THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – MAY 03, 2020

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41
A reading from the first Letter of Peter 2:20b-25
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 10:1-10

Dear Friends in Christ,

It is difficult to celebrate something for fifty days, even if that something is Easter.  Note that these Sundays are not Sundays after Easter, but Sundays of Easter.  We are celebrating the one event of the Lord Jesus’ dying and rising 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.  They came to the Assembly Sunday after Sunday during their quest.  With the Assembly, they sat under the Liturgy of the Word and felt the encouragement and support of those with whom they gathered.  In the process, they learned how this people worship and celebrate Mystery.  In the process, they experienced Jesus in this Body of Christ called Church.  In the Process, their hunger and longing intensified.  They journeyed 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 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 was long and demanding; but so was their conversion to the life to which they were being called.  The Holy Spirit invited them to enter the sheepfold through the gate.  In today’s Gospel Jesus says, 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, a time during which they were called The Elect.  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 Elect and form them in the likeness of Christ, looking forward to the day they would join the Assembly in the Eucharist.  Their entrance into the Church would happen during the celebration of the Vigil of Easter.  But not this year.  The Church could not gather on that night because of the COVID-19 that is plaguing our country and the world.  The Baptisms of the Elect will have to be put off until it is safe for gatherings again.  It could be that it will happen as part of Pentecost.  Then again, it might be later than that.  The Church and the Elect will live in hope.

The day will come when the Elect will enter the waters that are the tomb and womb for those who will die with Christ and so rise with him to newness of life in Christ.  Then the Sacred Chrism will glisten on their brows.  They will be clothed in white robes as they journey to the Table to stand with those others, now their sisters and brothers in Christ, to celebrate Eucharist and to know Christ in the Breaking of the Bread.

With all the suffering that has happened this year, the intensity of emotions is likely to induce tears and laughter.  The joy of their union with Christ will be overwhelming.  The applause of the Assembly welcoming them will be thrilling and humbling as they come to realize that they are then one with this people in truth and in fact.  They will likely wish they could linger in that moment.  Let it go on and on.

No one can live on an emotional high indefinitely.  It is like the first stage of love, wonderful but shallow.  Love matures through the pouring out of self for the other.  People can wonder, as the years go by, if they were in love at all in the beginning, so deep and different is their love on this tenth, twenty-fifth, fiftieth anniversary of their love.  So it will be for the Neophytes, as it is for the seasoned Assembly of which they will then be a part.

As their emotions moderate with the passing of time, the danger can be that they will begin to wonder if they really believe.  Lovers can wonder if they really love when their emotions calm.  They can fail to recognize that the door opens to a deeper love.  The Neophytes are 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 and will be the focus of every Lent.

It is all about the Breaking of the Bread.  In that beginning of faith, the believer can 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 of the story.  There is a challenge inherent in the Eucharist.  Believers are to imitate what they take and eat.  During every celebration they will hear Christ’s invitation to do this in my memory.  Believers, as co-celebrators of the Eucharist, must be willing to be broken and given until all have been fed.  That is not easy.  Of course no one ever said that it was.  Jesus never said that it would be.

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 when Christ could be seen clearly working through the people.  There have been lows when some might have wondered if Christ had abandoned the effort.  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 from the Cross?  What the world saw as ignominy and shame was actually Christ entering into Glory and establishing the Kingdom of God, the beginning of his reign at God’s right hand.  We do not have time or space for a history lesson here.  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.  It has to do with the use and abuse of power.  Now hear Pope Francis’s urging a reformation of the Church, a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  There was significance in his garb that night he appeared on the balcony and asked for prayers as he began as the Bishop of Rome.  And there is great significance in the name he chose.  Francis.

What is true for the church as a whole can be true for each and every individual in the Church – for bishops, for priests and deacons, for vowed religious, for all who share in 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 form me for I am meek and humble of heart.  I stand in your midst as one who serves.  As soon as one lords power over another that lesson is lost.  There are those in the Church both ordained and lay that bristle at Pope Francis’ challenge to shepherd in the midst of the sheep, even to smell like the sheep.  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.

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?

In the end as in the beginning, it is about love.  We cannot look for escape hatches by being content to love the lovable.  That is 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 betray and harm us.  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 never an enough.  That might be the significance to the witness in Joh’s Gospel who attests to the last drop of blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

2 comments so far

  1. Pat Rentmeester on

    Beautifully written Father Jeffrey, another great homily!

  2. Connie McNaughton on

    I need to work harder to love every one.


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