Our first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”.
The Book of Acts compliments and continues the Gospel of Luke and its purpose is to give testimony to the lasting effects of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In other words, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is an event with real world consequences- it changes people’s lives and it changes the world.
The transformative power of the resurrection continues to gain momentum in history, the evidence for this is the Church.
The Book of Acts understands that the Church is much more than an institution or social club. Instead, the Church is the power of Christ’s resurrection unleashed into the world. The Church is meant to imbue the world with the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus.
Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts is making precisely this point. Note how the apostles are described as doing the kinds of wonderful things that Christ did. In other words, the Church continues the mission of Christ in the world. What he did, his disciples must do. Acting in Jesus’ name means acting like Jesus.
This biblical vision of the Church challenges a status quo that sadly prevails for many Christians, for whom the experience of the Church is merely that of an institution that is expected to provide faith based services. In this construal of the Church, being a Christian is reduced to being a passive recipient of services provided by employees of a religious non for profit corporation. No divine life is necessary for this kind of pseudo Church nor is there to be found the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Rather than being the Church, what I have just described to you is really an anti-church. The true Church is the one where disciples of the Lord Jesus are willing to take the great risks that come when you seek to continue the mission of the Lord Jesus- when you seek to accomplish in the immediacy of your own circumstances the very things that Christ the Lord accomplished.
Our second scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is a mysterious book, made all the more mysterious by its content, which seems at first glance to describe troubling events that lead to the destruction of the planet.
The strange content of the Book of Revelation has led many folks to believe that the Book of Revelation is like a code that once cracked provides God’s agenda for the end of the world.
This isn’t what the Book of Revelation is meant to accomplish.
The Book of Revelation presents all of human history from the vantage point of heaven. In other words, all the strange symbolism of the Book of Revelation is meant to communicate what our world looks like from God’s perspective.
From our perspective it looks like the world is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s how things look to us. From God’s perspective something else is happening- Christ is acting to bring all of creation into a relationship with God. There is a lot of resistance to him, even at times violent resistance, but in the end, the Lord Jesus overcomes all this resistance. In the end, Jesus wins.
The Book of Revelation testifies that the most powerful force that so often opposes Christ is the power of death. Consider how threats of death are often used as a means of terror and control by worldly powers. Think about the inevitability and inescapability of death.
But then, the Book of Revelation insists, consider the power of God in Christ, a power that endured death and came back to life. Christ who conquered death in his resurrection proved himself to be more powerful than what seems to be the most powerful force in the world. It is because of Christ’s power over death that his disciples believe that his ultimate victory is assured.
Our Christian faith professes that Christ really and truly died and that he is now really and truly alive. The resurrection of Christ is not for us a metaphor or a symbol, or a feeling or idea, but a real, historical event, an event that changes history, an event that gives us hope that despite the awful mess that the world is often in. God in Christ has the power to set things right and that despite the fear-filled shadow of death into which we must walk, he is a light that is cast into the dark. The power of Christ is revealed in his resurrection.
Finally, in a magnificent account of the apostles’ experience of Christ’s resurrection, Christ demonstrates a willingness to impart a forgiveness that is as undeserved as it is unexpected.
Many preachers will highlight the doubts of the apostle, Thomas in this particular account of Christ’s resurrection, and Thomas’ doubts are an important aspect of this dramatic Gospel. Thomas’ doubts are an occasion that Christ uses to demonstrate the fact of his resurrection, that he is not a phantom or figment of imagination, but a real, living body.
However, let us remember the broader context, the context that the apostles come face to face with the Lord Jesus whom they had abandoned and betrayed, a friend they had left to languish alone in terrifying suffering and death.
Now the Lord Jesus had returned, and the natural response to his return would not have simply been bewilderment, but fear- had Christ returned for revenge? Surely they deserved to be recipients of his anger. If not for vengeance sake, had he returned to shame them, to vilify them for their cowardice?
Not for revenge or to vilify did Christ rise from the dead, but to forgive and to confirm his disciples in their mission. Having been forgiven so much, the apostles are to bear into the world the forgiveness of God in Christ that they have received. What they have received from God in Christ, they are to give to others.
What the apostles of the Lord Jesus receive from the Lord Jesus is mercy, an undeserved and unexpected grace. They couldn’t restore themselves in relationship with Christ, and in his mercy, Christ does for the apostles what they could not accomplish themselves.
As it was with the apostles, so it is with all of us.
Today, the second Sunday after Easter, the Church designates to be “Divine Mercy” Sunday. Today’s Gospel is meant to illuminate the meaning of what God’s mercy, his divine mercy, is about.
The mercy of God is how sinners experience the love of God. The mercy of God does not ignore our sin or affirm us as we are, but it is an experience of God’s willingness to forgive us and to give to us, not what we deserve, but what we need the most- another chance.
We can experience God’s mercy for ourselves in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and this should be an ordinary practice of our lives as disciples. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we can experience for ourselves what the apostles experienced in the Gospel- Christ’s forgiveness- his mercy.
Mercy is fundamental to the Church’s way of life, for no disciple of the Lord Jesus is ever anyone except a sinner who has experienced God’s mercy- a disciple is always a person (a sinner) who is the recipient of an undeserved saving grace.