April 15, 2012

HOMILY for 2nd Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:32-35; Ps 117; 1 Jn 5:1-6; John 20:19-31

St Augustine calls these past Octave days of Easter “days of pardon and mercy”. For when the risen Lord appears to his disciples gathered as a group for the first time, he immediately offers them his forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. And this is summed up in the phrase, “Peace be with you”. For peace is the first gift of Easter. Not peace in the sense of the absence of military conflict, as such, but something of greater cosmic significance. The peace the risen Christ speaks of is primarily the reconciliation between sinful humanity and God; it is God’s loving mercy and his forgiveness. 

And this reconciliation brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection, by his obedience and loving self-offering, effects a new creation. Like the first (old) creation, God accomplishes the new through his Word and the Holy Spirit. So, on that Easter evening, “the first day of the week”, the incarnate Word speaks the new creation into being, breathing forth the Holy Spirit, and the whole universe is renewed through being reconciled to God. Indeed, God’s Spirit of Love, is, as St Augustine says, “its very self the forgiveness of sins”. So, when Christ gives the Spirit to his disciples, and thus, pours his love into their hearts, he is forgiving them their sins, giving them his peace, and hence, bringing about his new creation – a creation in which God’s own love and peace is given to humanity, and dwells in their hearts; a creation in which we are offered God’s mercy and friendship. This is what we mean by the life of grace, which is initiated in every Christian by the sacrament of baptism.

So, although the disciples had abandoned their friend on the Cross, Christ now offers his forgiveness and friendship. Hence, he entrusts them with a mission, and sends them out as apostles of the Good News of God’s mercy and love. When they are huddled together in fear and sorrow, Christ offers his presence and peace to gladden them. Hence he shows them his body, and says a second time, “Peace be with you”. And because the disciples are weighed down by guilt and their sins, Christ offers his forgiveness and gives his Spirit to free them from their burdens, and all that binds them. All these are a manifestation of God’s divine mercy, his misericordia, which we can take to mean ‘having a heart for the misery of others’. The mercy, the healing forgiveness and love, that Jesus offered to his poor miserable disciples is also being offered to us today, and indeed to the whole world.

Many of us may still feel the effects of this old creation, wounded by the callousness, violence, and selfishness of the world we live in. We’re like the walking wounded, fighting to survive and cope, living with our sins, and the impact of others’. And often our wounds are raw and festering, the source of on-going pain, which can engender bitterness, anger, fear and hatred. So, like Thomas, we may find it hard to believe in the new creation, in grace, and in the risen Christ, who has not yet come to us; he has appeared to the other disciples. 

But to each of us, too, Jesus comes today, and says: “Peace be with you”. He shows us his wounded body, and asks us to touch those wounds. Like us, the risen Christ, too, is wounded, and he bears those wounds on his risen and glorified body for ever. But his wounds are not raw and bleeding as so many of ours still are; they are healed and can be touched. And by his wounds, our wounded humanity, our sores and ills, can also be healed… if we dare to stretch out and touch them. For Christ’s wounds are signs of his forgiveness and love. He doesn’t ‘forgive and forget’, as we’re often told to. Rather, he remembers, which is why he forgives; he remembers how much he loves us. As C. S. Lewis once said: “to love at all is to be vulnerable”. And God who is Love is the most vulnerable, bearing, in Christ, the wounds and scars of Love on his body. They become a part of who he is. So, Jesus is the Crucified One, the Pierced One. And the fact that we, whose sins have wounded him, can touch those wounds is a potent sign of his forgiveness. For our sins are not forgotten – we are forgiven, which is much more life-giving. Allowing his wounds to be touched is a sign that Christ trusts us, a sign that despite whatever we’ve done, he still desires our friendship, which he renews and re-creates through his mercy. 

So, if we dare to reach out, dare to believe, we will touch God’s mercy and forgiveness. We do this, above all, in the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as in the Eucharist where we receive the risen but Love-scarred Body of Christ. Through these two sacraments of mercy, Christ says to us sinners, “Peace be with you”, and he gives us his own wounded Body to touch. And through these sacraments we receive the One who is the agent of God’s forgiveness: the Holy Spirit. Only he can heal our wounds, for we are healed by God’s Spirit of Love, a love that sets us free from the burden of sin and un-forgiveness, and re-creates a new – an Easter – life in us.  

But Christ says: “If you forgive… they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. So, the choice is ours, whether or not to receive the Spirit, and, then, allow ourselves to be healed by loving; to enjoy God’s peace by gradually forgiving; And, finally, to be reconciled by divine mercy, and so, to become in ourselves, “blessèd” people of God’s mercy and reconciliation, an Easter people whose song is ‘Alleluia’! 

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