DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
During the Easter Season, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles authored by Luke. Acts, among other things, relates for us the development of the early church. This week’s reading tells how the working of signs and wonders led to great numbers joining the Church. Our second reading is from the Book of Revelation. Our Gospel this week recounts two post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples.
As you will see in your Missalette, the Second Sunday of Easter now has a subtitle, Divine Mercy Sunday―a reference to the Divine Mercy devotion made popular by St. Faustina Kowalska, which celebrates the wonderful mercy of God for the whole world.
FIRST READING: Acts 5:12-16
The Apostles are preaching the message of Christ in a hostile environment. Note the observation: “No one dared to join them.” But soon people are attracted by the power of the Apostles’ ability to heal the sick and cast out demons as a powerful sign that God’s Spirit is acting in and through them.
One of the “proofs” of the Resurrection is the transformation of fearful disciples into bold proclaimers of Jesus and his message. This is one way Luke shows that Jesus is alive in his followers. Also, we note that just as Jesus worked “many signs and wonders,” his followers, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, are also working “many signs and wonders” ―another “proof” of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead and of his presence in his new Church, the Body of Christ.
SECOND READING: Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19
John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, is writing from the island of Patmos where he is in exile, having been banished for his belief in Jesus. He is writing to fellow Christians who are also suffering for their faith. His correspondence seeks to give comfort to his audience.
Sustained by a firm faith in God’s power to save, and strengthened by the conviction that God will not abandon his followers to the forces of evil, John entrusts his present fears and future hopes to God and invites his readers to do likewise. The basic message of his book is: Evil will not triumph over goodness, neither will the evil of Rome nor the evil of death caused by persecution.
The “seven lampstands” is a reference not just to seven churches, but also to all Christian churches, seven being the number that symbolizes perfection or totality. Jesus, the “Son of Man,” is in their midst. Because of his presence, there is “nothing to fear.” Because of his Resurrection, Jesus “holds the keys over death.” By standing with Jesus, Christians are assured of victory over all adversaries―even death.
GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
This Gospel, especially the first part of it, is often called “John’s Pentecost” because in it, Jesus imparts his Holy Spirit to those present. In the first scene, Jesus comes to a group of fear-filled, guilt-ridden and depressed disciples. He stands in their midst and offers them four gifts: peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and the power to forgive sins. Because they abandoned Jesus in his hour of need, the Apostles must likely have felt a great need for “shalom,” i.e., God’s peace and reconciliation. The joy at seeing Jesus replaces the depression caused by his absence. The gift of the Holy Spirit empowers the Apostles to go forth and preach the Good News, casting aside all fear. The power to forgive sins enables them to impart to others the saving power of Jesus. In time, these words will be looked upon as the Church’s basis for the sacrament of Reconciliation. Sins will be “retained” or not forgiven if people are not truly sorry for them or are unwilling to embrace Jesus’ teachings.
By sharing with the disciples his wounds (“He showed them his hands and side.”), Jesus is assuring them that it is really him and not some ghost. He is also teaching them that there is no Easter glory without Good Friday pain.’
Some scholars see Jesus’ appearance to Thomas as representing the second generation of Christians, those called to believe on the testimony of others.
Though we may judge Thomas harshly, Jesus takes him where he is at. From Thomas we learn how to be honest with our doubts. If Thomas needed to touch the wounds of Christ, Jesus would oblige him. The Gospel does not say that Thomas actually touches the wound only that he cries out in faith: “My Lord and my God!” It is a story for all of us who may sometimes experience doubt concerning matters of faith. Jesus too will be patient with us and will help us overcome our doubts if we cooperate with his grace-filled touch upon our lives. To believe in Jesus’ Resurrection means more an intellectual assent. It also signifies that we too are sent to share the Good News with others.
Have you ever experienced doubt or have had a faith crisis in your Christian journey? If so, what was that like for you? What helped you to get through that difficult time?