11 Apr Divine Mercy Sunday Archbishop O’Brien
On this second Sunday of Easter, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. We find this theme expressed in our opening prayer when God is addressed as “God of everlasting mercy”, as well as in the psalm when we gave thanks to the Lord for “his steadfast love endures forever”.
In today’s gospel, we have a portrait of Jesus’s followers – a dispirited group of disciples huddled together behind closed doors on the evening of Easter. Into this scene, Jesus, the Risen Lord, enters. As Risen Lord, he is not constrained by material obstacles such as locked doors. His first word to them is “Peace”, and his first gesture is to show them his “glorified wounds”. He is not there to scold them or to rebuke them for their cowardice, but, rather, to embrace them, to love them, and to forgive them.
What is this peace that he offers them? One author makes the point that the peace that Jesus gives the disciples is not just peace as we normally understand it in our day-to-day lives, where the security of one moment is replaced by the anxiety of the next. The peace that Jesus brings is his abiding presence, which transcends the vagaries of this world. “Jesus does not stop the chaos of this world. Rather, he is present within it, calming and untroubling the heart, bringing peace.” (J. Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels, Luke C, p.108)
Jesus next shows them his glorified wounds. This gesture is not just to confirm who he is, but to indicate that this peace or sharing in the divine life has been mediated through the open wounds of Christ.
Jesus then offers them peace a second time and commissions them, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you”. Commenting on this, the author I quoted earlier makes the point that “…divine life cannot be possessed. It can only be received and given away. Therefore, they are immediately sent…..they have to give the life they have received to others. The chain is established – from the Father to Jesus to the disciples, and, by implication, to whomever the disciples will commission.”(Shea p.109) We see this exemplified in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, as the apostles are carrying on the healing work of Jesus.
But, in order for Jesus’s followers to fulfill their mission, they have to have the power that comes from the Holy Spirit; and, so, in a gesture reminiscent of the creation of man in Genesis, when God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam, Jesus breathes on the disciples, and they become a new creation, living by the breath of God and sharing in the work of the Spirit which is to bring unity.
As I mentioned on Good Friday, what destroys unity is sin, because sin causes separation within us. As St. Paul says: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Romans 7:19. Sin also separates us from others, and, of course, causes our separation from God.
The mission that is given to the disciples is to heal division through the forgiveness of sins. This most surely can be seen as encompassing the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but it is also the work of the Christian community and every one of its members as we work to heal wounds and division which people have with God, and with each other. This Holy Year of Mercy invites us to do this in a particular way by practising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
There is another important theme or message which is contained in today’s gospel, and it is centred on the figure of Thomas, who was absent from this first appearance or presence of Jesus among his disciples. Thomas is portrayed in the gospel as one who is outspoken, generous, ready to go to death for his Master, and, as we see from the account of the Last Supper, prepared to ask the questions that perhaps others were thinking but nobody else dares ask. When Jesus appears again eight days later, Thomas is not set to simply accept the testimony of the others. He wants some physical confirmation that this is truly Jesus; he wants to probe the marks of Jesus’s death. When Jesus appears the second time, he offers him this opportunity to place his fingers in the nail holes and to put his hand in his side, but Thomas doesn’t do this. He simply affirms his faith, not only that this is Jesus, but that this Jesus is Lord: “My Lord and my God”.
Commenting on this scene, one author explains that “believing is not a matter of physical observation but of realizing spiritual truth”. (Shea p.112.) After all, Thomas had known Jesus in his earthly life; he has had plenty of opportunities to observe him, but that never led him to say “My Lord and My God”. However, here, he doesn’t just recognize Jesus; he doesn’t just say “Jesus it’s you”. He acknowledges who Jesus is, “My Lord and My God”. This represented an act of faith in the reality and identity of the person standing before him.
Today, in our world, where the scientific mentality is so prominent, and the physical, the measurable, the verifiable are so important, belief is difficult for many. But, as one theologian comments: “God isn’t hidden; we just don’t have eyes to see God because our eyes aren’t attuned to that kind of reality”. (R. Rohlheiser on K. Rahner Center for Liturgy May 1, 2011) The gospel passage is telling us that all belief in Jesus has to go beyond what our physical senses can perceive. Not many of us will have a vision of the son of Man such as John recounts in the Book of Revelation, but we do have many ways to nurture our faith:
- When we reflect on God’s word;
- When we gather to pray and to receive the Eucharist and the other sacraments;
- When we serve the poor, the needy, the sick and the oppressed with whom Christ especially identifies.
These are but some of the ways which can lead us to that “peace” which Christ wants us to have – an abiding peace: “a peace that the world cannot give”.