Twenty-fourth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday
Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31
Well, here we are at the crux of the Year of Mercy (or at least of this series!): Divine Mercy Sunday, the Octave Day of Easter, the day on which Jesus displayed that great mercy of His to the doubting Apostle Thomas, appearing before him so that he might come to believe. As it is recounted in today’s Gospel reading, there was no judgment or punishment cast upon Thomas for his honest doubt; instead, Jesus showed that same impartial love and that same reconciling charity that we are all called to show, so that we may all be “merciful like the Father.” When God’s mercy is our priority, that is when the Church is fully the Church. That is when we are most fully aware that Jesus dwells in our midst.
This is theme that permeates our readings today, this very real indwelling of Jesus in His Church. In ancient times, God dwelled within the Temple and in a cloud above the Ark, and in this way He was present within the midst of His people Israel. But the Incarnation made the presence of God on earth not more real but more sensible: more visible, more tangible, more recognizable to our senses. And now, in His Resurrection – which was no mere reanimation but a transfiguration, a physical glorification, an historical mystery – He is truly present wherever and however He wills. He is present twice before His Apostles in the Gospel, although they cower in a locked room. He is present within His Apostles as they comfort the sick of body and soul in the First Reading, where even contact with Peter’s passing shadow was enough for those who believe. And He continues to be present 2000 years after these events within the co-existing physical and spiritual reality of both the Blessed Sacrament and Christian charity.
Perhaps the most mystical statement of the risen Jesus’ continuous presence in His Church comes from our Second Reading, taken from the Book of Revelation. Filled with apocalyptic symbolism and imagery, this last book of the New Testament can be a rather daunting and heavy read. But understanding the codes in which it was written – in which, at that time, it had to be written – gives us an inestimable link back to the early Church and Her context, to the way in which She saw Herself and Her relationship to both God and the world around it. In this reading, the author receives a vision of the glorified and risen Jesus, “the one who lives,” dressed in white and gold, standing among seven golden lampstands. The lampstands, we learn a bit later in the book, each signify a particular Church community within the Roman province of Asia, to whom the letters in the next chapters of the book are addressed. And that they are made of gold signifies how precious each community is to God – so precious that He will continuously refine them to preserve their luster. But the fact that there are seven of them hints at a greater reality. As the sum of the numbers three and four, which signify heaven and earth respectively, the number seven represents both dimensions of creation, God’s handiwork which He labored over six days to fashion and rested from on the seventh to consecrate. It is the number of completeness, of perfection; it signifies the union of the heavenly and the earthly, of the divine and the human. These seven lampstands therefore signify not just seven individual churches, but the Church as a united whole, a communion of the faithful on earth with the blessed in heaven.
And there, “in the midst of the lampstands,” is the God-Man, once dead and now alive, ”the first and the last.” The author falls down at the sight “as though dead,” and Jesus, Who “hold[s] the keys to death and the netherworld,” bids him rise and shake off his fear. Just as He bid Thomas “not be unbelieving, but believe” as He offered him His hands and side. Just as He bid all those who saw the Apostles to come and join with them (even though some did not dare) and to be healed by them. Jesus is truly “the one who lives,” the eighth point around which other seven revolve. He is the eighth and eternal day, the new Sabbath of the renewed creation. He is the One Who came to show, in all He did and said – even and especially in His redemptive Passion and Resurrection – His Father’s impartial love and reconciling charity so that we might show that same Divine Mercy to each other.
Upon his conversion Jesus tells Saint Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” If we are “merciful like the Father,” how can we not see?
We’re all going to have our Thomas moments. May we all have Jesus moments just as readily.