The Gospel St. John 20.19
The same day at evening, being the first day of the week ; When the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews : Came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them : Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again : Peace be unto you. As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them : receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them ; and whosesoever sins ye retain, the are retained.
This day, the first Sunday after Easter, has been known by many different names over the centuries. For example, at one time, it was called Dominica in albis depositis, to denote that this was the day that those who were newly baptized on Holy Saturday could lay aside the white robes that they had been wearing since then. It is also known as “Quasimodo” Sunday, which I can assure you is taken from the Introit of the Mass, (As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word) and not from the character in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Of course, this is also known as Low Sunday. While no one is exactly sure why this came to be, the most likely explanation is that it was intended to contrast this, the Octave Day of Easter, from the great Easter festival itself. And let me again assure you that this name was NOT derived from any idea or expectation that the attendance at Mass today would be low; though I’ve known far too many people who think otherwise. It can be quite frustrating. How could anyone think about staying away from Church after having just celebrated the Glory of the Resurrection?
So you might imagine how frustrated Jesus must have been with his disciples, even after his Resurrection. Here he had beaten death, walked out of the grave, and talked with Mary Magdalene; and yet these guys are still scared and hiding out. And notice that in St. John’s Gospel today, we are told that it is only AFTER he has shown them his hands and feet that the disciples were “glad when they saw the Lord”. “Oh, it’s YOU Lord! Oh sure, we knew it was you all along, sure, we believed!” Sheesh!
It gets worse, of course, as we continue on in St. John’s Gospel, with the verses that follow today’s reading; here we see the denial of St. Thomas who refuses to believe even though he’s got a whole bunch of people telling him that the Lord has Risen! His cynicism is so great that he almost blasphemously declares that he won’t believe unless he sees Jesus himself and can put his hands in Jesus wounds.
The disbelief of the disciples is reflected in the Synoptic Gospels as well, with some minor differences in emphasis; in Luke (24:37), when Jesus appears to them the disciples are “terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit”. In Matthew (28:18), even though some “worshipped him”, still “some doubted”. Ah, but in Marks Gospel we see a bit of a difference.
Like the other Gospels, St. Mark tells us that the Apostles were told of Jesus Resurrection by other witnesses; by Mary Magdalene, as I mentioned before, and also by the two men walking on the road to Emmaus. And yet still they don’t believe. And then, when Jesus appears to them, Mark (16:14) tells us that the first thing he does is to “upbraid them for their unbelief and hardness of heart”. He scolds them because they have refused to believe the testimony of their fellow disciples.
This then is the danger that we fall into when we start to think that we have done enough and that there is nothing more to be done. This is the danger that people fall into when they think that simply coming here on Easter and making their communion absolves them of the duty to come to Mass on Low Sunday. This is the danger we invite when we fail to heed Our Lord’s words to “DO THIS”, and constantly seek His Grace. This is the danger of unbelief.
Now you may be thinking, “what’s he talking about”? After all, none of us here have doubted or denied that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead, have we? WE, at least, have heard and read the testimony of the witnesses, of the empty tomb and the appearances, etc., and our Faith has not wavered. And, of course, we are all HERE today! So, no problem, right?
Well, now, you just know that I’m not letting us off that easily; because, you see, what we are doing here today is just the first step of true belief. Remember that in St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus scolded his disciples both for unbelief AND HARDNESS OF HEART! Want to know what he said next? (Mark 16:15) “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature”.
Likewise in St. Matthew (28:19), “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…”. In St. Luke (24:48), “And ye are witnesses of these things”., and, of course, in St. John (21:16), in his great command to St. Peter, “feed my sheep”.
Yeah, darn it, it’s once again that whole thing about bringing the Good News to others. Well, you know, it’s expected of us. If we claim to be Christians, we can do nothing else. If we say that we believe and love Jesus Christ, then we are obligated. After all, “he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” (I John 5:10). We can’t keep the Good News to ourselves. Witnesses, by definition, are supposed to give testimony. If we do not, well, wouldn’t we just be displaying that same sort of hardness of heart that afflicted the Apostles? And what did Jesus have to say to them?
But fortunately, Jesus did not leave us powerless or without the tools to accomplish this task of true belief. Again, from St. Luke (24:49), “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you…”. From St. Mark (16:16), “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”. And of course in St. Matthew (28:19), when we are told to go out and teach all nations, we are also to baptize, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”.
Which, quite naturally, brings us back to St. John (20:22), “Receive ye the Holy Ghost”. The Comforter, the Paraclyte. The one who will give us the words when we need them. The one who will give us the strength when we are weak. The one who will give us the power to overcome the world.
If it sounds amazing, well it is. But it is also very possible. It is possible when we read with wonder about the empty tomb. It is possible when we weep with joy when Jesus looks down on the Magdalene and says simply and gently, “Mary”, and she falls to the ground and replies “Rabboni”. It is possible when we recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread at the Mass, just like those two men on the road to Emmaus who recognized Jesus at the moment that he broke the bread with them.
So, what does all this have to do with Low Sunday? Well, to answer that, I submit to you a proposition that it is time for a new definition for this day. You see, as the Introit today implies, we are like newborn babes; reborn through Our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection. But we are no longer newly baptized neophytes, still wearing our white baptismal robes, our Faith in its infancy. No, we are those who have heard and believed.
And so it is time that we redefine Low Sunday as that day were we rededicate ourselves to feeding God’s sheep; to calling out to our brothers and sisters who are not here today; to be witnesses to the miracle that takes place in this Church each and every time the Holy Mass is offered. It is time for us to tell others so that they too may come here and see the Lord, and be glad.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.