Father Donald Senior, CP

April 19: Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Love wounds

Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

This is the second Sunday during what must be one of the most unusual Easter seasons in recent history, as all of us try to cope with the pandemic and our churches standing empty. In many ways, the Lectionary readings for this Sunday seem strangely apt for this moment.

First of all, this Sunday is designated as Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast inaugurated by St. Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000, the day he canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who had a vision of Jesus requesting that this Sunday be a celebration of God’s mercy. 

Anyone who has read the Scriptures knows that our God is a God of mercy, whose love and compassion are ever available to us. That, in fact, is the recurring motif of Psalm 118, the response Psalm for this Sunday: “Let the house of Israel say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’”

The same motif of God’s lavish mercy is proclaimed in the opening lines of this Sunday’s second reading, taken from the First Letter of Peter, one of the New Testament’s most beautiful books: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

What Gospel story could be more appropriate for this time than John’s account of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection? The disciples, John notes, are still stunned by Jesus’ death and they huddle together in fear behind locked doors. Suddenly, the Risen Christ breaks through their isolation and brings them a greeting of healing peace.  

But there is something more here, something astounding and unanticipated. The Risen Christ still bears the wounds of his crucifixion and “he showed them his hands and his side.” 

Jesus “breathes” new life in them — the life of the Spirit. His wounds are startling reminders of how his love and mercy for them were revealed — in Jesus’ giving of his life for them.

To drive this point home, John’s account notes that one of the disciples, Thomas, was absent when Christ first appeared. Thomas refuses to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples, particularly the display of Jesus’ wounds. “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,” he says. 

So the Risen Jesus comes again with his message of peace and shows those wounds to the doubting Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side.” Overcome with this appearance of the wounded and risen Christ, Thomas utters one of the strongest confessions of faith in Jesus in the entire New Testament: “My Lord and my God!”

What are we to make of this strange encounter? Perhaps we are so used to hearing this Gospel story that we lose sight of its staggering beauty.

There are some wounds, we know, that are earned because of heroic love. For example, recently I saw photos of a firefighter whose hands had been severely burned and forever immobile because he had rescued a child from a burning home. We have all seen news clips of veterans struggling for rehabilitation after having lost their limbs in combat. Every day now, especially, we hear about first responders and health care workers catching COVID-19 because they ministered to those who are ill.

This is not a new idea. Jesus reminded his disciples on the eve of his death that there is “no greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Paul the Apostle, who was flogged several times during his mission, told the Christians in Galatia: “I bear the brandmarks of Jesus on my body.” These were signs of Paul’s love for Christ and his people.

In this strange Easter season, we are reminded that God’s sacrificial love for us is far more powerful than any form of death. 

 

Topics:

  • scripture

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