Year B: Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
Theme: Gift of forgiveness
By: Fr. Jude Chijioke
Homily for Sunday April 11 2021
Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 4: 32-35; Ps. 118; 1 Jn 5: 1-6; Jn 20: 19-31.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20).
The Cenacle, a simple room on the upper floor of a building in old Jerusalem, is populated with Christian memories but is above all the seat of a presence that is repeated in many other rooms around the world. There, in fact, the Eucharist was celebrated, the priesthood was instituted, the Holy Spirit was given, the sacrament of reconciliation was offered to humanity.
And it is precisely to this last sacrament that we will now refer, after having listened to the story of the Johannine “Pentecost”, proclaimed by today’s liturgy. It is known, in fact, that John presents the gift of the Holy Spirit not so much on the feast of Pentecost, which was celebrated fifty days after Easter, but rather “on the evening of that same day, the first after Saturday”, that is on the same day as Christ’s resurrection.
The whole story of that encounter of the Risen One with his disciples has as its center a phrase that has within it an extraordinary gift, “to forgive sins”. Our world is increasingly inclined to cover the sense of sin, to dull the moral conscience, to throw layers of dust on the embers of sincere remorse. Yet never as today does one speak of “feelings of guilt”, one falls into the tangles of “guilt complexes”, one insures false liberation from guilt. “To forgive sin” in a radical and total way is, however, only possible for God.
The Bible repeats it insistently: “Blessed is the man whose guilt is forgiven … You have forgiven the guilt of my sin”, exclaims the Psalmist (Ps 32 vs 1, 5). And centuries later, a biblical sage, Sirach, will repeat: “The Lord is gracious and merciful and forgives sins” (2:11). The controversial statement that Jesus’ opponents hurl against him when he heals the paralytic is true: “Who can forgive sins, if not God alone?” (Lk 5, 21).
Christ demonstrates his divinity precisely by forgiving sins. Emblematic is precisely the scene of the paralytic: “Courage, son, your sins are forgiven! … The Son of man has the power on earth to forgive sins” (Mt 9, 2 and 6). But it is precisely the finale of this episode according to Matthew’s version that allows us to take a further step in our discourse on the remission of sins as presented to us by Jesus on that Easter evening. “To forgive sins” is the exclusive prerogative of God, the only one who “can throw our sins behind us”, the only one who can make “our sins as white as snow”, according to the announcement of Isaiah (38, 17). However, God, through his Son, has entrusted to the Church the possibility of making his forgiveness visible with the “ministry of reconciliation”, as Paul calls it. In Matthew’s account, “at the sight of the cure of the paralytic, the crowd was seized with fear and gave glory to God who had given such power to men” (9,8).
The power to untie the dark knots of our evil in the name of the risen Lord is therefore entrusted to the hands of the apostles. But there is another way, subordinate to this which always remains the fundamental one: it is that of fraternal forgiveness; already a declaration of the Old Testament, formulated by Sirach: “Forgive the offense of your neighbor and then your sins will be forgiven you by God” (28, 2). And that principle that we repeat every day in the prayer of the “Our Father”: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us”. And this is the luminous circle of Christian forgiveness that opens the horizon of a new morning even for those who have committed the most atrocious crime, even for those whose spirit is burned by evil.
In fact, “all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven to the children of men; but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will have no forgiveness for ever” (Mk 3, 28-29). The only sin that cannot be forgiven is precisely the conscious rejection of the light of grace and therefore of the very possibility of being forgiven. With this blindness of pride or despair the way is cut to the gift that God wants to give to all men, the gift of rediscovering the youth of the spirit, the resurrection of conscience, the hope of life. The Eastern liturgy sings: “You came among us, Lord, on Easter evening with your hands full of your gifts. But the most precious gift was your forgiveness for your children to always hope. We come to you, Lord, on the day of your Easter to welcome your gift and with you to rise again to your glory.
Fr. Jude Chijioke