in the community of the believers, only in a different state of consciousness.
The Gospel story we read today links us to the early community of which we read in the Acts of the Apostles as well as to the community of believers that was persecuted for their faith in Jesus in the Book of Revelation. We hear the familiar story of two different appearances of Jesus appearing to the Twelve in the upper room. These stories are linked together by the experience of Thomas the Apostle who states that he will not believe until he has placed his fingers in the marks left by the nails and his hand in the wound made by the spear of the Roman soldier. Jesus refers to us directly when he tells Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” He is speaking about you and me, brothers and sisters, for we are people who believe even though we never have seen Jesus in the flesh.
We have come to refer to Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” Did Thomas lack faith in the Resurrection? Actually, who can blame him? The apostles tell him that they have seen the Lord and that he had commissioned them to preach the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. When Thomas meets with them a week later, they are still locked away in the upper room. Perhaps this is the reason Thomas does not believe. If Jesus has sent them as God had sent Him, why are they still sitting around? The truth of the matter is that Thomas is the only one who calls Jesus both Lord and God. He is the representative of the millions that come after the apostles who believe simply because they have heard the Gospel. He is not doubting Thomas, rather he is the first to recognize that Jesus is God in the flesh.
Today we complete the Easter Octave – eight days of solemnity in honor of the great feast of the Resurrection. We will extend that octave to not simply eight days, but an octave of Sundays until we come to the Feast of Pentecost, eight Sundays after Easter. Through this solemn observance the Church asks us to reflect on what we have heard so that we may come to believe that Jesus is, as Thomas reminds us, our Lord and our God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator