Today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, also called Sunday in the Octave of Easter. This is the 8th day since Easter Sunday. And in liturgical thinking, the 8th day is the 1st day come back again. We have, as it were, done a week-long circle around Easter and come back to the beginning. We’ve run our fingers up the scale and come to the same note an octave higher. Today is a second chance to keep Easter.
This is also the Sunday of St Thomas the Apostle. Eight days after Easter we hear, in the Gospel, first of Jesus appearing to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, and then “eight days later” appearing again. “Peace be with you”, he says the first time, and then again the second time, “Peace be with you.” Today is a second chance to receive the peace of Christ. And Thomas, who wasn’t “with the disciples” the first time, is the second, and receives “peace in believing”. St Thomas found the whole thing difficult. His first instinct, on hearing of the Resurrection, was to shake his head and say, “Na”. But today, the 8th day, he has his second chance. Golly, does he take it! “My Lord and my God” – the most explicit and resounding act of faith in all the Gospels. “God of everlasting mercy”, goes today’s Collect, “who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast – this 2nd Easter – kindle the faith of the people you have made your own.” Today, “eight days later”, fire as it were comes out from the words of Christ and the wound in the side of Christ, and kindles the faith of St Thomas. “And blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Today is a second chance for us to believe.
St John Paul II added another name too to this Sunday: the Sunday of Divine Mercy. He died, as we know, on its eve. And he once described mercy very beautifully. He called it “the second name of love”. Love is, first, love of what is radiantly lovable, but mercy – the second love – is love still loving when the radiance has gone, reviving love when the object of love is no longer lovable. And receiving mercy is receiving love when we’re in a mess, when it has all gone wrong. Here shines out the whole Easter thing – the Son of God made man dying, rising and pouring out the Holy Spirit: it is all God giving humanity a second chance, after the great muck-up of folly and sin.
This is Second Chance Sunday. At the time of his Passion, the disciples had all fled, but in his Resurrection, Jesus came back to them. “Peace be with you.” He didn’t go off and look for others. “Doubt no longer, but believe”: that’s St Thomas given a second chance. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”: that’s Peter given a second chance. This is the grace of Easter, straight from the “God of everlasting mercy.” The other evening, some of us had a zoom meeting with people involved in Cenacolo. Cenacolo is a network of communities that try to be like that first Christian community in Jerusalem described in the 1st reading, and that welcome, for their healing, people with addictions. Three guys, one from Slovakia, one from Scotland, one from England, gave their testimonies. The faith, friendship and discipline of Cenacolo proved their second chance, and like Thomas they had seized it – huge humility, huge courage.
This is the God of everlasting mercy always at work.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes back to his failed disciples. He breathes on them, like the Lord on Adam at the beginning, gives them the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins: to offer to the others the second chance they had received. Sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of baptism – the Church has the power to baptise – and baptism is like a second birth, a renewal, a regeneration, a second beginning for sinful man. And sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the Church has the power to absolve sins committed after baptism; the “plank after shipwreck” in the ancient phrase. It’s a second second chance. The Father can’t stop giving his children yet another opportunity.
So, this Sunday, Easter come round again, the 2nd Easter an octave up, the Sunday of St Thomas, the Sunday of Divine Mercy, the “second name of Easter”: it is all one message, surely. It’s the God of everlasting mercy, the God of fire and light, ever ready to re-kindle us, to re-light the grace of our baptism, to pick us up, dust us down and say, On you go! “As the Father sends me so am I sending you.” At its level, even the pandemic fits in here: the Holy Father says again and again, this is a chance for a better world. Take it! Will we? More locally too, even the forthcoming election fits in here.
This is the Day the Lord has made, not just today, but every day in the new day that dawned in the Resurrection, the “day that knows no setting.”
Let me end with this. I don’t think it’s heresy. Think of our Lord, of his earthly life, his public life, his ministry, his mission. Think how it ended: him on a Cross and a tiny handful of family and friends beside him. It’s not a vision of success. So, can we dare to say that when the Father of mercies raised him from the dead, he was in a sense giving his beloved Son a second chance? Not in 1st century Palestine but always and everywhere: in the Church, in us, in Thomas and Peter and Mary Magdalene, in every community – like the first one in Jerusalem where believers cared for and shared with one another so wholeheartedly. We are all second-chancers, and even in his unique and sinless way, our Lord himself raised from the dead. Let’s give him his second chance in us! Wherever there’s a kindling of faith and love, wherever hope’s reborn and prayer restarts, wherever there’s perseverance and patience, courage and new initiatives, then the Father is raising Jesus and he is raising us and we are rising together with him. So suggests this Sunday, Sunday of the Second Chance. “O God of everlasting mercy…” here we are!
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 11 April 2021)