Second Sunday of Easter
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 John 5:1-6
When Pope Saint John Paul II declared the Second Sunday of Easter to be “Divine Mercy Sunday,” on account of his personal devotion to the Polish nun and saint, Faustina Kowalska, he possibly created what can only be described as liturgical confusion. Many people, with a similar devotion, view this octave day of Easter as a feast day of St. Faustina, as though her actual feast day in the Roman calendar, October 7, the date of her death, is not enough of a celebration. In truth, the declaration of the Sunday within the Octave of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday can, and should only, cause us to focus more fully on Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Octaves point to the enormity of a feast which cannot be contained in or celebrated on a single day. The eight days of Easter are meant to be a continuous proclamation of the resurrection, and nothing should distract us from focusing on that resurrection.
The opening prayer (Collect) for today’s liturgy, as it so often does, hints at the purpose of this liturgy: that with an increase of grace, we may understand “in what font [we] have been washed, by whose Spirit [we] have been reborn, by whose Blood [we] have been redeemed.” The resurrection refrain over the last eight days, in other words, is meant to remind us as Catholic Christians that in baptism we have been washed clean of our sinfulness, something only Jesus’ dying and rising could fully accomplish. It is in the Spirit of our Risen Lord that our cleansing takes place. It is through the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, that all people are redeemed. This is why Easter is the quintessential feast for the Christian, for it celebrates and proclaims all that we are as Christians, all that we are meant to be.
Notice in our first reading from Acts, who we are meant to be: “the community of believers was of one heart and mind.” That single minded community bears witness to the resurrection of Jesus by being solicitous of others, especially towards those who have need. In our second reading, John reminds us that “we know we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.” And his commandments are simple: love God and love your neighbor!
The resurrection proclaims, as nothing else does, God’s overwhelming and unconditional love for us. It is that same love that Jesus shows towards his disciples, when, wasting no time, on the same night as the resurrection, he appears to the disciples who are locked in a room for “fear of the Jews.” Jesus surely knew the disciples would be frightened, he knew they would have regrets, he knew they would be remorseful. Jesus wanted them to have peace! His wish for peace is repeated three times in this virtual end of John’s gospel, and on this eighth Easter Day the same Lord and Savior wants us to have peace. In spite of any upset or turmoil in our lives, God wishes us peace, and he alone is capable of giving that to us.
We witness how important peace is in the gospel story when we look at the honest portrait of the apostle Thomas. Forever burdened with the ascription “doubting,” Thomas is rightly troubled. So incredible did his companions’ claims sound that he honestly protested that he couldn’t possibly believe them unless he saw the marks, and put his hand and his fingers into the wounds. The peace Jesus wished for the disciples appears to not yet be realized, for a week later they are still behind locked doors. With the love of a shepherd searching for his lost sheep, Jesus’ appearance seems to have the expressed purpose of bringing peace to one of his companions. In this jaw-dropping moment for Thomas, he now joins “the community of believers,” being of one heart and mind with them. It is enough for Thomas to see the resurrected Jesus; it is enough for Thomas to simply look at his identifying wounds. In words that are at once the simplest and yet most profound, Thomas prayerfully declares, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas’ words are on our lips on this eighth day of Easter. Indeed, those words are on our lips each and every time we have the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist, for in this precious sacrament Jesus appears to us in transformed bread and wine, bolstering our faith and calming our fears. As in John’s gospel, Jesus wishes us peace several times in the celebration of the Eucharist. May that peace one day be ours, and may this Easter season we begin today remind us “in what font [we] have been washed, by whose Spirit [we] have been reborn, [and] by whose Blood [we] have been redeemed.”
Happy Easter! Alleluia! Alleluia!