Scripture Readings, April 7, 2024

Divine Mercy Sunday

Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35

Psalm 118:2-4; 13-15, 22-24

1 John 5:1-6

John 20:19-31

Sadness spilled from his eyes like waterfalls of fear, and his sunken chest spoke of the emptiness his wife had left there. He grasped my hand tightly while we prayed together for courage to wade through his rivers of grief.

For 25 years, I facilitated grief support groups. I discovered that every death has its own fingerprint. Every narrative of loss carries a backstory which reads like a tragic drama begging for an audience. The message is always inscrutable sorrow.

Thomas was grieving. We don’t give him credit enough for that. Perhaps we write him off as a doubter, someone who had a faith problem. But let’s be real: In grief, God is involved. Faith, or the dashing of faith, is involved. A young mother whose husband died in a motorcycle accident pounded on his coffin crying in loud lament: “O God, he went and died on me, and now I have to raise our kids without him!” Grief also involves anger, the sobbing face of anger that can do nothing to get the dead one back.

C.S Lewis described grief in his book “A Grief Observed.” Lewis fell in love with Joy Davidman late in life. Their love, short-lived since she had cancer when they married (though in remission), was not without the romance of a Hallmark movie. Their intelligence played off one another, and they lived high on love tangled in the brilliance of books and long debates on all things brainy. When Davidman died, Lewis was bereft. In his book, Lewis observed the bitter loneliness that accompanied his love for Davidman. The first paragraph in the book is one I often read in the support groups.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only people would talk to one another and not to me.” (“A Grief Observed”).

For Thomas it was futile. His dreams dissolved into the abyss of memory. His time seemed wasted. His hopes hung on a cross in the body of a man who promised the world but offered only the stench of death. Sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, guilt, regrets — they attacked Thomas like cursing demons, and his outcry to his friends begged for the tactile, the human touch:

“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.”

Jesus heard his sorrow. Or rather, Jesus knew Thomas’ great love. For the greater the love, the greater the grief. Jesus showed up through the locked doors and the cowering fear of the others. He showed up for one purpose, to bare his chest before Thomas and to allow him to see and touch the wounds just days old. The place from which blood and water flowed, a greater love than Thomas could ever know.

And what does Thomas say? “My Lord and my God.” Breathless and weak, Thomas greeted Jesus with heartfelt, authentic worship: “My Lord and my God.”

Faith oftentimes is strengthened by loss. When we fall in love, we enter the relationship fully putting the death of our loved one somewhere else, maybe into another lifetime. Love is too new, too wonderful to spoil it with the grimness of death. If we fell in love worried about the death of our beloved, we would not enter the bond. But we do. We do because we have faith in the goodness of love. Thomas had faith in the goodness of Jesus. It lingered within him dormant for a while, but it was there. Or he would not have come back to the community he loved. He showed up, late, but he came.

The letter of St. John suggests the one who conquers the world is the person of faith. “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Jesus admonished Thomas to believe without seeing. Thomas, according to tradition, never wavered again. His love for his Lord urged him to take the Gospel to the people of India. Tradition says he founded the Church of the Syrian Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas. Like the other apostles (except for John, the Beloved), Thomas was martyred in the year 53.

Did Thomas really put his finger into the wounds of Christ? Probably not, but he did feel the love that poured out with Divine Mercy from that wound, raising him up from grief to believe again.

We all hold his prayer, his ecstatic prayer, on our lips often. When the sacred Body of the Lord is raised above the altar, it is what we think, it is what we breathe, it is what we say: “My Lord and my God!”