God is doing a new thing and Jesus' resurrection shows this

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. Nothing is the same since. Just look at how Thomas changed. Before he met Jesus he was depressed, absent from the group of apostles and disbelieving. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) But what a difference seeing Jesus risen brought about in Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) God is doing a new thing, there is a New Covenant and Jesus’ resurrection shows this. Jesus is indeed the Messiah and the expectations of the Old Testament are now fulfilled in Jesus. Now Jesus is the way to the Father.

In the Old Covenant God’s special place of presence on earth was the temple in Jerusalem and God was present only in a special part of the temple, the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could go in there and then only once a year. But now in the New Covenant God is not limited to a special place but is with us any place we celebrate the Eucharist. The Jews received grace under the Old Covenant but God offers us a superabundance of grace in the New Covenant every time we receive the sacraments. The risen Jesus meeting the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and explaining the Scriptures, and breaking bread with them shows us that Jesus is with us every time we gather to celebrate Mass. The temple was no longer the place to worship God which is shown also by the curtain/veil of the temple tearing in two from top to bottom when Jesus died (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). During the Roman siege of Jerusalem the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. Sometimes we hear of people campaigning for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. If that were to take place it would be a return to the Old Covenant and we would not expect God to allow that to happen. We cannot return to the Old Covenant again now that we are in the New Covenant. There were a number of attempts to rebuild the temple in the first centuries after it was destroyed but they all failed, some in mysterious and frightening ways. The Eucharist is now the place to meet God; we meet Jesus as the scriptures are explained to us and we partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus. God is doing a new thing and Jesus’ resurrection shows this.

In the New Covenant there is also a change in keeping a day holy for God. In the Old Covenant the sabbath, Saturday, was kept holy for God but in the New Covenant the Lord’s Day is Sunday because it is the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospel today reminds us that this apparition of Jesus to his apostles took place “on the evening of that first day of the week” (John 20:19) and it was also on Sunday, the first day of the week, when Jesus appeared the next time when Thomas was with them (John 20:26). The last book of the Bible, Revelation, refers to the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10), not to the sabbath. The letter to the Colossians states, “Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.” (Col 2:16) A document from the late first century or early second century, the Didache or Teaching of the Apostles, refers to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day of the Lord.” This unusual phrase, “the Lord’s Day of the Lord” seems to mean the early Church understood that it was Jesus himself who instituted the change of worship from Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, the Lord’s Day of the Lord. (Didache §14) In the New Covenant the day holy to God is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

In the Old Covenant Jewish boys were circumcised eight days after birth and girls had a naming ceremony but in the New Covenant baptism is the means by which we enter the community of believers. Baptism has replaced circumcision (Col 2:11-12)

The resurrection of Jesus and his words to the apostles in today’s Gospel also confirm a change in the priesthood from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant there had been many Jewish priests offering sacrifices in the temple every day but in the New Covenant there is one Priest, Jesus, who offered himself in sacrifice once on the cross and shared his Priesthood with the apostles during the Last Supper. We could say that Jesus completes the sharing of his priesthood with the apostles during his encounter with them on Easter Sunday evening as he breathed on them giving them the Holy Spirit and commissioned them to forgive sins in his name.

Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. (John 20:22-23)

Now the apostles, sharing in the Priesthood of Jesus, the Priest of the New Covenant, will forgive sins in the name of God. In the Gospel of John we see a number of events hinting at or showing us Jesus sharing his priesthood with the apostles:

  • The foot washing during the Last Supper (John 13:1-15) recalls the bathing that was part of the rite of ordination of Jewish priests in the Old Covenant (Ex 29:4; Lev 8:6).

  • Jesus brought the apostles into a new relationship with the name of God (John 17:10-11) while in the Old Covenant only the high priest could utter the name of God once a year.

  • Jesus consecrated the apostles (John 17:17,19) and the high priest of the Old Covenant wore a gold plate on his turban engraved with the words, “Consecrated to God.” (Ex 28:36)

  • In the Gospel today, Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit and

  • commissioned them to forgive sins in the name of God. (John 20:22-23)

There is a change in the priesthood from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant and Jesus’ resurrection shows that God is doing a new thing.

(The death and resurrection of Jesus also meant a completely new way of reading the Old Testament.)

The harmony between among the first Christians that we see in our first reading (Acts 2:42-47) is the fruit of Jesus’ resurrection. The new community gathered around the resurrection of Jesus has been transformed by Jesus’ resurrection. In the second reading St. Peter reminds us that we have been transformed through the resurrection of Jesus.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…(1 Pet 1:3-4)

Jesus’ resurrection has indeed given us a new birth into hope and through our baptism we will share in Jesus’ resurrection. Through our baptism we became sons and daughters of God our Father and since we are his sons and daughters we will inherit from him. What will we inherit? Heaven. Peter reminds us that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven…” (1 Pet 3:4) The resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. Nothing will ever again be the same. God is doing a new thing, there is a New Covenant and Jesus’ resurrection shows this.

What Peter says in the second reading today is true of us,

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…(1 Pet 3:8)

and so with Thomas we say,

“My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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