Today, the second Sunday of Easter is also known as Low Sunday or Easter Octave, or White Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday. It is called Low Sunday because it completes the Octave of Easter. We have been celebrating the high point of Easter from Easter Sunday until today. We have celebrated Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, Easter Wednesday, Easter Thursday, Easter Friday and Easter Saturday. This Sunday, the eighth day of Easter brings the whole week of celebration to a close.
Today is also referred to as White Sunday because in ancient times, those who were baptised at Easter vigil Mass would wear white to participate at the Eucharistic celebrations for a whole week including this Sunday. After this Sunday, they return to wearing mufti at Mass.
This homily however, dwells on the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. This is a day in which we pause to reflect on the mercies that flow from God to us; a day in which we thank and glorify God for his mercies endure forever. The mercy of God goes back to creation. God created us in his mercy and even when we disobeyed Him and lost His friendship, He did not abandon us “to the power of death” but helped all people to seek and find him, (Fourth Eucharistic Prayer).
In former times, God spoke to our ancestors in varied ways – through nature and the prophets, but in our time, He has spoken to us definitively through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our high priest who can feel our human weaknesses because he was tempted as we are tempted, but he was without sin, (Heb 4:14-16). The Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 recounted some of the temptations Jesus underwent which included temptations on pride, miss-use of power or authority and earthly glory.
The scripture also said that Jesus learnt obedience through suffering, (Heb 5:8), hence, he knows what it means to be in distress or to be going through depression or to be overwhelmed. He was born in a paddock, his family went into exile to Egypt while he was a baby, he was lost for three days when he was twelve, he faced opposition from the religious authorities during his earthly ministry, and he underwent his passion and death for our sanctification. Hence, when we approach him with our distresses or sorrows or cries or disappointments or brokenness, or when we are at our rock bottom, he can relate to our situations because joy and sorrow had been part and parcel of his life.
While Jesus was hanging upon the cross, a soldier, (Longinus), pierced his side with a lance and water and blood gushed from his side. The second Reading, (1 Jn 5:1-6), insisted that Jesus came not only with water, but with “water and blood” and the Spirit as witness. Water symbolises the Sacrament of Baptism which remits all sins and makes us both members of the Body of Christ and of the Church. The blood is a symbol of the Eucharist; a Sacrament around which the other Sacraments revolve. It is the Sacrament in which we re-live the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist symbolise the mercy of our compassionate God. In receiving both Sacraments, we have approached the throne of God’s mercy. The Holy Spirit, is the sanctifying power of the Sacraments.
In today’s Gospel, (Jn 20:19-31), Jesus, after his resurrection, breathed on his disciples the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven… .” The mercy of God brings about forgiveness of sins as God had proclaimed through the mouth of Prophet Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool”, (Is 1:18). Forgiveness of sins brings wholeness, reconciliation, unity, comradeship, and peace.
In the first Reading, (Acts 2:42-47), we read that the whole community of the followers of Christ, (the Church), remained faithful to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship and to the breaking of the bread. The breaking of bread signified the celebration of the Eucharist, a celebration which Christ has asked to be done in his memory for the remission of sins. The camaraderie among the followers of Jesus, ensured that each member stood shoulder to shoulder with each other and extended a helping hand to a member in need. Thus, where the mercy of God abounds, love, peace and justice abound too, because the mercy of God restores creation to when it was “indeed very good”, (Gen 1:31).
Happy Divine Mercy Sunday
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp