THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

The Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41
The First Letter of Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

It’s hard to celebrate something for fifty days, even if the something is Easter. But that is what Easter is, a fifty-day celebration of the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus and our call to live in that dying and rising. Every year most parishes rejoice with groups of people who have journeyed with the faith community through their catechumenate. Coming to the assembly Sunday after Sunday during their quest they have sat under the word and felt the support of with whom they have gathered. In the process they learned how this people worships and celebrates mystery. In the process they experienced Jesus in this body of Christ. In the process hunger and longing intensify. They journey through a full church year, through a complete cycle of readings, through a year of being on the way with Jesus, following in his footsteps, as it were, to learn from him. The hunger and longing? To go from the table of the Word to the table of the Eucharist. Sunday after Sunday they were dismissed from the assembly at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word to further digest the readings, to be nourished by the Word and so be formed in the likeness of Christ. The process is long and demanding but so is the conversion of life to which they are being called. The Spirit is inviting them to enter the sheepfold through the gate. Jesus says in today’s gospel, Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.
The preceding Lent was a fifty-day period during which the Church’s attention was focused on these seekers. That period of fasting, praying, and alms giving, was a time in which the Church prayed that the Spirit would strengthen the incipient faith of the Catechumens and form them in the likeness of Christ and so join the assembly at the Table. Then came the glorious night and the celebration of Easter. In the light of the Easter Candle, the principal symbol of the Risen Christ, they were plunged into the waters that are the tomb and womb for those who would die with Christ and so rise with him. With the Sacred Chrism glistening on their brows and clothed in their white robes, they journeyed to the Table to stand with those others, now their brothers and sisters in Christ, to celebrate Eucharist and to know Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.
The intensity of emotions can induce tears and laughter. For the first time the Bread is broken and shared with them. The joy of their union with Christ can be overwhelming. The applause of the Assembly’s welcome of them can be thrilling and humbling as they come to realize that they are now one with this people in truth and in fact. It is not unheard of that the Neophytes, as the newly baptized are called, wish the Night could go on forever. But there is a dawn coming with The First Sunday of Easter and the beginning of the fifty-day celebration of the first day of the rest of their lives.
No one can live on an emotional high. It is like the first stage of love, wonderful but shallow. Love matures through the pouring out of self for the other so that people can wonder as years go by if they were in love at all in the beginning, so deep and different is their love today. And so it will be for the Neophytes, as it is the seasoned Assembly of which they are now a part. As their emotions moderate through these fifty days, the danger can be their beginning to wonder if they really believe. Lovers can wonder if they really love when their emotions calm and fail to recognize that the door is opening to a deeper love. The Neophytes are being invited to go to deeper levels of faith. No wonder we have Lent every year. For the Neophytes and for the whole Assembly, whenever they celebrated their first Easter, that is, on the day of their Baptism they began a process of conversion that will continue for the rest of their lives.
It’s all about the Breaking of the Bread. In the beginning of faith, the believer and focus on the gift of the Eucharist, on Christ’s giving his body for them. Of course that is true. That is what we believe. But that is only half the story. There is a challenge inherent in the Eucharist. Believers are to imitate what they take and eat. Believers must be willing to be broken and given until all have been fed. That isn’t easy. Of course, no one ever said that it was.
Perhaps this Easter we can learn the lesson of history. Look at the story of the Church as it has unfolded over the last 2000 years. There have been highs. There have been lows. What we come to realize through hindsight is that earthly highs and lows do not correspond to faith’s highs and lows. How long did it take for the faithful to recognize and accept the fact that Jesus reigned on the Cross? What the world saw as ignominy and defeat was actually Christ’s entering into Glory. We don’t have time or space for a history lesson here. But you know as well as I that those periods of greatest temporal glory for the Church often corresponded to periods of greatest corruption for the Church. And it has to do primarily with the use and abuse of power. What is true for the Church as a whole can be true of each and every individual in the Church – for popes, for bishops, for priests and deacons, for vowed religious, for all who share the priesthood of the baptized. There is an ancient adage: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. All the Baptized must learn the true nature of the calling. Jesus said it bluntly and without equivocation. Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. And, I stand in your midst as one who servers. We are a servant Church. As soon as one lord’s power over another that lesson is lost. Shepherds in the Church must know the people by name and serve them. They must imitate the Shepherd in today’s gospel and walk ahead of them, the strength of their faith-witness giving courage to those following through many a dark valley. Ah, but before you breathe a huge sigh of relief and succumb to the temptation to point an accusing finger, remember that all the baptized are identified with Christ and are given a share in Christ’s shepherding ministry. How vulnerable are you willing to be for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ?
How long does it take to recognize the grace of God in your being patient when you suffer for doing what is good? Read carefully what Peter says in the second reading for today. It is medicine that may not go down easily. Remember the challenge to imitate Christ? Here is the example that is put before us today: When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. In other words, through the whole of the passion Jesus emptied himself and trusted God.
In the end as in the beginning it is about love. We can’t look for escape hatches by being content to love the lovable. That’s not what Jesus did. My friend, do you betray me with a kiss? Jesus loved Judas even as Judas betrayed him. So must we love even those who would harm us and we must trust the same God Jesus did. What are the limits on this love? When can we say we have done enough? I come to see that there are no limits and no enough. That might be the significance to the witness in John’s Gospel who attests to the last drop of blood and water flowing from Jesus’ pierced side.
The Neophytes continue to journey with us more seasoned followers. What a blessing it will be for them throughout this fifty-day celebration of Easter if all they witness will be a people willing to pour themselves out for others, even for those who would harm them, and to the shedding of the last drop of blood and water. And may there be no shortage of witnessing to the only source of strength for carrying out this self-emptying imitation of Christ. The Eucharist we share.
Sincerely,
Didymus

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