2nd Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy Sunday 2017 - Homily - St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry

2nd Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy Sunday 2017 
- Homily - St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry

For this past week, our readings have been recalling the various accounts of encounters between Jesus and his disciples after the Resurrection. They are strange stories about meetings with a very limited number of people - and they leave as many unanswered as answered questions. They were written down, not provide some simplistic narrative about the risen Jesus but to help us down through the centuries to engage with the same process of moving from doubt to faith that the early church had to undergo. They are not windows on the past so much as mirrors in the present. So what common features do I see in the readings?

Firstly, it is remarkable how many of these early readings speak about Jesus having a meal with the disciples or use the phrase 'the breaking of bread'. It was in that breaking of bread that the Emmaus disciples recognised the Lord, after he had explained the scriptures to them in a way that made their hearts burn within them. Our first reading today twice speaks of breaking bread as a characteristic of the early community. It seems clear that the celebration of word and sacrament were well established from very early on in the church's history. Jesus' command at the Last Supper to 'do this in memory of me' was not seen just a request to go through his actions occasionally for old time's sake. 

St Paul tells us in one of the First Letter to the Corinthians – which contains the earliest written account of the Last Supper - that when we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are proclaiming his death. (1 Cor 11:26). The rich sacramental life of the early church is thus the basis on which we model our own liturgical life. A non-sacramental form of Christian worship may be a part of how the Christian community worships and celebrates the Risen Lord. 

But, however beautiful or lively our music, and however impressive our liturgy, the weekly gatherings of God's people in Church are always about what God has done for us and never about how well we enjoy singing or praying. It is never a concert but proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is around the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist that we encounter the Risen Christ. It happens at a time of God's choosing. It happens, not because of how well we try to entertain God or ourselves – but because of what God did for us in Jesus. Music may help us to articulate that – but it also needs silence for our hearts to simply be amazed.

Secondly, the stories of Easter week are about bringing people together and sharing the sometimes uncomfortable message that we have heard. Christianity never was just about me and Jesus but about us in Jesus – and about how our being together reveals Jesus. It was the community life and the community outreach of the people who met to break bread, that attracted people to their message about Jesus. Our first reading tells us that the key characteristics of the early community in Jerusalem were that the whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the community, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. 

Jesus, as we see in the first meeting between Jesus and the apostles in today's Gospel, drove the others to tell the absent Thomas, and we too are called by the Scriptures to be a community that wants and knows how to share the good news about Jesus. Our Mass today is not a gathering of individuals shopping at a divine supermarket. Being a community is the context for us to celebrate together Jesus' resurrection – but being together is also part of the content of that message. Just as the early church quickly came to develop a rich sacramental life in which to meet Jesus, so too it also was clear that it wasn't enough to say 'it is fine if I just stay at home an pray on my own.' 

A church that believes in the sacramental presence of Christ in the church's worship also believes that we are the Body of Christ that is broken for us. Our church tradition goes right back to what the Bible tells us about the early believers.

And thirdly, on this Divine Mercy Sunday it is intriguing to note how Jesus treats our friend, doubting Thomas. He does not reprimand him any more than he reprimanded Peter. Strong gentleness is the hallmark of Jesus, not the angry condemnation – even when all the disciples have locked themselves away for fear of their perceived enemies. But he challenges Thomas and all of us to believe that he is risen. His wounds are there – but they are no longer bleeding. The cruelty of his murderers and of sin is not forgotten or played down – but the grace of resurrection is stronger. In every encounter with Jesus he says to us 'peace be with you'. He offers the Holy Spirit to the Church to help ensure that forgiveness of sin is done in Jesus' name, not in our name. 

As people noticed very early on in Jesus public ministry, to claim to forgive sin is a claim to divinity. It is Jesus who forgives and who sends his earliest disciples to proclaim that sins can be forgiven in his body the Church, because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is the first description that John the Baptist gives of Jesus (Jn 1:29). Our ministry is to proclaim and facilitate forgiveness, not to ration it as if it were our power or hide in our upper rooms in fear. Divine Mercy Sunday may be a 20th century tradition – but divine mercy has been at the heart of Jesus ministry from the very start. And an unforgiving church is a contradiction in terms.

It is clear to me from these scripture readings today that our weekly Mass is not just something that we do out of habit, or can choose to get bored with. Right from the beginning I believe that our being church means building communities of disciples who are nourished with the Word and the sacramental presence of Christ, whom we recognise in the breaking of bread. We don't just gather to enjoy our music and hope that God does too! 

God does not spend his time looking round for the next spiritual X-Factor! And we are sustained in that faith and love – St Peter tells us in the second reading – even though we have not seen him. For we are a pilgrim people who journey in trust, accepting that our often weak faith will be tested and proved like gold.

The resurrection stories are strange – but they contains wonderful truths.

+Donal

St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry

23rd April 2017

Diocesan Mass hosted by the Pioneer Association - ...
FOSTER CARERS needed urgently in the WHSCT Area

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