How right Saint John Paul II was when he wrote: “No human sin can erase the mercy of God, or prevent him from unleashing all his triumphant power, if we only call upon him!” Christ’s Cross and resurrection wonderfully express the mercy of God. His Cross, his tomb, and his resurrection were for our salvation. In the Easter Gospels, we meet the empty tomb with the stone rolled back. The stone, of course, could not be a barrier for the Risen Lord who came through locked doors and appeared among his disciples (John 20:19). The stone was rolled back, not for his sake, but for ours. We needed to look into that tomb and see it empty (Venerable Bede); to see the clothes rolled up where he had left them when he rose.
No material stone, however heavy, could imprison the Risen Lord. But physical stones are not the hardest things to penetrate. Ezekiel talks about stony hearts during the Easter Vigil. The human heart or stubborn will can be an impenetrable stone blocking what the Lord wants to do in us. We learn from those who witnessed that first Easter morn that only when we seek Jesus will we find the stone moved aside.
In today’s Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday, the Risen Jesus seeks us. He gives his first priests the gift of lifting the burdens that weigh heaviest on the human heart. He gives his priests the grace to roll back stones that block life, crush us, and hold us in spiritual death. Christ gives his priests the power to forgive sins. In the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) many stones are rolled back. Dark, heavy weights are lifted. Blocked paths to the Lord and to true freedom are cleared again. Christ speaks words of peace. Lost joy is restored. Consciences are relieved. Baptismal grace is renewed. Love overcomes fear. We are made new in God.
Every Easter we look anew into that empty tomb to remind ourselves of new life in Christ. Sometimes, we forget. Often, we forget! Like the apostles and the women, we still expect to find only death there. We still expect the stone to block our way. But when we look for him as they did, we discover that death is put to flight. The stone is rolled away. Life has triumphed in the Lord of Life and our life too has been raised up in God. Death is no longer there in his tomb. What changed those first witnesses will change us.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we give thanks especially for the Easter gift of the forgiveness of sins, conveyed powerfully in today’s Gospel (John 20:19-31): “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them. . .” Your support of Saint John’s Seminary provides future priests to forgive sins in Christ’s name and so to lift the burden that weighs heaviest on the human heart. Without the sacraments—without priests to celebrate those sacraments—many graces flowing from the resurrection would be lost. Without the sacraments, the resurrection would remain for many an event of history, not something that changes history and utterly changes us.
By: Fr. Joseph Briody, Professor of Sacred Scripture