Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday of Divine Mercy
Today, we hear John’s account of the first Easter “octave.” After rising from the tomb on the day after the Holy Sabbath, Jesus came and stood among the disciples on the evening of that first day of the new week. From that point on, the joy of the resurrection is not merely his own, but that of the Church whom he sends out, in the Spirit, for the forgiveness of sins. The Church’s task is not only to proclaim this redemption, but it is also to play an active role in helping to bring it about, since “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The Holy Spirit is truly given, and to disregard what the Church proclaims under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to disregard the Spirit itself. And yet, that is what we see happen, even this first octave. When the disciples proclaim to Thomas that they have seen the Lord, they do not do so to simply inform him of some curious bit of trivia. They share the good news and the new life that they have been commissioned to proclaim by Jesus himself on the first day of the week, the day of his resurrection. Nonetheless, Thomas, who has been prepared for this proclamation through his life as a disciple, does not believe his brothers: he disregards the witness of the Church.
It is easy to romanticize and idealize Thomas’ refusal to believe, for his stubbornness was, in a way, undergirded by God’s grace. Thomas knew and loved Jesus, and so even in this momentary refusal to acknowledge this new thing that Jesus was doing through the Church, he still remained sufficiently devoted to Jesus such that when Jesus did come to him at the end of this first octave, Thomas could finally recognize the new thing that Christ was doing and proclaim Jesus to be his Lord and his God. Thomas’ lack of faith was a lack of faith in God working in the Church, and as such, it was a lack of faith in God himself. But Jesus refuses to leave him in this place, for the redemption is not merely a personal redemption in which one only deals with God face to face (though it is that as well). Rather, God does something far more glorious: not only does Jesus rise from the dead, but he redeems those to whom he offers his Spirit to such an extent that the Church can truly be an instrument of God in the proclamation and transmission of the fullness of life that God offers us. Thomas, too, is to have a key part in that Church, for Jesus, in his great mercy, offers Thomas the breathtaking grace of being able to see and touch Jesus in the flesh so that he might believe. But with this grace comes a command, “do not be unbelieving, but believe!”
Some of us may yearn to see Jesus “in the flesh” as Thomas did, but Jesus’ last words are rather, “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” In fact, we do see Jesus in the flesh, by serving “the least of these” (Cf. Mt 25:40) and in the witness of the Church, which, especially in these days, is called more and more to be like Christ in laying down its life for its friends (Cf. Jn 15:13). Let us ask the Lord for an ever deeper sense of how the Holy Spirit guides us through the Church and also for the grace that Jesus may come to us in our unbelief and help us to know him. The faith that we are offered is not an idea to be thought about, but nothing less than the fullness of life that Christ offers to us in his flesh and in our own, in every moment of our existence.