THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – May 10, 2020

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter 2:4-9
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:1-12

Dear Friends,

Did you notice that this Sunday is called the Fifth Sunday of Easter?  This is not the Fifth Sunday after Easter.  It is important for us to remember what is happening during these weeks.  We could miss the point because we have been in the Easter Season nearly as long as we were in Lent.  We live in the dawning reality with its implications of the moment that changed everything forever.

Sad but true, we might see Lent as more fitting to be a season than Easter.  Holy Week comes and we make the Passion and Death journey.  We witness defeat.  We looked on and saw Jesus betrayed, rejected and broken.  Except for three, the disciples fled in sadness and left Jesus to die on the cross.  They had hoped Jesus would be the one to set Israel free.

We do not live in the past.  The mysteries of Jesus’ dying and rising are timeless.  Through the proclamation of the Liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, we recognize their continuation in the events of our times and our entry into them. During this COVID-19 pandemic with the terrible stories of sickness, suffering and death; during this time of living in isolation, something amazing is also happening, the grace of the moment, if you will.  There is an emerging recognition that we all are one human family, each person created in the image and likeness of God.  In the heroic, self-sacrificing service of the First Responders and the Doctors, Nurses, and ER Staffs, we recognize God’s love and our destiny to live in that love for all eternity.

Today’s gospel is the proclamation of the primacy of self.  What are the goals today’s children were taught to set for themselves?  To be number one.  To be powerful.  To be wealthy.  There was little sense of social conscience – that we have a responsibility to seek justice for the poor and the down trodden.  Wars rage.  Millions flee seeking refuge.  The novel virus surged from shore to shore across our country.  Millions are unemployed.  The street people are a vulnerable population.  We must recognize our responsibility for each other.  We recognize Jesus in the suffering.  There may be imposed isolation, but there seems to be also an ever clearer recognition that we are one family.  You have heard it  said  over and over.  It is true.  We will get through this together.

Many have walked away from the church.  The message being proclaimed was not resonating with the masses.  Now churches and synagogues and mosques have been shut down.  There can be no gatherings over 20.  For the first Holy Week and Easter in ages we could not gather and celebrate Eucharist.  Some, not a few, experience a holy longing.  Again, there is grace in this moment.  If only it will be recognized and accepted.  If there had been more evidence of the bishops, clergy and faithful living the Social Gospel, if there had been a clearer proclamation of that gospel many of those might not have left.  Now it must be clear that the church is present to those suffering and grieving.  

Faith in Christ has been found wanting because some of those who witnessed to it professionally have been found wanting.  There are scars physical and emotional that attest to tyranny.  Pope Francis preaches a poor church serving the needs of the poor.  Some in the church do not want to hear that message.  They do not want to smell like the sheep, or serve in the midst of the sheep.  How many aspire to be feet washers of Muslims and Jews, and convicted mafia members?

We must remember what happened this Easter Sunday.  All around the world churches that should have filled to overflowing for Sunday Mass and other religious services stood empty. The Great Vigil, during which the Elect would be baptized, didn’t happen.  Easter may remain the day people gather, hoping against hope.  But not this year.  Now more than ever, the Good News must be proclaimed clearly so that those nearly broken ones caught up in the wave of scandal and defeat can be renewed in Spirit and be reminded of who they are in Christ and the hope that is theirs in Him.

Pope Francis clearly proclaims a primacy of place for the poor.  The hierarchy is challenged to live more simply.  Francis does.  A rabbi is among his closest friends.  He has meaningful conversations with a newspaper editor who is an atheist.  He breakfasts with street people.  Many will long remember the images of Pope Francis preaching in the empty square and in the empty St. Peter’s Basilica this Holy Week.  And his messages resonated calling all to live responsibly, to care for each other and this planet on which we live.

Easter is a Feast of fifty days.  The message proclaimed is that Christ has triumphed over everything humankind fears.  Death no longer has power over us.  The little ones in Christ are the beloveds of God.  If we as church live the message, throngs will be strengthened and will rejoice in the Word, just as they did in light of the first Easter.

