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I would like to demonstrate the transformation that the Pasch of Jesus worked in his disciples. Let us start with the evening of the day of the resurrection.
The disciples had locked the door to the house for fear of the Jews (cf. John 20:19). Fear caused their hearts to miss a beat and prevented them from reaching out to others and to life. The Teacher was no longer. The memory of his passion gave rise to uncertainty. Yet Jesus had his followers at heart and was about to fulfill the promise he had made during the Last Supper: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (14:18), and he also says this to us: “I will not leave you desolate.”
With Jesus’ arrival, the disciples’ feelings of anguish changes radically. He enters through closed doors; he stands in their midst and gives them the peace that reassures: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19b). It is a common greeting, but it now acquires new significance because it brings about an inner change; it is the Easter greeting that enables the disciples to overcome all fear. The peace that Jesus brings is the gift of salvation that he had promised in his farewell discourses: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (14:27).
On this day of the resurrection, he gives it in fullness, and for the community it becomes a source of joy, the certainty of victory, and security in relying on God. “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1); “Do not be afraid,” he also says to us.
After this greeting Jesus shows the disciples the wounds in his hands and in his side (cf. John 20:20)—signs of what has occurred and will never be cancelled: his glorious humanity remains “wounded.” The purpose of this act is to confirm the new reality of the resurrection: Christ, now among his own disciples, is a real Person, the same Jesus who three days earlier was nailed to the cross. And it is in this way, in the dazzling light of Easter, in the encounter with the risen One, that the disciples perceive the salvific meaning of his passion and his death. Then sorrow and fear turn into full joy. The sorrow and the wounds themselves become a source of joy.
The joy that is born in their hearts derives from “[having seen] the Lord” (John 20:20). He repeats to them: “Peace be with you” (20:21). By then it was obvious that it was not only a greeting. It was a gift, the gift that the risen One wants to offer his friends, but at the same time, it is a consignment. This peace, which Christ purchased with his blood, is for them but also for all, which the disciples must pass on to the whole world. Indeed, he adds: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (20:21). The risen Jesus returned to his disciples to send them out. He had completed his work in the world; it was then up to them to sow faith in hearts so that the Father, known and loved, might gather all his children from the dispersion.
But Jesus knows that his followers are still fearful, even now. Thus, he carries out the gesture of blowing upon them and regenerates them in his Spirit (cf. John 20:22); this action is the sign of the new creation. In fact, with the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from the risen Christ, a new world begins. The sending of the disciples on mission is the beginning of the journey in the world of the people of the new covenant, a people who believe in him and in his work of salvation, a people who witness to the truth of the resurrection. This newness of life that does not die, brought by Easter, must be spread everywhere so that the thorns of sin, which wound the human heart, leave room for the new shoots of grace, of God’s presence and of his love that triumph over sin and death.
Dear friends, today too the risen One enters our homes and our hearts, even when, at times, the doors are closed. He enters giving joy and peace, life and hope, gifts we need for our human and spiritual rebirth. Only he can roll away those stones from the tombs in which all too often people seal themselves off from their own feelings, their own relationships, their own behavior; stones that sanction death—division, enmity, resentment, envy, diffidence, indifference. Only he, the living One, can give meaning to existence. . . .
To conclude, the experience of the disciples invites us to think about the meaning of Easter for us. Let us allow ourselves to encounter the risen Jesus! He, alive and true, is ever present in our midst; he walks with us to guide our life, to open our eyes. Let us trust in the risen One, who has the power to give life, to make us be born anew as children of God, capable of believing and of loving. Faith in him transforms our life: frees it from fear, gives it firm hope, enlivens it with God’s love, which gives full meaning to existence. —General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, April 11, 2012
This is a selection from Let Us Become Friends of Jesus by Pope Benedict XVI (The Word Among Us Press, 2013). Available as an ebook on Amazon, Google, and other epub sellers.