2nd Sunday of Easter (Year C)(DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)
First Reading: Acts 5:12-16 Second Reading: Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31
“I WILL SING OF THE MERCIES OF THE LORD...”
Once upon a time two brothers, who lived on adjoining farms, fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a conflict. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s tool box. “I’m looking for a few days’ work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?” “Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor; in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence –an 8-foot fence — so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.” The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge - a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all - and the neighbor, his younger brother was coming toward them, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
Jesus is also the bridge-maker, who reconciles mankind to God by bestowing his mercy upon us and forgiving our sins; and he also calls us to do the same – to be bridge-makers by being messengers of his mercy and forgiving love.
Today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter and with it we conclude the Octave of Easter. We know that Easter is the most solemn of all Christian feasts and it is so great an event that one day of celebration does not suffice. We needed eight days of liturgical celebrations to contemplate and assimilate the Easter mysteries.
On this 2nd Sunday of Easter, every year we have the same Gospel Reading, though the other two readings vary. The gospel passage of today from St. John begins with the narration of the first appearance of the Risen Lord to his disciples on the day of Easter; it then goes on to narrate the appearance of the Risen Lord to Thomas who was absent on the day of Easter. The latter incident takes place on the eighth day of Easter (like today). Thus the gospel text of today really links Easter Sunday to the Octave. A very apt reading indeed to conclude the Octave of Easter!
Again, the 2nd Sunday of Easter is also known as the ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’ Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Sr. Faustina in the 1930’s and promised that he would bestow his Divine Mercy to any sinner that totally repents his/her sins, no matter how grave and our Lord would not refuse any soul that seeks his mercy. It is not a mere coincidence that in the private revelations that Sr. Faustina received Jesus asked on numerous occasions that a feast day be dedicated to the Divine Mercy and that this feast be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. Therefore, on 30th April 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized his country-woman, Sr. Faustina, he said, “It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church, will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’.” In brief, this Sunday invites us to contemplate the mercy of God. We experience this Divine Mercy very tangibly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and also in Grace - the unmerited favor, the gratuitous gift which God gives to us out of His compassion and merciful love.
So, today is also the feast of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In today's Gospel, Jesus gives authority to his disciples to forgive sins saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This is a Divine power given to his disciples and handed down to his Church and to our priests. But, it is God who really gives pardon and peace. The priest - who takes the place of the ‘disciples’ of Jesus today - absolves in the name of the Church, that is, he frees the penitent from guilt and blame. This understanding is still maintained in the formula of absolution that the priest utters during the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
This is a wonderful possibility available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation: 'the visible sign of God’s invisible mercy.' On this feast then, let us resolve to make frequent confession – good, sincere & open confession - and experience God's Divine mercy.
Now, it is on the very day of his resurrection that Jesus Christ, risen and triumphant, made his first appearance to his disciples who hovered in fear and huddled behind locked doors. We could recall here that his previous appearance in the Gospel of John, in fact the very first appearance, was to Mary Magdalene, earlier at the day break. The appearance of the Risen Lord was meant to calm their fearful hearts, change their doubting minds and evoke the faith of the disciples in the reality of the Resurrection of the one who suffered and died on the cross.
In his appearance to his disciples, after his typical greeting of “Peace be with you,” Jesus showed them his wounds and sent them on his mission to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. After this, “He breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.” These two sentences are a mouthful, but, they really describe the beginning of the Church. Pentecost is familiarly described in the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s Gospel taken from St. John gives us another version of Pentecost. It is interesting to note that the Evangelist John does not separate the Resurrection of the Lord from the decent of the Holy Spirit. In a sense, Easter and Pentecost (as Luke calls it in the Acts) are one according to St. John: we receive the Holy Spirit when we experience the Risen Lord.
To further strengthen the fear-stricken disciples to continue from where he stopped, the Risen Lord appeared to them again eight days later and stood in their midst and again said to them, “Peace be with you.” This time, together with them was the doubting Thomas who had reacted vehemently to their testimony with a protestation. Jesus confronted the doubt of Thomas with the stigmata of his passion. Thomas’ resistance and unbelief broke down completely in the face of the Risen Lord. He then uttered the ultimate Christian profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” The Risen Lord, however, exhorted him to a greater faith: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Today’s Gospel thus is also an exhortation to us 'to believe without seeing.'
Therefore, the Gospel is apt for the celebration of Divine Mercy as well as to confront doubt. Do you know why Christ, after he greeted the Apostles with peace, showed them His hands and His side? A clean or stylized crucifix does not tell the whole story. In fact, a sanitized cross may belong to a jaded memory. This may explain why Christ kept the marks of his wounds on His risen body. You would think that a risen body should be perfect. On the contrary, the wounds were necessary to help the Apostles remember or recognize him.
In the Second Reading of today from the Book of Revelation, St. John speaks about his vision of the Lord's Day. He sees the Mighty one robed in majesty, one like 'the Son of Man' – who says to him, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys of death and the netherworld.”
Also, the last verse of today’s Gospel Reading crystallizes the motive for the many 'signs' written and proclaimed about Jesus, the glorious resurrection being the crowning event and the 'Sign of signs.' The Evangelist John tells the recipients of the Gospel: “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”
Indeed, to really relish the joy and peace of Easter we need to believe this: that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ – the Son of God. He is the Lord and God of those who have experienced the power of Easter.
Today, we are celebrating “Divine Mercy Sunday” and are joyfully proclaiming - “I WILL SING OF THE MERCIES OF THE LORD...” Let us remember that the message behind the Upper Room appearance is that Jesus wants the disciples to know that his Church is founded on forgiveness and has a mission to bring about peace through forgiveness. This is why he did not only forgive them but also commissioned them to continue his mission of salvation and forgiveness of sin. In the First Reading of today from Acts of the Apostles, we see how the Apostles relentlessly carried out the mission of their Master by preaching and healing, and how day by day members were added in the community of the believers.
It is also to be noted that while the first gift of Easter is joy, the second one is peace. Anything that comes against joy and peace in our lives is not good for us. The person therefore, who fails to forgive his/her neighbor does not only lose his/her identity as a Christian but robs oneself of true peace. In the same vein, the one who doubts his/her faith loses true peace of mind and body. As ambassadors we are to represent Jesus and become dispensers of his peace. And this is the Good News of today.