The Gospel for this Sunday tells of two experiences of the risen Christ. The first is to the disciples without Thomas present (20:19-23) and the second to Thomas and the other disciples (20:24-29). The risen Christ came to the disciples amid their fear of the hostility directed toward them and Jesus. He immediately offered them “peace” (20:19). Then, after showing them evidence that he was their crucified Lord, he announced their mission (20:21). They were sent forth with the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive and retain sins (20:22-23). Thomas found the report of the others unbelievable and so the risen Christ appeared a second time, now in the midst of an experience of doubt. He offered Thomas the evidence he demanded (20:25,27) and urged him to believe. Thomas’ confession is the climax of John’s entire gospel: “My Lord and my God” (20:28). The Gospel closes with the purpose of the entire book of John—that the readers may believe and receive the gift of eternal life. Once again, we are reminded that our faith is not based on “proof,” but on listening to the Word of the Risen One, who speaks to us.
The Easter Sunday Gospel recounts how Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty. When she told the apostles, Peter and the beloved disciple (John) felt a deep desire to see for themselves what had happened. They ran to the tomb and found the cloth in which Jesus had been buried, nicely folded away to indicate that his body has not been robbed. The beloved disciple believed that was a sign that Jesus is truly risen. The “Beloved” disciple’s journey with Jesus is marked by his deep love for his master and friend. It is this love that helped him to recognize that the body of Jesus had not been taken away, but had risen to a totally new life. Every disciple of Jesus is called to relate to him in a similar way. As long as Jesus remains just an ideal for the disciples there will be the danger to follow him only in thought and theory. Only when Jesus becomes a loved one, will there be a desire to really act as he would have done. Discipleship of Jesus is more a matter of heart than the head; A matter of Faith, more than of thought.
Palm Sunday brings us to the last phase of our Lenten journey that we began on Ash Wednesday. The Passion story is probably the oldest part of Christian oral tradition and the core of the Gospel. Jesus is not taken unawares by the passion. He knows it will come as a result of his faithfulness to his mission. He is faithful to the end at the cost of his life. John’s passion narrative fits into the general pattern of the Servant of God in the prophet Isaiah who is rejected by the people to whom he is sent but in the end he is saved by God. And so Jesus can declare with great confidence to the High Priest who is judging him that, like the Son of Man who judges and who is glorified at the end of history, he is already glorified. In all these cases, each event can be seen as a fulfillment of something the Scriptures have foretold. Jesus, as Son of Man, is the fulfillment of God’s great plan of salvation for his people. Even Jesus’ death shows that God is so great he brings good out of evil for those who reject him. Our lives might seem full of the unimportant and the trivial. But when we see the events of our life in the light of faith we will discover how God is leading us through them. God’s plan unfolds slowly but surely.
Christianity offers eternal life, but it makes it clear that the only way to eternal life is through death. Scripture explains this paradox: as sinners we deserve the penalty of death, but if we died for our sins it would be the end of us. For this reason, God sent his Son, Jesus, Who came to take our place. Jesus died “on our behalf.” It is the Old Testament sacrificial system which foreshadows and explains how Jesus’ death was an acceptable exchange for our death. Out of love for his chosen people, God created a system of sacrificial exchange—the sins of God’s people were “painted” onto a sacrificial lamb that would be sent out into the wilderness to die in exchange for the death of God’s people. The sacrificial lamb would be a “scapegoat” for the sins of the people. Through this system of forgiveness, the death of the lamb became a substitute for the death of God’s people. When Jesus died he died in “exchange” for our death. Jesus’ death, as God’s Son, was the only death large enough to be a substitute death for all people of all times. St. Paul proclaims, “the message of Jesus’ death on the cross,” and “preached only Christ crucified.” Scripture scholars identify the Greek work “hyper” (“on our behalf,” “in our place,” “for our punishment”) as the most important phrase in Scripture and the doctrines of the Church.