The celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday usually focuses on the sheer ecstasy of His victory over death. All during Holy Week, we are absorbed with the details of His horrific Passion. When we reach Easter, our hearts nearly burst with joy that Jesus is alive and vindicated as God’s Son. In other words, it’s easy to dwell on the fact of the Resurrection and be so dazzled by it that we do not think much beyond that. The mercy of Divine Mercy Sunday (yes, intended pun) is that now we begin to meditate on the meaning of the Resurrection. Today’s Gospel gets us started.
When Jesus miraculously appears among the apostles, we find they are locked in a room “for fear of the Jews.” These fellows have not lately impressed us, have they? His closest friends (Peter, James, and John) slept instead of keeping watch and praying in Gethsemane. All the apostles except John fled the Crucifixion, and they were all reluctant to believe the witness of the women to whom Jesus first appeared. Yet the word Jesus speaks to them is, “Peace.” Then He commissions them to continue the work the Father sent Him to do. If the Gospel reading stopped right here, we would still have enough information to knock us over backwards with joy: Jesus loves sinners! These men were often feckless and self-absorbed, yet when He goes to them, He gives them peace and joy. Can any scene in the Gospels demonstrate more clearly than this one the meaning of Easter?
Jesus then does something truly astounding. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” What?? Are we prepared to see this in the story? Jesus breathed His own breath on the very people who failed Him in His hour of need. This action reminds us of God breathing into Adam’s nostrils His own breath at Creation, confirming him in “the image and likeness of God.” Jesus establishes the apostles as those who will continue His divine work on earth. In them, God will forgive or retain sin. What can explain Jesus building a Church that is both human and divine other than the boundless mercy of God?
We find that one of the apostles, Thomas, was missing from this momentous occasion. When he gets the report of it, he refuses to believe it. He must see and touch the wounds of Jesus to be convinced. We don’t know why Thomas doubted the men with whom he’d spent the last three years and who, along with himself, had been chosen as Jesus’ closest intimates. His refusal to believe makes us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? His doubt and cynicism don’t seem to come from a good place, yet Jesus appears and gives him precisely what he needs for faith. Mercy! This river of mercy is starting to gain momentum. Jesus then helps us to understand where the river is headed: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.” This happy river is coming our way. It will flow out to everyone, everywhere, in all times. Those who believe in Jesus without ever seeing Him are going to be swept up in the torrent of God’s mercy for sinners.
If we have been slow on the uptake, St. John puts it all together for us: “These [signs of the Risen Jesus] are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief, you might have life in His Name”. The meaning of the Resurrection is the triumph of mercy and new life for sinners. Isn’t this a great Day?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, I know myself to be as weak, fickle, and hard-hearted as the apostles sometimes were; thank You for the mercy You offered to them and to me.
First Reading (Read Acts 4:32-35)
Our Gospel reading ended with St. John inviting his readers to believe the testimony of the apostles “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” This belief leads to “new life in His Name.” In Acts, St. Luke describes for us what this “new life” looked like in the very first converts to Christian faith. If we had to summarize this brief reading about the early Christians, what would we say? They loved each other! We cannot miss the fact that their conversion bore the fruit of brotherly love. They were of “one heart and mind.” Their generosity was astonishing, as they resolved to have “no needy person among them.” They willingly sold personal possessions so that they could materially care for everyone.
What explains this kind of behavior? How do people get to the point of being able to lay down everything for the sake of others? The answer is in our Gospel reading: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” In its context, this is Jesus’ charge to the apostles to carry on His work after His departure. Theirs is, of course, a unique work with its unique charism from the Holy Spirit. Yet we can see the principle underlying it is Jesus’ desire for His followers to be like Him in the world. He showed mercy to sinners by holding nothing back. These early converts, having understood the mercy offered to them in Jesus, also lived this new life of mercy and self-donation.
Once we really understand the mercy God has shown to us, can we ever be the same?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, please help me offer as much mercy to others as I hope to receive from You.
Psalm (Read Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)
Today, the psalmist simply cannot stop praising the mercy of God. How appropriate that this should be our liturgical response on Divine Mercy Sunday. The psalmist explains the cause of his joy in very few words: “I was hard pressed and was falling, but the Lord helped me.” Don’t these words describe the plight of all mankind, from Adam to us? Ever since the Fall, we have staggered and tripped in our sin, completely unable to help ourselves. Even the apostles, when Jesus most needed them, caved into fear and self-preservation. Nevertheless, Jesus died for them and for us: “By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.”
Of course it is! That is why our responsorial today calls us to “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love is everlasting.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read 1 Jn 5:1-6)
In Acts, we saw St. Luke’s description of how the river of mercy released by Jesus in His Resurrection flowed into and transformed the early converts. Now, St. John explains the inner dynamic of how this river works in us. “Beloved: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by Him.” Here we see the unbreakable link between our belief in Jesus—that is, we believe He has shown great mercy to us—and our love of one another.
See that St. John is realistic enough to know that love for others requires a battle: “Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.” By “the world,” St. John means everything that is indifferent or resistant to both God and man. We all have a dose of this “world” in us. That is why it is hard to love others, even when we want to, unless we have faith: “the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” Our ability to love others must always be grounded in our belief “that Jesus is the Christ,” because that belief enables us to see, as Thomas did in the Gospel, that He is “my Lord and my God.” He died for me! We bathe ourselves in that river of mercy, and we know it wants to keep on flowing. This is the true test of our conversion: “We know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep His commandments.”
Knowing this, we can echo today’s Collect prayer in the Mass: “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.” Amen.
Possible response: Father, sometimes “the world” seems stronger than my faith. Help me remember that it isn’t.