Apr 21, 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy

"My Lord and my God!"

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
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)

The use of our senses is indispensable to our learning about the world around us.  An infant completely relies on its sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight in order to perceive what the world is like.  When frightened, the embrace of a parent brings comfort. When confused, the sight of a smile and the comforting sound of its mother bring a sense of safety.  We learn that something is hot or cold by touching it. 

In the resurrection appearances which we hear from throughout this beautiful Easter season, we too come to faith in the risen Lord.  But our perception is generally by hearing. Through our hearing of the encounters with the risen Lord, we come to believe. Through reception of the sacraments, however, we have a tactile, tasteful, fragrant experience of the Lord’s presence which is alive in those mysterious encounters.  Yet, were the Apostles more fortunate than us? 

There seems to be no doubt that the Apostles were given a completely sensory experience of the risen Lord.  He appeared to them in his risen body which they could touch as flesh and bones.  He shared food with them which they could see he ate.  They could hear his voice and see him with their eyes.  Through this sensory experience, they could not deny the truth of the resurrection.  How could they not believe what they saw with their eyes or heard with their ears?  They could preach with confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit what they absolutely knew to be true. 

In the well-known encounter this Sunday between Jesus and the Apostle Thomas I think we see a man who wants to believe the story of his brothers that Jesus had come to them alive again: “We have seen the Lord!”  Maybe there was a bit of jealousy on Thomas’ part that they were there and he wasn’t?  It really doesn’t matter as such but Thomas’ reaction is telling: “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 needs to have the same sensory experience that his brothers had earlier enjoyed.  I wonder if the tables were turned and it was any of the other Apostles who had not been there; if they too would have said the same.  After all, this claim that he had risen was quite bold. 

Although Jesus had spoken of his suffering, death and resurrection - of his coming back three days later - these men did not completely comprehend this great mystery.  The resurrection of the dead was believed by certain Jewish leaders such as the Pharisees but it was believed to be at a much later time - some time for the dead in the future hope.  But, for Jesus to appear transformed in glory three days after his death was quite a stretch. These were not scripture scholars or theologians.  

So, Jesus appears again and this time Thomas is there.  He touches the risen Christ, he sees his wounds, he hears his voice and sees him with his own eyes.  His only reaction is to say: “My Lord and my God.”  Thomas has now come to faith through the use of his human senses.  I cannot deny that Jesus is the Christ of God. 

These tactile experiences of the risen Lord were essential for the Apostles considering what they would be up against.  But for us? 

This Sunday we mark the Divine Mercy of God.  Jesus showed infinite patience and mercy to those who had just a few days before abandoned him.  To Peter who had denied he even knew him and I would believe that had Judas repented, our Lord would have shown the same mercy and forgiveness to him.  Our faith, through our sensory experiences of the sacraments and through the inspiration of the faith of others, through our experience of charitable works, can become strong and convincing. Our second reading from Peter says it beautifully: Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him . . . This is indeed our Easter faith.  

No, we may not be fortunate as the Apostles were, yet our experience of the risen Lord is exponentially greater.  The Apostles and the earliest of Christians had their newfound faith and they lived it and preached it boldly. Yet, truth is, we have so much more than they did.  We have the benefit of thousands of years of reflection, the sacraments especially the holy Eucharist, Saints, theologians, scholars, the lived experience of the Church, a history of miracles and thousands of Christian witnesses and martyrs all which testify and confirm the truth of the risen Christ and God's great mercy shown to humanity.  All of this should leave no doubt that Jesus is Savior and Lord. 

Since the Apostles, the Body of Christ, the Church, has expanded far beyond Jerusalem and the infancy of Christianity. Yet, we are more like Thomas and Peter at times than maybe we want to admit.  So, in this Easter season it is a renewed faith in the risen Lord whose presence becomes especially true at the breaking of bread. In the Eucharist, Christ shares his very life with us.  His true presence in his body and blood compels us to go and tell others what we too have seen, heard, and experienced.

May God’s ever abundant Divine Mercy be for us all a hope.  My Lord and my God should be on our lips and in our heart each day.