As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)
All Christians should be amazed that on the evening of the same day that He rose from the dead, Jesus visited the Apostles and gave them the express authority to forgive sins through His gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalene in the morning (Jn 20:13-15). Later in the day he met two disciples leaving Jerusalem whose distraught hearts He resuscitated (Lk 24:32). In his meetings with Mary and these disciples He initially kept his true identity hidden. However, when he comes upon the Apostles on that first Easter evening, Jesus spares no time showing Himself to them. He has come on business, the business of the His Father’s divine mercy; for just as the Father has sent Him, so he is sending out his new overseers of justice and mercy.
The Church considers this visitation to the Apostles to be the institution of the Sacrament of Penance. The Apostles had already been chosen for the priesthood at the Last Supper. Now they are to be the keepers of the episcopal office or bishops of the Church binding and loosening through the grace and power of Jesus Christ. Yet one of their number was not there.
The Apostle Thomas was not there. Thus he did not receive the breath of the Holy Spirit on Easter Evening. When Jesus appears again a week later, Thomas is now present. Jesus addresses Thomas immediately, inviting him to probe the wounds of His Crucifixion. The purpose of this is not only that Thomas will believe, but that he will also be able to forgive sins. For how could Thomas, if he doubted the risen power of Jesus, ever be able to forgive sins in the name of Jesus? Jesus is being merciful to the doubt of Thomas, yet He also means to be merciful to the entire world through Thomas.
For this Second Sunday of Easter, often captioned “Divine Mercy Sunday”, we place on our bulletin cover a work by the famous medieval Sienese painter Duccio entitled Doubting Thomas painted as part of his Maesta or Majesty Altarpiece for the Cathedral of Sienna (1311). Duccio painted in a style inherited by Byzantium but with a fresh religious fervor obvious in the gestures of his figures.
Here in beautiful medieval color Duccio places the risen Christ in between two groups of Apostles. Christ lifts his arm so that the wound of this side might be revealed (and as a sign of blessing). This is not the presentation of Caravaggio or later painters which show Jesus guiding the hand of Thomas into the wound. Thomas is eager to reach out and touch the Lord Jesus as seen by his forward leaning. Even the disciples behind Thomas press upon each other in this “still-life” to rush upon their Lord. Duccio paints Jesus afore the Jewish Temple to make the point that our new temple is the Sacred Body which has now become our focus of worship.
In true Sienese artistic style, this sacred work is meant to instill in us a desire to rush toward the Divine Mercy of God!
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services