SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER/DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY (2020)
Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
A reminder at the outset that the liturgical implications for this Sunday, which we call the Second Sunday of Easter, set it apart from other sequential Sundays that are celebrated. We celebrate the Octave of Easter today, an eight day celebration of the central tenet of our faith, Christ’s resurrection. The Church is reminding us that so important is our celebration of Christ’s resurrection, that it cannot be contained in a one day celebration. Nothing should deflect our attention away from what should be our central focus, the resurrection, not even St. John Paul II’s labeling of this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday, in honor of St. Faustina Kowalska.
There is no more beautiful opening prayer, Collect, than the one we are treated to on this Sunday:
God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the
paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your
own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all
may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been
washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose
Blood they have been redeemed.
Everything we have celebrated during this Octave, and everything we will celebrate for the entire Easter season, is beautifully represented in this prayer. Each and every time we gather together as a community of faith, we strive to “grasp and rightly understand in what font [we] have been washed, by whose Spirit [we] have been reborn, by whose Blood [we] have been redeemed.” The sacraments and our private devotions are meant to constantly remind us of the cost of our discipleship, what we celebrated during the Sacred Triduum. It is why, as the psalm refrain reminds us, we “give thanks to the Lord, for His love is everlasting.”
Today, and for some time throughout the Easter season, we will be getting a glimpse of the early, post-Resurrection church, through the readings from the Acts of the Apostles. The picture is somewhat idealized, but it is as close to a history book as any book in the New Testament. Many “wonders and signs” of the apostles are recounted at Mass during this Octave, and more will come during the longer Easter season. The first reading from Acts describes a tight knit community, where everything was held in “common,” selling “their property and possessions and dividing them among all according to each one’s need.” Notice how Jewish they still are, meeting in the Temple, and remembering Jesus by “breaking bread in their homes.” They are Jews who believe in Jesus as the long-awaited Christ, and the optimism of the early church is obvious in suggesting that they enjoyed the “favor of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The optimism of the Acts diminishes in our second reading from the first letter of Peter. By the time Peter is writing we are made aware that the early church no longer enjoys the “favor of all the people.” Peter acknowledges that “although for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter is the perfect segue for our gospel reading when he states “although you have not see him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Peter’s words will portend the words of Jesus in today’s gospel from John.
The gospel message is all the more important given that this is probably where the Gospel of John originally ended, since most scholars see chapter 21 as a later addition. Notice that this appearance of Jesus is on the same day as the resurrection, and the disciples were still frightened and hiding in a locked room. With no explanation, “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.” To frightened men and to us living in a troubled world, Jesus wishes us peace. He continuously desires to break through our fears, and He gives us the assurance that the wounds He bears were endured for us and for our salvation.
Sadly, the group was not quite complete and when Thomas arrives after Jesus’ manifestation, he is a bit too honest, saying “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thomas will forever, sadly, be labeled with the adjective “doubting,” on account of his honesty. He is no different than so many of us who at times seek some assurance that God is God. We want proofs or miracles, we want a vision of the peace that Jesus wishes for all people, and we want it now. When we are “suffering through the various trials” alluded to by Peter we want comfort and some serenity. And what’s so bad about doubting anyway? Thomas represents our humanity, which often cries out for a sign or proof that God has not abandoned us. In God’s time Jesus sought out Thomas, and after wishing him the peace He desires for all, He offered His wounds to Thomas’ touch, but that would not be necessary. Thomas could only profess “My Lord and my God.”
With no malice, Jesus says to Thomas words of great comfort for generations: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We will never have the privilege of walking and talking with the physical Jesus. Jesus was talking about us, and the countless throngs of people who have come to believe in Him after His Ascension to the Father. The signs are less dramatic than open wounds, but they are signs nonetheless, signs that display the impact on our world of that teacher from Nazareth. It might be in the unexpected kindness of a neighbor, it might be seen in the devotion of doctors, and nurses, and medical personnel during this time of pandemic. When anyone is seen as reaching out to help the less fortunate, when civil servants perform their tasks in spite of fear, when kindness is brought to places where there is no kindness, when people bring the Easter peace that Jesus wishes for all of us, it is then that we can “give thanks to the Lord for He is good,” and “His love is everlasting!” The evidence of God’s love is all around us. We just have to make the effort to see it.