April 3, 2016 –– The Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 5:12–16 / from Psalm 118 / Revelation 1:9–11a, 12–13, 17–19 / John 20:19–31
The gospels do not tell us what Jesus looked like. We do not know how tall he was, the shade or texture of his hair, or the shape of his nose. Pictures of Jesus are mostly a figment of the artist's imagination. Even those inspired by visions are, at best, private revelation, and not infallibly true. The first chapter of Revelation gives us a verbal picture of Jesus, but it’s surreal––beyond literal description, because Jesus is the risen, glorified Christ.
The writer is John, the man who Scripture calls “the disciple Jesus loved”––the one who laid his head on Jesus' shoulder at the Last Supper. John hears a voice and turns around to see who is speaking: I saw…. one like the Son of Man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead (v.12–17a). This disciple, who was the man closest to Jesus when he was on earth, turns around and sees the Son of God––and falls to his feet like a dead man!
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Mercy is, indeed, Jesus on the cross, shedding tears and inviting us to believe in the incredible love of God. But the reason it is mercy is because, ultimately, Jesus is the Lord with blazing eyes and a tongue like a double-edged sword, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth (Rev 1:5). One day we all will face him in all his power and glory. He will ask each of us: Have you lived believing me, loving me, and following me?” We should never forget that… and pray for mercy.
But we can pray for mercy with confidence. Notice the first thing Jesus says to John: Do not be afraid. This is the essence of what Jesus said to his disciples the evening of that first day of the week––the night of the first Easter Sunday––when they were locked away because of their fear. Jesus appeared (through the locked door, which surely escalated their fears even more) and said to them, Peace be with you.
Think about our own fears. What are we afraid of? Maybe it is the awful stories of violence that appear in our news daily. Maybe it’s the current political scene that seems to offer few good choices with reasonable hope. Maybe it’s something closer––a personal financial catastrophe or a relationship that is painful or falling apart or an awful physical affliction. Or maybe the fear is even closer, deep in the heart; a voice that keeps shouting to your spirit, “you’re no good; you can never be forgiven for what you’ve done.”
On this day that Jesus has given the Church as a special grace of Divine Mercy, we are invited to hear some of the last words Jesus gave in Holy Scripture (which occur in the final book of Revelation): I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. Once I was dead, but now I am alive for ever and ever! I hold the keys of death and the netherworld. This is why Jesus can say, Do not be afraid.
Because Jesus is God and because Jesus died and rose again, he is still saying to all who will hear: Peace be with you. That's the gospel. There are two things every human being on earth should be afraid of: death and hell. It’s the power of sin, and those two things are behind all our other fears. But even more, there is a way not to be afraid: it is to know him who hold[s] the keys. The one who holds the keys is the Son of God; he died for us to wipe out our sins and he rose from the dead to show that death itself is not greater than the love of God. We are offered mercy.
So on this Divine Mercy Sunday Jesus is saying to each one of us, "Let me be, in your life, who I really am." Ask the Holy Spirit to imprint this picture of who Jesus is deep in your mind and heart. If we do that we will be gripped by Mercy, and our lives will be different. This is our faith.