Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday
[Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31]
Our celebration of the Eucharist today occurs at what the people of this city have long called the “Edmonton General”. It was once an acute-care hospital; now it serves the community as a centre for continuing care. Everything about its long history speaks of a corporal work of mercy, the one we call care for the ill and the infirm. I wanted to be here with you today so that we could celebrate together Divine Mercy Sunday in this place long dedicated to extending mercy to people in need.
As, in this context, we hear the words of the biblical texts assigned for today’s mass, we are reminded that everyone needs mercy, the “continuing care” of which we are all always in need. For individuals residing in a place such as the Edmonton General, the continuing care needs are met by health professionals with the necessary skill and expertise. The Gospel passage from Saint John points to the One, the only One, capable of responding to the care we call mercy, required by all members of the human race: Jesus Christ. In these joyful days of Easter, the Church proclaims his victory over sin and death by rising from the grave, and his abiding presence with his people. As Risen Lord, Jesus can bring to us a depth of care and completeness of healing – body and soul – that simply no one else can.
In our healthcare system, there are three levels of continuing care – home care, designated supportive living, and long-term care – for those among our citizens who require this specialized accompaniment. The Gospel text points to the “continuing care” that deals with three debilitating experiences known to everyone – doubt, fear, and guilt. This continuing care is not for only a segment of the population but is needed by us all.
The struggle with doubt comes to mind as we ponder the example of Saint Thomas – often referred to in the tradition as “Doubting Thomas”. He doubted the resurrection and demanded visible proof. Doubts about our Christian faith can come to us also. At the same time, there is today a more generalized doubt negatively affecting individuals. This can take the form of uncertainty about what is really happening in the world, or with respect to the meaning of life itself. We also encounter many people today, particularly among the young, who doubt their own self-worth, an uncertainty that can lead to unhealthy or dangerous actions.
Fear is a stranger to no one. The Apostles were afraid that the fate of Jesus would also be theirs, so they locked themselves in a room. We, too, can fear the many dangerous forces at work in our city and world. Perhaps we feel the anxiety that can come over us due to weakness or infirmity, particularly if an illness is grave. We can also feel frightened by problems we are powerless to do anything about, or just generally anxious at the state of our contemporary world.
Third, there is the reality of guilt. Jesus commissioned his Apostles to forgive sins in his name for a reason – we are sinners. Sin awakens in the soul of the one committing it guilt at having done so. That guilt must be erased through God’s act of forgiveness and our change of behaviour if we are truly to be free and well. Yet, many people today continue to carry in their hearts unrepented and unforgiven guilt, a very heavy weight at the root of the dysfunction and division plaguing individuals, families, and nations.
The response of Jesus to each of these needs is one and the same. As he did with Thomas and the other Apostles, so also he does for us – he shows the wounds in his hands and side. What Jesus is teaching by this gesture is that he is truly risen! It is no ghost appearing to the Apostles, no figment of their imagination. The One appearing before them is the same Jesus who died on the Cross. He is alive and with his people in the full power of the Resurrection. This is why the first words of the Risen Lord are, “Peace be with you.” There is no need to be afraid. By showing his hands and side, Jesus is saying, “I am risen and alive, and I am with you to care for you, continuously, whatever the difficulty.”
It is this – the certainty of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the conviction of his abiding presence – that removes doubt by the certainty of his love, dispels fear by the knowledge of his presence, and heals guilt by the gift of forgiveness. This is the continuing care we all need, and only Jesus can provide it.
One final point, and this one also suggested by the Edmonton General. In this place we have a unit dedicated to a particular and beautiful form of mercy, namely, palliative care. There we accompany people who are dying, and help them prepare for a good and holy death. The care we offer is motivated by the sure and certain hope that death does not have the final word. This hope arises in our hearts as we remember that Jesus truly rose from the grave. In his rising, Jesus has made death the gateway to eternal life for those who believe in him. Palliative care prepares people not for the end of their life but for a transition to its eternal continuance. The Resurrection of Jesus awakens hope for the “continuing care” that awaits us in Heaven, and for which the Church prepares the dying by her merciful accompaniment.
As we celebrate today Divine Mercy Sunday, let us pray in this mass that we who need mercy, who are all in need of this unique form of divine continuing care, may receive the grace to be effective agents of that same mercy to others. Many are the levels of continuing care needed by all people. Our call is to bring to them the one capable provider – Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre
April 16th, 2023