A Mandate to Celebrate

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

“His mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 118:2a

The 2nd Sunday of Easter is celebrated as the Sunday of Divine Mercy. The origins of this celebration can be traced to two 20th century Polish saints: the visionary nun St. Faustina Kowalska and Pope St. John Paul II who popularized devotion to the Divine Mercy as revealed to her by Christ. 

If you want to learn more about St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy devotion, I encourage you to spend time exploring the website TheDivineMercy.org. But that’s not really what this reflection is about. Instead, I invite us to think about how God’s mercy informs our celebrations during the Easter season. 

A Time to Rejoice

Easter is a time of rejoicing; not just for the one day of Easter Sunday, or even the eight days of the Octave of Easter (which concludes this Sunday). Easter is a whole festive season, lasting 50 days until Pentecost — ten days longer than the penitential 40 days of Lent. I don’t know about you, but I find it challenging to celebrate for that long. 

We do a pretty good job in the Church giving guidance about how to fast and do penance during Lent. We aren’t always as good at instructing people how to properly feast during Easter, and that’s a shame. 

Similarly, I feel we do a pretty decent job explaining that love is an act of the will rather than an emotion. Jesus commands us to love, so love must be more than a feeling. You can’t command someone to feel a certain way. The commandment to love means love must be something we can choose to do, regardless of how we feel.

But the same logic applies to when the scriptures command us to rejoice. For example, Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” That means rejoicing must also be more than a feeling and we don’t spend as much time as we should reflecting on this. That means the kind of rejoicing we’re talking about must be an act of the will; something we can choose to do regardless of whether we feel happy or sad at the moment. 

What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord even when you feel sad, angry, anxious or frustrated? I admit, I haven’t entirely figured that out myself. But I think it has a lot to do with gratitude and having an active awareness of God’s mercy.

The Meaning of Mercy

We tend to think of God’s mercy primarily in terms of forgiveness. That’s understandable. We all need forgiveness from God. The gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday relates Christ, on the day of the Resurrection, giving the Apostles the divine authority to forgive the sins of others (Jn 20:19-23). 

Forgiveness is certainly a vital aspect of God’s mercy, but if that were all it consisted of, we might think, as we walk out of the confessional, “Well that’s done; I don’t need God’s mercy any longer.” Which is, of course, not true.

Psalm 118 says God’s mercy endures forever. It also says that his love is everlasting. The same word in Hebrew is translated here as both “mercy” and “love.” That word is hesed, and it refers to a covenantal, familial love that includes the concepts of mercy, forgiveness, patience and self-sacrifice — the kind of love that St. Paul says “endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). That’s why it can be translated accurately as both “love” and “mercy.” In other words, it’s the kind of love one needs to really be part of a family.

As baptized Christians, we are part of God’s family now. That’s the whole point of the covenant. We belong to God and he belongs to us. As members of God’s covenant family, we ought to have hesed for one another (which is why Jesus tells us to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34)). As flawed human beings we frequently fail to show hesed for one another. But God never fails to have hesed for us. His love, and his mercy, are perfect and everlasting. To put it in colloquial terms, God’s got our back. Always. He never fails to give us exactly what we need, even if it’s not what we want or what we’d like. That’s the true meaning of mercy. 

And that’s something worth rejoicing over, even if — and I’d say especially if — we might be going through a difficult time in our lives (or even just having a bad day). 

Having faith in God’s unfailing mercy for us can be a source of great peace and a deep, inner joy, regardless of whether it may be reflected in our emotional state at any given time. To me, that’s the beauty of having seasons of rejoicing, like Easter, on the Church’s calendar. Just as the seasons of penance remind of of our need for God’s mercy, seasons of joy remind us that we have it — and that we always will.