A Message of Mercy
Second Sunday of Easter. Fr David McLean shows how Easter faith is about more than a claim about Jesus’s body.
‘Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ At Easter, a friend bravely posted on social media that ‘Christ is Risen.’ One of the early replies retorted that he was not and that it was impossible to prove otherwise. It is a reply that comes from someone for whom the only acceptable form of belief is based on equations that can be confirmed in repeatable experiments; not one of those who believes what they have not seen. It is possible to have some sympathy with the ‘griefer’. To the uninitiated, ‘Christ is Risen’ looks like a bold assertion of the unlikely. The initiated who use the exclamation appreciate that there is a lot more to it than a bold assertion. If Christian faith was limited to believing in Christ’s physical resurrection, then it would be rather empty and pointless. Christian faith must have consequences. It is not like deciding whether we believe in extra-terrestrial life or not.
In the second week of Easter, we are still celebrating Christ’s resurrection. It is also the Sunday designated by the Church to celebrate Divine Mercy. Divine mercy exemplifies the consequences of Christian faith. Thomas the Apostle needed to touch Jesus before he would accept Christ’s resurrection, but his faith was not limited to that acceptance. Like the other apostles, Thomas would go out to preach the gospel and heal the sick. More importantly for Divine Mercy Sunday, Thomas and the other apostles would go out and forgive sins. A key consequence of Christian belief is asking for forgiveness from God and our neighbours, and in turn, offering that forgiveness to those who offend against us.
A central element of divine mercy is to seek forgiveness from God for the ways in which we have offended Him. We do so in the true and certain knowledge that God’s forgiveness will be granted. As preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday, it is therefore appropriate to seek reconciliation in the form of sacramental confession. Seeking reconciliation with God, seeking divine mercy, is a central consequence of Christian faith. Christian faith cannot be limited to acceptance of the physical resurrection. Also, seeking forgiveness cannot be separated from offering forgiveness. A key aspect of divine mercy is therefore forgiving those who sin against us. In doing so, we become conduits of divine mercy to others. Again, being prepared to forgive others is a consequence and an essential part of Christian faith.
Saint John Paul II proclaimed that divine mercy is our only hope. So, seeking forgiveness, and in turn forgiving others, is not an optional extra to Christian faith. Mercy is an intrinsic part of our faith. Mercy is how our humanity will be restored. Ultimately then, mercy is how Christ’s goodness is communicated to us and to others through us. Divine goodness and, and therefore Christ’s goodness, is about restoring our humanity, making us fully human, bringing us to the end that God intended for us. Mercy is how we are saved. Mercy is central to the Christian faith.
Returning then to Thomas the Apostle: his faith involved a lot more than his eventual acceptance of Christ’s physical resurrection. Such an acceptance on its own would not have meant a lot to us and the world. It probably would not mean much more than denying the physical resurrection. What does make a big difference to us and the world is that Thomas went out preaching a gospel of mercy. Preaching mercy was how faith was communicated.
Returning also to our social media ‘griefer’: it seems that there should be a way to respond to him. The response probably needs to more than a simple social media post. We could simply suggest that he is ‘missing the point’, but we are then obliged to elucidate what the point is. Faith is not communicated by persuading people to believe in the resurrected Christ in isolation from any other belief. Other beliefs come along with it, including the fundamental requirement for divine mercy. The initiated understand that the bold assertion that ‘Christ is Risen’ includes the concept of divine mercy. Perhaps communicating mercy is the best way to engage with those who only see a bold counter-factual assertion.
Image: from the Divine Mercy sanctuary in Vilnius, creative commons licence.