Paul T. Keil, 16 April 2023
The Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
Peace be with you and greetings on this celebration of the 2nd Sunday of Easter, also called Divine Mercy Sunday. So, this long title for today kind-a begs two questions; first, if this is the second Sunday of Easter, how long does Easter really last and second, what exactly is Divine Mercy Sunday? Well, Easter really lasts seven whole weeks and this year it ends on May 28th when we celebrate Pentecost. Consequently, we can all keep joyfully wishing everyone a Happy and Holy Easter for almost six more weeks. That’s a beautiful gift and a great opportunity to evangelize when your Protestant friends look at you like you’re crazy.
For the second question about Divine Mercy Sunday, it really began during the celebration of the Millennial Jubilee Year in 2000. During a special Mass at the Vatican, on the Second Sunday of Easter, for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Pope John Paul II proclaimed to the world, “from now on throughout the Church this Sunday will be called Divine Mercy Sunday.”
St Faustina lived a mystical experience for some 14 years of her life she literally receiving personal revelations from Jesus Christ. And based one of those revelations I’d like to tell a short personal story. I had a Catholic friend die last Saturday and unfortunately, for multiple reasons, not the least of which is our critical shortage of Priests, he was not anointed prior to his passing. My friends, listen to what Jesus told St. Faustina about praying at the bedside of the dying; “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same. When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person God’s anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful Passion of My Son.” Sisters and brothers, the Divine Mercy Chaplet only takes about 10 minutes but what a spiritual gift for someone near death, especially in an emergency. It’s not a substitute for an anointing by a Priest but it is a spiritual promise from Jesus for his Divine Mercy.
OK now, let’s talk about our Gospel reading for a few minutes. One scholar I’ve studied describes the Evangelist John as an artist who, in this Easter evening scene, has captured the whole of Christianity if only we have the eyes to see it. Let’s listen to the Gospel reading bit-by-bit. Here is the opening, “on the evening of that first day of the week.” Almost sounds a little like Genesis, doesn’t it? For us as Christians and really for all of mankind, Jesus’ resurrection on that first day of the week inaugurates a completely new creation. Everything changed. The one called “the light of the world” has risen from the dead. Considering what it means for humanity, it’s as though God said again, “Let there be light” – and my friends, if you’re not getting it, you’re not getting the Easter message.
So, what did change on that very first Easter? Just listen to the next phrase from John’s Gospel, “when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear.” Well, I guess it’s easy to imagine the primary cause for their hiding behind locked doors with very real gut-wrenching fear of physical death, just like Jesus’ horrible death on the Cross. It’s been said, one could argue, the primordial human problem has always been fear of death. Some philosophers actually say the opposite of love is not hate but the opposite of love is fear and its fear that gives birth to hatred. In the 1st Letter of John, 4:18 we’re given a Christian formula however, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” And that is exactly what happened on Easter! Jesus’ Resurrection proves that God’s perfect love is more powerful than death itself and humanities’ primordial fear of death can end forever.
Now, as Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, the Apostle’s may have had another reason to fear, however. They had abandoned him during his dreadful Passion. They may have thought something like, “Oh, Oh, now He’s really angry and He’s going to call down lightening and turn us all into charcoal.” What does Jesus say though? “Peace be with you.” Now here’s kind of a sad note when it comes to Bible translations. The word Jesus used here would have actually been “Shalom” and we really don’t have a textbook English word that can fully embrace the Hebrew concept of Shalom. A clearer translation in this circumstance might be something like; “What God wants for God’s people.” John explains what Jesus means by “peace” or shalom in 14:27 where he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
Next John tells us Jesus showed them his hands and his feet and the disciples rejoiced but Jesus wasn’t looking for a party. He immediately sends them on mission, breaths on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” So, about this mission thing, Bishop Robert Barron says, “The Church doesn’t have a mission; the Church is a mission.” He says, “A passionate Catholicism brings people to Christ.” Now folks, that’s not just meant for ordained clergy, that’s meant for every Catholic. We are all the Church. Fortunately, God also gives every single one of us the Holy Spirit in Baptism and every other Sacrament helping us on mission just like those original disciples. In fact, we can view the whole life of the church as this, receive divine life in the Holy Spirit then – give it to others.
Now, certainly Sacramental Absolution of sin is a gift specifically given to Priests but the word forgiveness itself should never be viewed exclusively for the ordained. There is a direct link between sending on mission, the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness. Sin can be thought of as a self-imposed interruption of divine love, a path that can lead to a loss of the divine life. Our own personal willingness to forgive others may not only bring fellow Catholics back from lives of sin and interrupted love but it may also serve as an attraction for non-Catholics. When the great G.K. Chesterton was asked why he became Catholic he responded, “So I could have my sins forgiven.” Therefore, know with confidence, when the Holy Spirit is breathed out by any of us, it can include an invitation for Sacramental Reconciliation within the Church itself but regardless, a personal willingness to forgive should always be offered.
OK, so what about good old Doubting Thomas? He wasn’t with the others on that first Easter evening. We’re never told where he was, but have you ever wondered, why Jesus simply didn’t go to him wherever he might have been instead of waiting until the disciples were all together again in one place? Friends, all the dynamics of God’s new creation; Christ’s new resurrected life, overcoming fear, gifting of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, giving himself in Eucharist were all on display in community – and that community is what we now call Church. Don’t try to do it by yourself. Don’t try to find your way on your own. There is a message from the Doubting Thomas story you may have never thought about. Stay within the community of Church because this is exactly where you will find God’s new creation.