Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020
On this Second Sunday of Easter, designated Divine Mercy Sunday by John Paul II, my focus, personal prayer and reflection, and, consequently, my preaching usually centers on Thomas. The doubts he harbored, the Lord’s patience and understanding, together with the dramatic way in which the Risen Christ dispelled those crippling doubts teach us a great deal about our human limitations. There is an odd sort of comfort in the realization that, on occasion, even the great ones, like Peter and Thomas, lost hope. But, from this Easter night episode, we also see the power of grace to shore up faltering faith and restore hope. Thomas emerged from his crisis of faith with a declaration that, centuries later, many Catholic Christians use at The Consecration: My Lord and my God!
This year, however, I am struck in a special way by what the Risen Christ did to, and for, those seeking sanctuary in the Upper Room, prior to Thomas’s arrival: HE BREATHED ON THEM.
Throughout this past Lenten season, people all around the world have taken extreme precautions to avoid being “breathed on.” The breath of an “infected stranger” passing by in the supermarket, or standing in line at the post office, could be lethal. So, when, here, we see The Lord intentionally, and with great purpose, breathing on His followers, it certainly gives one pause, and warrants further reflection. It might help our efforts to step beyond this week’s Readings for some helpful insight.
At Genesis 2:7, we hear: …then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
During His years of public ministry, Jesus set about “forming” what was to become His Church. The Lord gathered and molded women, men, and children into a community of faith, even as the Creator “formed” the first human being from “the dust of the ground.” One can only imagine the state of His followers…ordinary folks…with the same limitations and frailties all humankind share…after the horrors of Good Friday. In spite of the news of the empty tomb, the heavenly messengers, and the initial encounters with The Easter Christ, His followers remained traumatized. They sheltered in place, behind locked doors, “for fear” that they would suffer the same fate as the Master.
After the Crucifixion, I wonder if a far more serious threat to the early Church than possible persecution and martyrdom might not have been “lifelessness.” Loss of hope will do that. Loss of hope can leave us frail human beings lying on the ground as lifeless as the pile of dirt from which God formed the first parents.
Enter Jesus, through a locked door, no less. And just as the Father/Creator breathed life into a mound of clay, the Son breathed new life into the fledgling Church. Fortified by the Breath of God, those gathered in the Upper Room appear to have developed an immunity from the doubt and loss of hope that infected Thomas. It does not appear that his crisis shook their confidence in any way that Christ had, indeed, risen.
It cannot be denied that we are frail, often weak, and susceptible to doubt and hopelessness. Baptism does not wash away our human limitations. And challenges like the current world health crisis underscore just exactly how vulnerable we are…physically, mentally, and spiritually. But the Lord’s patience and understanding…and mercy… are limitless.
The message of our Readings on this Divine Mercy Sunday is crystal clear. God’s grace serves to shore up sluggish faith, renews hope, and breathes new life and purpose into our minds and hearts. So, expose yourself to Christ and continue to breathe in the Easter proclamation…HE IS RISEN…and someday, so will you. Alleluia!