• Acts 5:12-16
• Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
• Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
• Jn 20:19-31
It is fitting that on this second Sunday of Easter, decreed in 2000 by Pope John Paul II to be Divine Mercy Sunday, that the readings provide a biblical blueprint of how divine mercy and grace would spread in the months and years immediately following the Resurrection.
During the Easter season, leading up to the great Feast of Pentecost, readings from the Acts of the Apostles take the place of Old Testament readings. In this way the connection between “all that Jesus did and taught” (Acts 1:1) and all that the apostles did and taught can be clearly seen and reflected upon. The Evangelist Luke portrayed Jesus as The Prophet who would do great signs and wonders (the greatest being His death and resurrection) and in the Acts of the Apostles he depicted the early Christians—especially the apostles Peter and Paul—as doing “many signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12).
The blueprint of mercy can be summed up in four words: preparation, proclamation, perseverance, and purpose.
The preparation began during the ministry of Jesus, as He spent countless hours, days, and months with His disciples, teaching them by both word and example. Christ’s Passion and the Resurrection took that preparation to a place the disciples could barely begin to fathom prior to those dramatic events. Today’s Gospel reading highlights, in the well-known story of doubting Thomas, that the process of preparation was not a quick or easy one. As the disciples hid behind closed doors, they were often filled with fear and confusion. But the appearance of the Risen Christ in their midst was a source of peace and joy. And so they received their instructions: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then, later, in response to Thomas’s famous cry—“My Lord and my God!”—Jesus further prepared the disciples for their divine mission by pointing them toward the many souls in need of the Gospel: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
The proclamation of that Gospel is seen all through Acts, including in today’s reading. The signs and wonders performed by Christ were soon being performed by the leaders of His Body, the Church, and that Body grew quickly. Luke emphasized the “signs and wonders” throughout his Gospel to present Jesus as the New Moses. Those marks of prophetic activity are mentioned many times in Acts, notably in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost and his recitation of the prophet Joel (2:17-22), and in today’s reading, which describes the proclamation of God’s word by the apostles (cf., 4:29-30), especially the head apostle, Peter.
In addition to Acts, the readings during Easter include selections from the final book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. One reason is to show the perseverance of the early Christians—including the author, John—in the face of persecution. John the Revelator referred to both when he wrote of the “endurance we have in Jesus”; he explained that he had been exiled to the island of Patmos (about 37 miles southwest of modern Turkey) “because I proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.” While celebrating the Lord’s Day—likely in the course of the Liturgy—John saw the risen and victorious Christ standing among the lamp stands, representing the Church. The Son of Man, “the first and the last,” assures John that the perseverance of the saints is not in vain, but will be rewarded by eternal life: “Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”
We return to today’s Gospel to find a perfect summation of the purpose of these many actions of preparation, proclamation, and perseverance. John explained that much more could have been written about Jesus in his Gospel, but that “these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” By God’s mercy and grace, may we believe more deeply and experience more fully the life of the Risen Lord!
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the April 15, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)