Aloha friends. What a week! No matter what you had going on this past week, I hope there was room to enjoy the emotion of, “He is risen, alleluia.” On Ash Wednesday and the first few days of Lent, we talked about what we could do to make Easter different this year, more than just another step in the annual calendar. If you had a serious spiritual walk this Lent, you now are enjoying the fruits of the meditation, the commitment, and changes in lifestyle that have you in a new, better place.
Each of our scriptures today is a message from the other side of the cross. The readings tell of what happened beyond the public ministry of Jesus. The Gospel speaks of Jesus in his resurrected form. He is alive but different than what the disciples knew before. In that appearance, Jesus brings words of faith and commission. He also brings words of peace.
The second reading from the book of Revelation gives an image that describes Jesus in his divine form. John says he saw seven gold lampstands and one like a son of man amid the lampstands. Revelation says that when John caught sight of him, “he fell down at his feet as though dead.” John says, “He touched me with his right hand” and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” These are the same messages given to the disciples in John’s Gospel.
The first reading from Acts of the Apostles describes how the first Christians experienced life in the early Church. Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. People gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed in Spirit to the apostles. They even sought to be in the shadow of Peter. They were all cured.
The lessons on this Divine Mercy Sunday are multiple. First, the resurrected body is different from our earthly form. In pondering the resurrection of the body, people wonder if I will get the body I had at twenty or the one I have now? The answer is evident in Jesus’ presence after the resurrection. It will be a new and wonderful form. Second, Jesus left the disciples and his Church with a means of mercy through the forgiveness of sins. We call that confession or penance or reconciliation. Third, if you struggle in faith, and most of us do, you are not alone. Even the disciples who walked with Jesus struggled. Think of Peter and his denials or Thomas and his unbelief without seeing.
So today, in John’s Gospel, we find the disciples in a state of inaction following the death of Jesus. They are in a locked room and fearful. Suddenly, Jesus came and stood in their midst. In John’s description, the disciples say nothing.
You can imagine the shock when Jesus arrives in the middle of a locked room. This man that they saw die was with them. Remember, up to this point, few of the disciples had seen any image of Jesus in his divine form. Only three saw the Transfiguration. Only two or three had any post-resurrection encounter, be it at the tomb or in places like the Road to Emmaus. Now he was with ten of the twelve right before their eyes.
Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side. Still speechless, they let Jesus breathe on them. As Jesus does this, he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit, we know, comes gifts. The Spirit brings wisdom, self-control, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. In short, the Spirit opens our eyes and gives us the tools to live our Christianity in the open. That is what happened that day when Jesus came into that room. We know from then on that the disciples were men of courage who transformed the world.
In that locked room, Jesus also gave them the commission to carry on his work and bring his divine mercy to humanity. Jesus says to the disciples, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This is a powerful commission. This commission is the foundation of our Church’s mission of mercy, compassion, and justice.
The disciples were given authority to forgive sins. Think about what good news this is. With this commission, we human beings have the means to be freed from the burden of guilt and know that God has forgiven us. People sometimes scoff at the need to go to confession or mock the authority the Church claims to forgive sins. This scripture is plain as day about the good and necessary reasons to come to confession. Think about this and how it applies to our lives. The disciples were imperfect people. We read about their weaknesses and failings, including Thomas’s lack of faith. Yet Jesus gave these imperfect guys the power to forgive sins. People came to them to receive God’s mercy. Beyond these first disciples, it would seem ridiculous for Jesus to leave the world with nothing to carry on this mercy. When Jesus commissioned Peter to be the foundation of a church, he gave humanity a way to continue this mercy until the Lord comes again. In this Church, we have the means to find mercy and forgiveness.
There are lessons for us. I know most Catholics don’t go to confession on a regular basis or ever. I understand the logic. First, there is the reality of a personal relationship with God. Why go to a priest when God’s forgiveness is what matters. Second, most of us know our priests well enough to see imperfections that come with their humanity. It might seem silly to sit in a room and speak to an imperfect priest about our sins, looking for forgiveness from God. Yet, this is precisely what Jesus left us as a way to experience His mercy in this world. Honestly, this is why I go to confession. When I step into confession, I experience God’s mercy that goes beyond what I can get in a personal conversation with the invisible God. It is good to tell our most embarrassing failures to somebody who can verbalize before us that our sins are forgiven and go in peace. People spend fortunes with psychoanalysts seeking that same peace without the same divine guarantee.
So today, let’s mimic the “believing” Thomas. As we proclaim he is risen, alleluia, we also say, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus assures us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That’s us, friends. He is risen, alleluia! All say, AMEN, AMENE.
Deacon Jim Krupka