A reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday
The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, marking the fifty days between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Easter lasts even longer than Lent!
The Gospel for this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, is an account that spans eight days. It begins on the evening of the day of the resurrection. Three days after they abandoned Jesus on His way to the Cross, the apostles are in hiding, locked in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews. Jesus comes to encounter them and His first words to them are: “Peace be with you.” The disciples rejoice as He shows them the wounds on His hands and side, showing them that He truly is Jesus, risen and alive. A second time He tells them: “Peace be with you… As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathes on them and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.
The encounter continues eight days later with the well-known experience of 'doubting' Thomas. Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared and does not believe the other apostles when they tell them they have seen the Lord. One week later, Thomas is now present and Jesus returns. His first words are once again: “Peace be with you.” Jesus invites Thomas to touch His wounds, and Thomas believes.
The familiarity of this Gospel story can make us lose sight of how unbelievable it is. From a human perspective, Jesus’ approach is totally unthinkable. Imagine teaching and guiding a group of twelve friends for three years, only to have them betray and abandon you in your hour of greatest need. Imagine none of them standing up for you as you are unjustly sentenced to die. How do we respond when our friends flee at the moment of our greatest suffering? How would we feel if no one had stood up to plead our cause against hateful crowds?
Jesus could have returned to the apostles with rage, spitting fury and condemnation. He could have said to them, “Hypocrites! You say you will die for me yet you leave me to die! What did I do to deserve this?”
Instead, the very first response of Jesus, not having seen his apostles since the night He was betrayed, is: “Peace be with you.” Peace. Jesus does not seek an explanation, He does not demand retribution. Jesus forgives. He gives peace.
Having risen from the dead, Jesus’ forgiveness resurrects His disciples. His mercy gives them life. This is the deepest meaning of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He does not give His life begrudgingly. He goes to the Cross freely. He rises triumphant. He returns to give His apostles the gift of peace. Jesus could have returned to chastise the apostles. “How dare you abandon the Son of Man?” “What did I do to make you flee?” “I would never have abandoned you
!” But what good would this have done? The much greater lesson, the much greater transformation comes from His totally unfathomable forgiveness.
What do we learn from this for our own lives?
First, Jesus wants this same forgiveness for each of us.
God became man to save each of us. The mission of Jesus was to bring us salvation. To restore the peace that is destroyed by our sin. God has no interest in hanging on to our sin. God gains nothing by keeping us in our sins. The whole life of Jesus is to take away our sin. He wants to give us peace. Nothing we can do takes away His desire to forgive us. Nothing is so bad that it cannot be forgiven by God. We need only open ourselves to receive His mercy. His mercy is greater than our sins. It is our peace.
Second, Jesus invites us to forgive others as we are forgiven by Him.
Forgiving is not only good for the other person and our relationship with them. Our mercy resurrects others. At the same time, it is also good for us. Forgiving brings us
peace. It resurrects us. It frees us from grudges, from clinging to anger, from the resentment that leads to unrest within us. Forgiving is letting the other person know that they are still good, even if they have done wrong. Forgiving tells the other person that they can still be loved, even when they have not been loving.
Forgiving frees. It brings peace. It is the gift of Jesus to each of us. He invites us to give this gift it to one another.