May 1, 2011 — Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday
The joy of the Resurrection permeates all of the Christian life, for each aspect of our lives should be affected by the knowledge that Jesus has risen from the dead and shares eternal life with us. Death, as we experience it here on earth, is not the end!
This joy is the basis for our celebration not just on Easter Day but on through the Easter Season and even throughout the whole year. But the Octave of Easter (the eight days from Easter Day through the Second Sunday of Easter) is one continuous outburst of praise for all that God has done for us in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Church intends for us to maintain the intensity of our Easter celebration until this Sunday is over.
Joy and thanksgiving are paired together throughout the readings for today. They are prominent in the Responsorial Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.” We get the same note in the Second Reading from 1 Peter: “You rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” In the Gospel we read, “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”The Lord’s Resurrection would be enough to explain our joy, but there is more, because what Christ has done for us is the result of God’s love and mercy, which we celebrate today. In fact, the Hebrew word used in the Psalm, hesed, combines the concepts of both love and mercy in a way no single English word captures. The Responsorial Psalm, for example, uses the word “mercy” in the verses and “love” in the response. Other translations use “steadfast love” or “loving-kindness” to try to convey the meaning of the Hebrew. The basic idea has a broader sense of mercy than just the forgiveness of sins, although it includes that. It means that God’s love is constant and faithful, even when we are not, and his loving concern extends to our protection and care, weak as we are.
The results of God’s mercy are manifold. One is the authority to forgive sins, which Jesus gave to the apostles. Another is the promise, announced by St. Peter, that the Father “gave us a new birth to a living hope…for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith.” In other words, God’s mercy means that, because our sins are forgiven and Christ has risen from the dead, we have “an inheritance…the salvation of your souls.” We can be sure of it because God is faithful.
The First Reading from Acts 2 relates how the first Christians responded to their experience of God’s mercy. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.”
When he wrote Acts, St. Luke made it clear that their new faith made a difference in the lives of those in the Church at Jerusalem, a difference in the way they used their time, talent, and treasure. Not all Christians are called to have “all things in common.” That’s not mentioned as a practice at any other New Testament Church and has persisted only in smaller, distinctive groups such as religious orders. Nevertheless, it’s clear the believers in Jerusalem were serious about living as Christians. Devoting yourself to “communal life,” including meals and prayers, will change the way you use your time and talent and treasure.
But what would one expect? It does change your life when you experience the risen Jesus. Your entire worldview is altered when you, like Thomas, acknowledge Christ as “My Lord and my God!” Your life has a whole new meaning: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”