Reflections on the Readings
April 7, 2013 - Second Sunday of Easter - Year C
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
In this Gospel passage is the second time we read where God's breath directly contacts humans. The first time is when God brought Adam into a living relationship with himself. Through this action Adam became a living soul. This second time, Jesus, the God-Man, breathes on his disciples. What is the purpose of this divine breath Jesus breathes on his disciples? Through his breath Jesus gives to his apostles the grace to forgive sins.
We experience this living breath when in confession we hear the priest proclaim:
God the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from you sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
These words of absolution are spirit and life. They bring to our soul new life. They give to us a deeper living relationship with him who loved us and gave himself for us. In confession the Paschal Mystery breathes into a new flaming fervency the gift of faith given to us in baptism.
The Mystery of Easter is a new day of mercy that has come upon the world. It is a mercy that is long suffering, invoking a kindness that is pure and gentle. One might think of God's kindness like the unconditional cuddling a mother gives her baby when she draws it to her breast for nourishment. Such is the heart of God where mercy is; it is more than abundant, it is without measure; it is sufficient and greater than all our sin. The fervent charity of God's heart is open for whosoever will; all are welcome.
Mercy is not something God withholds. It is something however we may find difficult to seek or think ourselves unworthy. This would have merit if it were not the fact that the first reading today shows God's love and help and mercy accessible and powerful in its effects even in the shadow of Peter. In Peter's shadow Easter Mercy heals the afflicted in body and soul and spirit. None were left out. Peter wrote of God's closeness to his people in his first epistle. To his parishioners at Rome he invited them into the very bosom of the Father saying, "Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you." (1 Peter 5:7)
These words from Peter are filled with the memories of a shadow he cast many years before. In his shadow he witnessed the living Lord of Calvary continuing his ministry of healing the sick, casting out unclean spirits, healing them of their infirmities of heart and mind and body. Human need has not changed nor has Christ for he is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
The power of mercy is possible because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He suffered the ignominy of the cross because of the joy of Easter that loomed in his future. Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith bowed his head on an old rugged cross and crowned a new day of mercy with his inimitable words, "It is finished." From his pierced side, redemption flowed in the form of merciful water and blood. And one day we'll stand in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene looking on the only things that are manmade in heaven, the wounds of Jesus that procured for us mercy and forgiveness. On that day we shall proclaim in the words of Thomas: "My Lord and my God!"
Shouldn't we who are recipients of such boundless mercy be disposed to show mercy to others? If Christ forgives us in a spirit of mercy shall we not also forgive those who trespass against us? This is the power and mission of Easter. It is God's power in us. It is our mission. For all who have freely received are asked to freely give.
Easter Mercy is the great wonder and joy of knowing Christ. It is this Christ who with infinite mercy invites all who are burdened heavily with sin and despair to come to him. In the shadow of the steeple on our churches reside many who are dead in trespasses and sins. Let us invite them into the protection and shadow of Easter Mercy. Let us say to them and to each other: Fear not, He who is the first and the last lives now and forevermore. He died, and behold He Lives and holds in his hands the keys of Death and Hades. And his mercy is without end!
Blessed be the name of the Lord!
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com