Today is known by many things…Low Sunday, the second Sunday in Eastertime, the last day in the Easter Octave, and, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday. There are some who are not fans of the feast of Divine Mercy, as they feel it has hijacked, somewhat, the greatest feast in the Church’s year, Easter. This is largely because the novena of the Divine Mercy starts on Good Friday and so overlaps with part of the Triduum and all of Easter week. Is it too much for us to dwell on two things at once? Not if they’re the same thing.
After all, what is Easter about apart from mercy? Didn’t God send His Son to us out of mercy? Didn’t Jesus willingly go to the Cross and rise again for us out of mercy? Weren’t we saved through the greatest gift there is…mercy?
I love our first reading. It’s a rare snapshot of life in the early Christian community and stresses its oneness, not only with each other, but also with Jesus. It would have been easy to say, “miracles and signs worked ‘BY’ the apostles…”, but no. The simple matter of factness of the word ‘THROUGH’ demonstrates how much the risen Master and his disciples were joined. They were looked up to by everyone, perhaps a que for a question to ask ourselves today; is our Christian community looked up to? If so, why, if not, why? But that’s a detour.
The important thing about this community was that they realised they were not closed, a click, a chosen few. Although they still had to grapple with the full extent of this, they understood that their community was open to everyone, ultimately, regardless of who they were. They were a Church, freely dispensing the mercy of God to others. And the reason for this can be found in our second reading from Peter.
The promise of inheritance is sure; it cannot be ‘spoilt or soiled and will never fade away’. Why? Because this isn’t some human promise, a promise that can be withdrawn at any time. No, this is a promise from God, whose ways are so far above our ways that we can hardly believe they’re true…but they are. This is why our hope is sure, not hoped for in the human sense, but promised by He who gave His life for us. And because of this sure hope, the early community was obliged, willingly, but nonetheless, obliged to offer this gift to all they met dispensing the mercy of God as freely as it is given.
We hear more about the inspiration behind the early Church in our Gospel reading. The disciples who denied, betrayed and abandoned Christ in His hour of need were here given the responsibility of building His Church. This is corporate mercy to which we could rightly shed a tear for the sheer beauty of; a friend forgiving his nearest their frailty, weakness, and fear, and instead of berating them, they were entrusted with the Church. The apostles had indeed tasted the Lord’s mercy, and this is undoubtedly what gave them the strength to take on the task in hand.
And then, there’s the question of Thomas. Make no mistake, Thomas was a noble man. Only three weeks ago, we heard that this same Thomas, forever labelled ‘doubting’ Thomas, was prepared to go back to Judaea to die with Christ. He might not have fully understood who Jesus was, but he was prepared to die for him. A lot of water has since flowed under the bridge and Thomas too had abandoned Christ at Calvary and now refused to believe that his friend had Risen. In fairness, who wouldn’t? Surely, most of us have had doubts at some point, being unable to comprehend that such a gift should be given to us, and many wrestle with aspects of faith. But the mercy of God touched Thomas.
The wonderful thing about this account is that mercy is gradually working its way down; from the gift of mercy to all of humanity, won for us without effort on our part and certainly not deserving it, to corporate mercy for His Church, despite weakness and failings, and finally to an act of mercy for an individual, an individual who perhaps shares many of our doubts and shortfalls today. In short, the gift of mercy touches us all, from the seemingly impossible feats of global forgiveness, through support and encouragement, despite the failings, for His Church, and to you and I as individuals.
And that’s where we come in. The early Church from Acts is not some distant, strange memory that we don’t understand…it’s OUR Church. The inheritance and hope talked of by Peter is not reserved for those of Peter’s day…it’s OUR inheritance and hope. Jesus didn’t die and rise again for the few…but for US. Mercy is universal, but it’s also for us as individuals.
We have accepted the gift of faith and all that comes with it. The gift of love, of compassion, of solidarity and, of course, the gift of mercy. As such, we are called to dispense mercy ourselves, not our mercy, but the mercy of Christ working through us. And sometimes, this can be in the very smallest of ways. Mercy is love in action. Mercy is healing. Mercy is a sign of Christ’s presence here on Earth.
So on this Easter Octave day, I wish you a very happy Easter and pray that we are all both recipients and dispensers of the mercy of God in our daily lives and that we receive the Grace that will allow us to do this with generosity in our heart and the praise of God on our tongues.