Christos voskres! Voistynu voskres! Christ is risen! He is truly risen!
Last night I had the joy of hearing those words at a Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy here in this Cathedral, with several hundred people present. In the Eastern churches this year, their Easter falls today. And they sang it over and over again.
For us today includes many things; many elements converge on this Sunday. First and foremost, it is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the Octave or 8th day of Easter. And in liturgical time, the 8th day of a feast is like a second version of the 1st day. It recalls it, repeats it, takes it up again. Easter, as the holy Father said last Sunday, is the “most important and beautiful day of history”. Easter, therefore, is so large that it takes time to absorb. Christ rose on the first day of the week, our Sunday, and appeared to the disciples as a group that first Easter evening. Then “eight days later”, he appeared again. And Thomas who had missed the first day was present on the 8th, one week later, and made his magnificent act of faith. As for him, then, so for us: this second Sunday is a second chance. It is an opportunity to personalise Easter, to make a profession of faith that is really our own, to make the Resurrection our own, to feel it resonating in our own lives and experience. “My Lord and my God” says St Thomas.
Last Sunday, from the Vigil onwards, everything cried out: Christ is risen! The whole Liturgy said it, alleluia! Now, the grace of today is for us to respond, Yes, he is truly risen! Today is the day for our “truly”. There’s a fulness now. When St Thomas added his own delayed act of faith it was a moment of completion. Now the whole body of apostles believed. And when Jesus then said, “You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”, he incorporated us. He invited us to join the choir of faith, to add our voice, to make the chord a full one – the Bride saying her resonant “yes” to the Bridegroom. Every year our catechumens and those coming into full communion with the Church remind us what a journey that can be, how time is part of it. And how gracious our Lord was to Thomas! He didn’t say, why weren’t you here last week? Perhaps the Lord’s crucifixion had traumatised him. Perhaps he needed this longer time to believe. The Lord waited for him, for the right moment. And then he said, “doubt no longer but believe.” And he did. He truly did. And the Resurrection happened for him. This is the grace of today.
There, then, are two first things to say about this Sunday: it is the Octave Day of Easter, and it is St Thomas’ day as well.
And here’s a third. It’s something that comes from the long tradition of the Roman liturgy. It’s a day when we salute one more time those who were baptised at Easter. We remember them. We thank God for them. We pray for them. And we remember our own baptism. Today’s liturgy is full of baptism. “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons”, says St Peter. And the Collect prays that “all may grasp…in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose blood they have been redeemed.” On Maundy Thursday, all priests can recall their ordination. Today, all Christians can recall their baptism. And this too is about the Resurrection turning true in us, Christ rising in us. By way of the font we are reborn to eternal life. By being baptised we share in the dying, the burial and the rising of Christ. We are raised up to walk in newness of life, says St Paul, the sins of our past forgiven. Our bodily raising at the end of time will be the final effect of Christ’s Resurrection and a transformation of the world, but its first expression, our first resurrection, happens in baptism. We are raised by the power of the Spirit to a life of faith, hope and charity. We are born to life as a child of God. Christ’s Resurrection is meant to make its way to our lips (professing faith), to our hearts (in hope) and to our lives (in love). For the Lord is only truly risen when he’s risen in us.
And what’s the well-spring of all this? It ‘s of course, the “great mercy” St Peter speaks of. It’s the “everlasting mercy” the Collect speaks of. Yes, fourthly, this is Divine Mercy Sunday. God forbid that this devotion distract us from Easter; it’s meant to take us into it. The famous image St Faustina painted is of Jesus risen. “The risen Christ”, said St John Paul, “is the definitive incarnation of the divine mercy.” And perhaps this linking of divine mercy and Easter and St Thomas and baptism, is a gift to us precisely as children of the 3rd millennium. It was in the year 2000 that St John Paul canonised St Faustina and declared this Sunday the Sunday of Divine Mercy. It was on the eve of this Sunday he died in 2005 and on it he himself was canonised in 2014. If in the course of this millennium mankind is to be raised from its huge confusions and conflicts, from its injustices and wars, it will be by the mercy of God overcoming our sins.
Christ is risen! He is truly risen! May he rise in our faith and hope and charity, our newness of life! May he rise in the Christians of the Easter, suffering in Ukraine and Syria and elsewhere! May he rise as others throughout the world seeking the water of baptism! May he rise in outbreaks of justice and peace. May his Resurrection be true for all of us! Amen!