|Photo from the Choir Loft of the Easter Altar with decoration for Divine Mercy Sunday at STM, Toronto|
Divine mercy speaks to us today in this season of the Resurrection of both the frailty of our humanity (our doubting and lack of faith) and the grace, the freely given love of God which we do not see but which we experience as we come to believe.
We saw the mercy and compassion of God in the raising of Lazarus yet there is a profound difference, between the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Gospel of John, chapter 11) and God the Father’s vindication of Jesus Christ in the Easter resurrection.
In the former situation Lazarus was truly dead — remaining in the tomb four days sealed that fact — and he was truly pulled from death, like a remnant lifted from amid the coals of a fire, and given a restored life. No one doubted that he was alive.
The Apostles saw the Lord in a new way as we hear in today’s Gospel. He stood in their midst, showed them his hands and sides. He was the same Jesus and yet different. They heard his blessing and received his commission to extend the Father’s mercy to all peoples by the power of the Holy Spirit that he conferred upon them.
We must walk by faith and not by sight, we believe and love what we have not seen (see 2 Cor. 5:7). Yet the invisible realities are made present for us through the teaching and sacraments that the Apostles have handed on.
Notice the experience by the Apostles of the risen Lord is described in a way that evokes the Mass. Both appearances take place on a Sunday. The Lord comes to be with his disciples as they rejoice, listen to His Word, receive the gift of His forgiveness and peace. He then offers his wounded body to them in remembrance of His Passion. And they know and worship him as their Lord and their God.
Unlike Lazarus, Jesus emerged from his tomb, St. Paul tells us, never to die again: “death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9). Both are part of God’s plan of divine mercy.
There is a qualitative difference here, between being raised from the dead by God’s mercy and entering the new life of resurrection by the greatest mercy. This is not just a difference of degree or intensity, between the raising of Lazarus and the rising of Jesus.
Lazarus’ raising was a miracle, but it doesn’t solve the problem of death. Jesus’ rising is an apocalyptic action of God’s divine sovereignty and love, forever defeating death and ensuring its ultimate eradication.
Tom Wright (NT Wright – the NT scholar and bishop) has written a definitive historical defense of the empty tomb. He has also drawn attention to the fundamentally non-historical truth that the empty tomb points to.
The new life that Jesus now enjoys is, in Wright’s descriptive word, “transphysical”: it is real bodily life, but at the same time, it is unlike any bodily life we now know here.
As Luke Johnson, another N.T. scholar has put it, “The Christian claim concerning the resurrection of Jesus is not that he picked up his old manner of life, but rather that after his death he entered into an entirely new form of existence, one in which he shares the power of God and in which he could share that power with others.”
Today we celebrate the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Tested by fire, their faith shines for all those who have not seen, yet believe. The Church proclaims by this act that they are in heaven with Christ and the saints sharing that new and different life of resurrection and sharing that power of God, sharing that merciful power with us through prayer and intercession.
This great and continuing stream of divine mercy is available to all of us on our journey through this life which will come to an end, while leading us, by God’s grace and mercy, into the life of resurrection, carrying our wounds as Jesus carried his.
Jesus’ risen body is the first instance of God’s renewal of all things. Thomas and the others were confused and unbelieving – little wonder. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning and first example of the new creation. It is dissimilar to anything we’ve seen before. There is no analogy or pattern; it is a new mode of being under the mercy of God in Christ.
Seeing the first buds of flowers springing up around Easter time, we’re permitted, even encouraged, to consider those to be signs of resurrection. A dinner invitation from an old friend with whom we have a disagreement is a symbol of resurrection.
But we also have the constant testimony of the mercy of God in the lives of the saints, in their wounded and triumphant bodies. Their relics are embedded in the altars of churches everywhere and in reliquaries, proclaiming the resurrection of the body.
|Reliquary with relics of St. Jean de Brébeuf and other saints beneath the statue of Our Lady at STM/Sacré-Coeur, Toronto|
None of these things, of course, can simply be equated with the mercy of resurrection promised to us. Some people say, echoing Thomas’ initial disbelief: “I believe in ‘resurrection,’ just not the Resurrection.”
We believe in the witness of the saints to the specific resurrection of the Body of Christ, and so we hope for our own resurrection through God’s divine mercy.
“Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have come to believe.”
Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 1 Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-3