Hear what is happening in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  The Twelve are busy about proclaiming the good News.  Many listen, respond, and are baptized.  The numbers grow.  As they do, some essential services do not happen.  Some needy ones are neglected.  So, some good and faithful ones become official servants of the poor, thereby allowing the Twelve to be faithful to their charisms as preachers and teachers.  That is how the Order of Deacon came about.  What we witness is the realization of mutual responsibility for each other among the faithful.  The Priesthood of the Baptized emerges.

Forgive me if I keep referring to Pope Francis.  His witness inspires me.  He stands and serves among people shocked by what is happening in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and around the world.  People struggle to reconcile church bells and alleluias with the AIDS epidemic, with COVID-19, and starvation and malaria and sleeping sickness and human trafficking all ravaging Africa and other parts of our world.  How can the triumph being celebrated be reconciled with the horrors unless they are identified with the cross?  Reason for hope is found in our sharing in Christ’s triumph over sin, suffering and death.  Imagine what can happen when the faithful accept again that they share in that triumph and therefore can inspire hope in those who falter.

If we follow Christ in Resurrection, suffering should not surprise us.  Yes, the battle is done.  Yes, the triumph is won.  And we must remember that Christ’s Victory remains a work in progress that will continue to the end of time.  “Behold I am with you always until the end of time.:

If we recognize Christ in his rising, we must be open to Christ’s help to see all reality in a new light.  Then sometimes what seems like victory to others will be recognized as defeat.  What seems like triumph will be seen as failure.  We struggle on to say no to sin, to the temptations subtle and otherwise to lord it over others and to see ourselves as superior to others.  In Christ’s Victory we are called to be servants of the servants of God.

That is what St. Peter reminds us of in today’s second reading.  Christ is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.  So are we in Christ.  Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Those words resonate and remind us of the call of the Second Vatican Council in which it was declared that the Church is the People of God.  The faithful are called to full, active, and conscious participation in the Liturgy.  We share in the Priesthood of the Baptized.  As Peter says: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of (Christ’s) own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Do you believe that?  Can you live in that reality?  Do you feel the support of your local parish to live that priesthood?

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to the disciples during the Last Supper of his impending death.  They cannot begin to comprehend what he means that even though he dies he will be with them forever.  He returns to the Father who sent him, there to prepare a place for them.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.  Our journey of faith leads to that eternal union.  There is one way to accomplish that goal.  We must know Christ and imitate him in word and action.  I am the way and the truth and the life….Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

Do you see why it takes time to celebrate the reality of Easter and to drink in the implications?  This Easter Season we fast from the Eucharist.  Yet we live as a Eucharistic people who give thanks to God through the renewing of Christ’s dying and rising.  We see Christ broken and poured out for all.  We experience his resurrection.  We are sent to do what Jesus continues to do through his living stones.  As the faithful, we love others as we are loved.  That includes our enemies, by the way, again as Jesus taught.  It is all about love.  But this is not a love that prompts us to take anything to ourselves.  This is love that empowers us to empty ourselves in service.  We go out to wash feet the way Jesus did.  In the midst of all that seems to spell the defeat of Christianity, we live in the triumph of the cross as we emerge the new creation begotten in Baptism.  Just as the numbers of faithful grew so rapidly in that first Easter Light, I will wager that if the faithful heed Pope Francis’s invitation to become recommitted to imitation of Christ, the numbers will flourish again.

This pandemic may go on for a time.  But I believe we will emerge from it renewed and recommitted to being Christ’s continuing presence.  It will happen.  We have Christ’s promise that it will until he comes again.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus

2 comments so far

  1. Connie McNaughton on

    A very hopeful homily, Father. “Reason for hope is found in our sharing of Christ’s triumph over sin, suffering and death” hit me especially strongly. Thank you, Father.

  2. Jim Battista on

    In my not always humble opinion, we should ALL love Pope Francis. His example of true love and humility is unmatched.
    Thank you Heavenly Father for all of our holy teachers, both clergy and lay.


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