John’s Gospel – which is the last of the Gospels written, at least that we have recognized – is unique in its presentation, in the sense that John is not so much detailing the events from Jesus’s life, as he is explaining the meaning of Jesus’s life and its impact on the world at large. And one of the places that I think you can go to find the best of what I would consider to be that presentation or that explanation is actually in the Last Supper.
As we know, John’s Gospel does not record the institution of the Eucharist as the other Synoptics do, but has two critical events: one, the washing of the feet of the disciples – that sense of service as the essential Ministry of Jesus. But then following that in Chapter 17 there is the explanation that Jesus gives, in what’s called the Last Discourse: the explanation of the events that will be taking place, as He in a sense tries to prepare the disciples for what will be occurring in the in the coming hours. And then He goes from the Last Discourse goes to priestly prayer – the great priestly prayer where he prays to the Father that all may be one.
I think that when you look at John’s Gospel, Chapter 17 is the best way to understand this particular selection of the gospel that’s presented to us on the second Sunday of Easter. Jesus in those last moments talks about mercy – the great mercy of God which will be manifested in the giving of the Spirit. And in the giving of the Spirit, all will be made one, in a sense. [The] point being that through the gift of the Spirit, God will recreate the face of the earth.
God will open up a door to a future that is beyond our comprehension, and so when Jesus comes on the night of the resurrection and comes to the disciples who are still in a state of fear – a fear that represents not merely the environment of the disciples on that night, but represents human history. For in reality, we have lived in fear for our entire history – a fear of walking into the new. And as a result of that, we have created, but can best be described in human history as a merciless world – a merciless world in which blood and the shedding of blood – the oppression and all of the -isms that go along with that are our history. That’s who we have become. That’s who we are: fear – a fear of walking into God’s new day.
And so Jesus comes in the midst of them, and the first thing he does is he greets them: “Peace be with you.” Well they knew when they heard those words it was the greeting of Shalom – it was the introduction of a new day, for it was the Messianic Greeting that he was giving them. This is [not] just, “hello, how are you, it’s nice to be with you.” Here it was the Messianic Greeting – his way of announcing that God’s new day had emerged, and that they need not be fearful. And then he breathes on them and says,”receive the Holy Spirit; come into God’s life for the new day, the new moment in history.
The new opportunity is the opportunity of living together in God that takes away the fear. Because in living together in God, by the power of the Spirit, allows me to see the face of another human being. And it allows me to engage in the mercy of God which has been shown me, and I now can show to another. Because the mercy is the uncompromising love of God manifested in our actions.
And you see that in the first reading how dramatically different the life of the people had become. Some say it’s an idealism. I say it’s the new day – it’s the end. It’s the challenge that God lays before us. My saying, “Be one in me. Be part of my life” and then live that life, that reality. Yeah, the reality of our oneness and God by the power of the Spirit – certainly in this moment and time.
As we are living through these unprecedented days, this pandemic and everything we’re seeing strangely enough, and hopefully we’re seeing manifestations of that we’re seeing that in those who work in a medical field. No distinctions. Everybody is affected. Many of us wheeled into the emergency rooms and nobody asks you when you get to the emergency room, oh let’s look at the color of your skin or language or where you come from, what’s your background. But what they do is they gather around you, and they say, “oh let’s take your blood pressure. Let’s check your oxygen level. Let’s see how you’re breathing. Let’s care. Let’s show you care and concern.”
In a sense those in the medical field, in a particular way, those in the nursing homes and in those care facilities are basically showing us the new way. And they’re doing that by putting themselves at risk, because in a sense they are offering their life in service of those of us who are in need. What it brings is an example – and it’s always an example that strikes me that comes out in moments of tragedy, in moments of great struggle. We’ve seen it in the wars. We’ve seen it in the other times of great illness. We’ve seen it in the natural disasters that have taken place. It seems that in those moments the Spirit takes over. And the Spirit strengthens and guides us and gives us the courage to go beyond the normal and to live the extraordinary, which is literally to live in God, by God, and for God.
Let us pray that on this Sunday of Divine Mercy – the second Sunday of Easter – in the midst of these difficult days and challenging days that we devote ourselves to living the New Way.