2nd Sunday of Easter (Year A)(DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47 Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9 Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31
“I WILL SING OF THE MERCIES OF THE LORD...”
In the town of Wishaw there lived an earnest Christian man who became a magistrate. One morning there appeared before him in the court a friend of his youth, who had strayed from the paths of righteousness and had committed an offense against the law of the land. Those who knew the relationship between the two men, expected the magistrate to deal with the man mercifully, and they were very much surprised when they heard that the sentence was a heavy fine. But they were more surprised when the magistrate went to the officer of the court, and took from his own pocket the money to pay the fine. He did his duty as a magistrate, and upheld the law, but he also showed something of the mercy of God for his friend when he paid the penalty for his friend. There is little wonder that the law-breaker was broken-hearted in his repentance.
Jesus gave Himself for you. Have you given yourself to Him?
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) along with the other disciples. 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.
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.
The First Reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the life in the early church immediately after the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was centered round the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. The believers lived in and for a community and had possessions in common. Everybody had loving concern for one another and forgave one another. This simple sincerity won the admiration of others and day by day members were added in the community of the believers by the merciful Lord.
In the Second Reading of today from the 1st Letter of Peter, St. Peter gives praise to God the Father who in His great love and mercy has given them a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He speaks of future inheritance (eternal life) that is guaranteed for those reborn as Christians. Now they are filled with a joy that is indescribable and glorious. But he reminds them that they may have to suffer through various trials. It suggests the durability of faith even in the midst of suffering. In this sense the experience of faith is worth more than fire-tested gold. This is certainly the testimony of the first Christian martyrs who were sustained by the experience of a rock-solid faith.
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.
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.