During Easter it is customary to decorate the church with lilies. Just as the poinsettia is considered the official flower of Christmas, so the lily is the official flower of the Easter season. It is not only because of its beauty that this flower has come to be associated with the resurrection of Jesus. Rather, early on, people noticed that this beautiful white flower was shaped much like a trumpet. The lily is meant to serve as a reminder to us that just as a trumpet is sounded to announce the arrival of a king or dignitary, so we must trumpet the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We are not meant to keep the good news of God's victory over sin and death a secret but must proclaim it to everyone we meet.
If we are meant to spread the message of new life in Christ with boldness, why is it that so many of us act more like shrinking violets? We so often find ourselves keeping our faith to ourselves out of fear that we will offend someone or because we doubt that we know enough to express the ancient faith of the Church. Our fears may run even deeper. We might be afraid of being ridiculed by our friends or rejected by those we love. Our doubts may also run deeper. We may wonder whether the good news of Jesus has any relevance to life in the twenty-first century. These emotions and conflicts often keep us from living our faith with the fullness of joy which God intended us to have.
Of course, fear and doubt are nothing new to Christian believers. The followers of Christ have experienced them since the beginning. Even those who saw Jesus with their own eyes and heard the gospel message directly from his lips suffered intense fear and doubt. Today's gospel reading is a reminder of just how true this is.
In today's reading from the gospel of John, it is the evening of the resurrection. The apostles are confused. They learned that the tomb in which Jesus had been buried is now empty, and Mary Magdalene claims that he appeared to her. Peter and John ran out to the tomb to see for themselves, and they found it to be empty just as the women said. John believed, but Peter remained confused and afraid. Now they have barricaded themselves in the room where they were staying. They were afraid that they would be killed just as Jesus was. They were not able to believe in Jesus' resurrection much less celebrate and proclaim it because their hearts were gripped with mortal fear.
The gospel tells us that Jesus appears to them "despite the locked doors". Those doors were bolted fast because of the apostles' fear. The Risen Jesus, however, cannot be locked out by fear, much less by locked doors. Now that he has conquered sin and death, he is the Lord of all. Nothing can hold back his presence or keep him from touching any heart he so wishes to reach. When the apostles recognize that it is truly the Lord - when he shows them his hands and side - their fear turns into joy. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them to replace their fear with peace and to give them power to forgive sin. By encountering the Risen Lord, the apostles take the first step toward overcoming their paralyzing fear.
The same is true with the problem of doubt. As we all remember, Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the apostles. He refused to believe that Jesus was risen unless he could see and touch him for himself. Again, a week later, the apostles find themselves behind locked doors. This time, however, the doors are locked not just because of fear, but because of doubt. Jesus is not offended by Thomas' lack of faith. Jesus does not refuse to reveal his risen glory to Thomas because of his doubts. Rather, he made a point of reaching out to him though the doors of his heart were bolted by unbelief. It is by having a personal encounter with the Risen Jesus that Thomas is able to overcome his doubts and make one of the most sincere and profound expressions of faith found in the New Testament, "My Lord and my God!"
We see what a transformation takes place in the lives of the apostles in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. They are now fearlessly proclaiming the good news of Jesus' resurrection throughout Jerusalem. Crowds are flocking to hear them just as they did to Jesus. And miraculous healings are taking place, just as they did by the hand of Jesus. The encounter with the Risen Lord has transformed the apostles from men fettered by fear and doubt into men who proclaim with boldness the resurrection of Jesus and who continue his ministry of healing and reconciliation.
The Scriptures make it clear to us that if we find ourselves weighed down by fear and doubt, then we must encounter the Risen Lord. How is that possible so many centuries after he has ascended into heaven? Today's readings again give us more insight into how it is that we may have a personal encounter today with the Risen Lord.
We remember that Jesus makes his first appearance to the apostles on the night of the resurrection, a Sunday. But then Jesus waits a whole week to reveal himself again. He does not appear to them the next day, but waits until the following Sunday to show himself to Thomas. To drive the point home even further, in today's second reading from the book of Revelation, it is on a Sunday, the Lord's day, that John has a vision of the Risen Christ and receives the revelation of all that is to take place. This is to make it clear to us that Sunday is the day when we encounter the Risen Lord, in particular during our celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, for us who live so many centuries since the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is in this place where we hear the word of God proclaimed and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus that we encounter Christ still alive among us. Though we cannot see him as clearly as the apostles did or put our fingers in his wounds as Thomas did, the encounter with Jesus is just as real and has the same power to dispel our fears and doubts.
So if fear and doubt continue to siphon off our peace and joy, this is the place to bring it. Here we meet Jesus in all his risen glory. Here we exchange the burden of unbelief for the power of faith. It is here that we bloom into believers willing to trumpet the good news of a Savior who has broken down the doors of sin and death. Blessed are we! We have not seen, but we believe and cry out, "My Lord and my God!"