Signs, Wonders, and Visions

by Edmond Lo
Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy)

Acts 5:12-16

Revelation 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17-19

John 20:19-31

How do we put this Sunday’s readings all in a nut shell? In my view, these are the best three words that sum up the three readings: signs, wonders, and visions. Signs, wonders, and visions are what we see in three very different scenes: a church community at Pentecost (reading 1), an apocalyptic vision on the island of Patmos (reading 2), a resurrected Christ after Easter (gospel). Tracing through all three readings and connecting all the dots to make the portrayed events coherent and meaningful is one common denominator – the Holy Spirit.

After many years of governing and political domination by various foreign powers, Israel’s hopes of restoring the glory days of the Davidic kingdom, fueled by predictions and promises of the prophets, had never been greater. Entered Jesus into this politically charged arena or, shall we say, “hot soup” that were the lands of Judea, Samaria, and Galilea. Understandably, people surrounding him, especially his disciples, would see him as the promised Messiah whose mission was to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). What we see in reading one are “signs and wonders…done among the people” by the apostles after the Holy Spirit had descended on them in a special way at Pentecost (Acts 5:12). The Jewish hopes for restoration were finally fulfilled, albeit in a very unexpected manner: The Church of 12 apostles was the new Israel, the Kingdom of God, that restored and surpassed the Israel of 12 tribes; Jesus, the Son of David, was the “King of kings and Lord of lords” who would reign forever and ever (Rev 17:14).

In the second reading, a vision came to John when he was in exile to Patmos, an island about forty miles from Ephesus. What he saw was the heavenly liturgy being celebrated by the eternal High Priest, Jesus, “wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest” in the midst of “seven gold lampstands” (Rev 1:1-12). From that vision many other intriguing visions unfolded which John meticulously laid out in 22 chapters in the Book of Revelation. What enabled John to see such visions? He “was caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10).

Following the political “hot soup” of Acts and the salads of many visions of John’s Revelation, the main course served up by the pneumatic menu of the second Sunday of Easter is Jesus appearing to twelve apostles, minus St. Thomas, in his resurrected body. Jesus “breathed on” the apostles and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (John 20:22-23). The word “breathed” or “emphysao” (GK) that John uses is the same word used by the authors of Genesis and Ezekiel where God breathed the breath of life into the first man (Gen 2:7) and the slain in the valley of bones came alive when the Spirit breathed on them (Eze 37:9). Like the two events in Genesis and Ezekiel, the post-Easter event depicted by John is of great significance. What Jesus gave them, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, was the authority to bind and forgive our sins in the name of God (see T. Lane, The Catholic Priesthood, p.116).