IN THE OCEAN OF MERCY
Today the Low Sunday or Second Sunday of Easter is exactly eight days after Easter and with it, we conclude the Octave of Easter. Easter is the most solemn of all Christian feasts and it is so great an event that one-day celebration does not suffice. We needed eight days of liturgical celebrations to contemplate and assimilate the Easter mysteries just as the case with every other highly important Jewish and Christian feast.
Come to think of the worst weekend you ever had! Just think what kind of weekend the apostles had on that first Easter weekend. They must have been suffering from a severe dose of devastation, disappointment, and depression since Good Friday. Remember the weekend before Easter when the same crowd that welcomed Jesus with palms as he entered Jerusalem turned against him on Good Friday morning calling for the release of Barabbas and the death of Jesus. The apostles, so disappointed too on the shameful demise of their master were very afraid of the Jews and as such had to hide. Wow! Come to think of the sudden change/turn of events warranted by Christ’s resurrection.
Come to think of the hilarious joys that replaced the disenchantment and disillusionment of the apostles of Jesus at His resurrection. It all began on Easter Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, and appeared on the same day to Mary Magdalene and the other women, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to the gathering of the apostles. He did not appear to them again until “a week after“ (Jn 20:26), that is, the following Sunday. Without exception, all the recorded appearances of the risen Lord to his followers took place on no other day of the week than Sunday. This made the group of believers set Sunday apart as the day when the risen Lord comes to be with his people gathered in worship to share with them the word of life and to break bread with them. This is how they came to recognize Sunday as the dies Dominica, “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). Hence today Sunday has become the original Christian day of worship no longer the Sabbath day. After the Lord’s ascension into heaven, the disciples continued to gather together in worship on Sundays, in the expectation that the Lord Jesus would come to be in their midst and fellowship with them as he had promised.
At each appearance, Jesus always had a particular message for his Apostles. On the resurrection day being last Sunday His first message to the women was ‘Do not be afraid. Today, Jesus’ first message in the gathering of His Apostles is ‘PEACE BE WITH YOU’. Secondly, He said, ‘“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This is a Divine power given to his disciples and handed down to his Church and to our priests. But, it is God who really gives pardon and peace. The priest, who takes the place of the ‘disciples of Jesus today absolves in the name of the Church, thereof freeing the penitent from guilt and blame. With these words, Jesus already defines His mission agenda to His Apostles. Thus that they may become instruments of peace among men. Secondly, that they become means of reconciling men in the bond of peace with God through the sacrament of reconciliation/confession. Little wonder Js.5.16 recommends we confess our sins. Unfortunately not very many of us take this sacrament which Jesus instituted by Himself as a means of bringing us to that bond of peace which He desires for us with God in heaven.
The appearance of Jesus to His Apostles was heralded with great joy. Unfortunately Thomas the twin was not present amidst the other apostles at the coming of Christ. I wonder how long this past one week seemed to Thomas after Jesus’ first visit to His Apostles. Think of Thomas’s emotional condition following his absence at the first visit of Jesus. Because by last Sunday evening, Jesus appeared to all the disciples except Thomas and it wasn’t until a week later, or this evening, that Thomas himself saw Jesus and believed that he had risen from the dead. He wants scientific proof for God and fails to realize that there does not have to be any conflict between faith and science, or between faith and reason. The situation was very devastating to him especially as at the time, he didn’t know that Jesus would appear to him. It was just too much for him to believe that Jesus was alive again. He wasn’t ready to bear the risk a second time. And it must have been so hard for him missing seeing Jesus. These troubles of the mind made him desire a scientific proof of Jesus’ resurrection. To avoid this kind of risk Thomas took to the adage once beaten twice shy.
Today is also known as the ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.’ We celebrate the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ to Sr. Faustina in the 1930s and promised that he would bestow his Divine Mercy to any sinner that totally repents his/her sins, no matter the gravity, and our Lord would not refuse any soul that seeks his mercy. Today we also join the universal church celebrating an example of God’s mercy and gratuitousness to man following the canonization of our beloved Pontiffs: Pope John Paul II and John XXIII. Pope John Paul was a preacher and exemplary of divine Mercy while Pope John XXIII revivified the Church and is known for convening in 1962 the Second Vatican Council, a gathering of bishops that played a key role in modernizing Catholicism by making changes such as allowing the use of vernacular in Masses and recognizing freedom of conscience and democracy. In them, we see the manifestation of Divine Mercy. It is not a mere coincidence that in the private revelations that Sr. Faustina received Jesus asked on numerous occasions that a feast day be dedicated to the Divine Mercy and that this feast be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. Therefore, on 30th April 2000, on the canonization of Sr. Faustina, Pope John Paul II said, “It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church, will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’. In brief, this Sunday invites us to contemplate the mercy of God. We experience this Divine Mercy very tangibly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation whereupon we experience and come in contact with the fullness of unmerited favor and gratuitous gift of God’s mercy. Thus in the sacrament of confession, we are not just forgiven but our offenses are forgotten and we are taken as not have sinned before- DIVINE AMNESTY
The First Reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about life in the early church immediately after the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was centered around the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. The believers lived in and for a community and had possessions in common. Everybody had loving concern for one another and forgave one another. This is what the PEACE Jesus proclaims today did in the hearts of the Apostles. To what extent have you been able to reflect this desire of Christ in the little community around you: family, co-workers, etc;
Remember to be part of the life of your community. My question remains, where was Thomas when Christ came? Brothers and sisters let’s mind how we exclude ourselves from common worship and all community engagements. Do we have to look far to see such Thomases in our society today, men and women who claim to seek the risen Lord, but who seek him outside the worshipping and believing community? He sought for Christ with his reason, not faith, away from the community not within! May the risen Lord help us Amen.
Join Sunday homily with Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu on www.anacletusogbunkwu.com