Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11)

“The Lord is risen; alleluia!”

“He is risen indeed! Alleluia, alleluia!”

The celebration of the Lord’s resurrection continues on this Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus’ victory over death manifests God’s loving mercy on his people. His triumph is fueled by an outpouring of merciful love. Pope St. John Paul II designated this Second Sunday of Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday” to emphasize God’s mercy as it is tied to the paschal mystery – Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

In today’s Gospel account, we hear of Jesus’ appearance on Easter Sunday evening. The apostles are locked in a room, full of fear at what had happened to Jesus. The locked room seems to symbolize their lives bounded by fear, sadness and guilt. Three times in this short passage Jesus greets them with the words, “Peace be with you.” The peace Jesus brings is one that will break the chains of fear. His resurrection shatters the fetters of death and sin. The peace he brings carries with it reconciliation and healing.

All through the Gospel, Jesus has been forming the apostles to carry on his mission after his resurrection and return to the Father. The mission is rooted in reconciliation and love. The healing accomplished for all humanity, through his passion, death and resurrection, is carried forth to the world by those whom he “sends,” the apostles, a name that literally means “one who is sent.”

He instructs them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So, in this Easter appearance, Jesus pours forth the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

The reconciliation won by Jesus is to be shared. He commissions the apostles to carry forth this mission of healing founded on and rooted in his passion, death and resurrection.

In the first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we see a living manifestation of the healing that has occurred. The passage describes some of the key characteristics of the early church. They are a “community of believers.” Their faith makes them of “one heart and mind,” so much so that “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” The communion built on love and mercy ensured that everyone, especially the poor among them, was included in the life of the community and were provided help.

The First Letter of John reminds us that our participation in the victory of Christ is expressed through faith. That faith is manifest when we keep his commandments. Just as Jesus was faithful to the Father in following his will, we remain faithful by keeping his commandments. Following Jesus means walking the path of love and mercy, eyes focused on him as he leads and guides us forward to the Father. It is this faith that conquers the world.

Faith is challenging at times. We certainly see this in Thomas’ experience related in the Gospel passage. He was not in the room that Easter night. When the others told him about the Resurrection, he refused to believe, and he was adamant about it. The fear, sadness, grief and guilt that bound the others bound him as well.

One gets the impression that there was so much weighing him down that he was afraid to believe — afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to trust. When Jesus returns again, he recognizes the healing that is needed. He immediately goes to Thomas and shows him his hands and side. In other words, Jesus offers himself, once again, in love and mercy.

Thomas, now filled with faith, makes the boldest and clearest and most succinct manifestation of faith by acclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus responds, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Faith brings with it a participation in divine love and mercy.

Celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, we rejoice at God’s love and mercy. Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection deliver us from fear, heal our sins and free us from death. We now hear the call to rejoice, encapsulated in the responsorial psalm, with a new depth of meaning. The joy is now complete and cannot be taken away.

And so, with “one heart and mind,” we respond, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting,” and “his mercy endures forever.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.