Sunday, April 12, 2015

Truth and Consequences (Easter 2.B)

Christmas afternoon. The living room is deserted except for a few piles of gifts; the younger kids are downstairs with an Xbox or a Gameboy, and the teenagers have gone back to bed. The excitement’s over, except for Boxing Day madness and the annual suspense over whether or not Father Xavier will lace up his skates for the parish skating party.

Most of us, parents and children alike, know the feeling.

Even the Church seems quickly to turn our thoughts from Christmas, celebrating several big feasts in the week following December 25.

Easter is different. We focus on the resurrection without a moment’s pause. Today’s Gospel records an appearance of the Risen Lord. So did the Gospel yesterday, and Friday, and Thursday—at every Mass last week we read an Easter story, whether it was on the road to Emmaus, or along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, or behind the locked doors of the Upper Room.

The Risen Lord appears also in next Sunday’s Gospel. That’s the last in this long series, but it doesn’t mean an end to the Easter theme. Two Sundays from now we’ll turn our thoughts back to the earthly ministry of Jesus in order to better understand his continuing presence with us now that he has risen.

I’m not telling you this just to describe the pattern of the readings we’ve heard today and will hear from now until the Ascension. There are three important things we can learn from looking at the readings today, and all of them connect to one central fact: Easter is a continuing experience in our lives.

The first point is that the resurrection has consequences for the Church. In our first reading, the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the unity and charity of the early Church. It tells us that what the first disciples believed had enormous consequences for how they worshipped.

It’s generally true in our parish that those with the greatest commitment to the faith are also those who make the greatest financial sacrifices. But imagine a community where the financial sacrifice was total—no envelopes or tax receipts involved! What strong faith is needed to surrender everything, trusting that the fellowship of believers would look after your needs.

And not just faith in God: by giving up what they owned to the Apostles, those first Christians also had faith in the Church. What they saw in one another allowed them to trust in the goodness of the community.

This short reading from Acts is presented in three paragraphs. The first says the group was “of one heart and soul” and “everything they owned was held in common.” That’s unity.

The third paragraph say “there was not a needy person among them.” Every member of the community was looked after according to need. That’s charity.

But the middle paragraph is the key. It tells us that the Apostles testified “with great power” to the resurrection of Jesus and that “great grace was upon them all.” There you have the source of the unity and the source of the power. It’s a direct consequence of that small community's faith in the resurrection.

The second point is that the resurrection has consequences for our lives. It is historical, for sure, but also something personal which we live each day.

We see this in the second reading today. Our belief in Christ, immeasurably strengthened by his rising from the dead, leads to love of God. And love of God leads to loving what he loves—in other words, to obeying his commandments.

Sometimes we’re like children who whine to their parents “Do I have to?” Or “why do I have to….” In today’s second reading, St. John says that’s the wrong question. Obedience to God is less a matter of what we have to do than something we want to do. We want what he wants because we believe. Our faith’s not just a series of dogmas, but an overall conviction that faith leads to victory—victory over sin and all that oppresses us.

As he rose from the dead, Christ won the greatest of all victories; through faith, each disciple has a share in that triumph—not just at the end of our lives, but each day that we live according to what he taught and commanded.

The third and final thing we can learn from the readings today comes from the Gospel. The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith. Doubting Thomas is convinced by experience. We don’t have the chance to touch the risen body of the Lord, but we do have his testimony and that of countless others. We have not seen, but we have heard; the Scriptures show us his wounded hands and his pierced side.

Seeing is believing, the saying goes, and it’s true enough. But if seeing were the only way to belief, I would wonder whether I really have a brain—certainly I’ve never seen it, and I do doubt it sometimes—or whether Australia exists. But Australians have assured me it does, and I have no reason to doubt them.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus says “peace be with you” to each and every one of us. He offers the peace that comes from forgiveness, and the peace that comes from faith.

In his resurrection from the dead, he strengthens our faith with the most absolute of all signs—not only that we might believe, but that, through believing, we might have life in his name and the gift of peace.

The truth about the Lord's resurrection has consequences—for our Church, our lives and our hearts.

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