A few weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I landed at the emergency entrance to Lions’ Gate hospital. I was alone and in pain. Within a minute I was taken into a treatment area, where my self-diagnosis of a kidney stone was swiftly confirmed.
I wasn’t a happy patient, but I was a grateful one. I am now a big fan of pain medicine! But the most positive element in my ordeal was the compassion and care of the nurses and doctor on duty. Before they sent me home, the kind young doctor gave me a prescription, reassurance and the answers I needed to plan the next step to recovery.
Why am I telling you all this? Because today I want to say “Welcome to the hospital!”
I know. You thought you were in church. But even Pope Francis has said “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
And I love the old saying that the church is not a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners, though I can’t find out who said it.
Whether you’re a visitor or someone who attends regularly, I want to welcome you to church today in the same way I was welcomed to the emergency department. We don’t offer pain medicine, but we offer pain relief.
This Easter Sunday, I hope you can find whatever reassurance and answers you need in your life—because I think many people in church today can identify with the story of the two disciples trudging along the road to Emmaus.
Cleopas and his unnamed friend represent religious people whose hopes have been dashed. But they also represent non-religious people who just don’t know what to believe. They represent the way almost everyone feels some of the time.
There’s a whole lot of us slogging along, standing still, looking sad. We have more questions than answers and it’s been a long time since we felt reassured or comforted by faith.
Some of our questions can be very basic: we wonder what life is all about. We ask “Is there a higher power? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Is there more to this life?”
We might feel that God is far away from us or that we are far away from God. This can leave us feeling guilty or empty. It can make us fearful or confused.
So why don’t we let those two disciples stand in for all of us, whatever their particular thoughts and feelings were that Easter evening? And let’s take a close look at how their questions and doubts were answered.
The obvious thing is that there was no obvious thing. Jesus performed no miracle, other than vanishing, and gave no special sign. He used the Scriptures—the prophecies about the Messiah—to open their eyes.
The disciples, in turn, did not shout out “Eureka! Now I get it!” All they did was try to continue the conversation. “Stay with us,” they said. Maybe they were just trying to be hospitable to this knowledgeable stranger, but we’ll never really know.
What we do know is that the combination of God’s word, broken open for them by Christ himself, and the breaking of bread that recalls the Eucharist opened their eyes to recognize Jesus.
The end result of this encounter is dramatic. Their hearts are on fire and the two disciples return to Jerusalem, sharing what had happened on the road and what they had seen and heard.
This Easter I want to invite you to that same experience—to that same encounter with Jesus. Sometimes our experience in church is like the waiting room just inside the door of Emergency. We know there’s help to be found, but we’re not sure when it’s coming or how.
Father Paul and I and all our brother priests do our best today and every Sunday to explain the meaning of the Scriptures. But only a personal meeting with Jesus really opens our eyes and sets our hearts on fire.
This Easter we want to invite every single person in church today to a conversation with the Lord that will lead to a personal relationship with him.
He wants to hear you say “Stay with us.” As the Book of Revelation says: “I’m standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
At Easter we encounter the one who took upon himself the consequences of our sins and the sin of the whole human race. We meet Jesus who rose from the dead, brought us new life, and bridged the gap caused by sin.
Don’t start thinking you’ll find the whole story in one sermon. Just like the ER doctor, I’m going to offer you a prescription and a referral. The prescription is found in this little booklet called “The Ultimate Relationship”. It’s tells the story of the consequences of Easter and of what the Resurrection of Jesus promises.
Only you can answer that, but I can tell you that God wants to know you personally. He wants this Easter celebration of what we call the Paschal Mystery—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus—to make a difference in your life, to open your eyes to what’s really happening around you and in you.
A few Sundays back I took the time to study the congregation. At Easter we have many visitors but on an ordinary Sunday I know most of the people in church. I think I expected to feel like the general manager of a hotel for saints—because certainly we have some wonderful, holy, and dedicated people in this parish.
But that’s not what hit me as I thought about the stories of the men and women sitting in front of me. I was truly the duty doctor in the ICU. There was a woman whose husband had left her abruptly and without warning; a few pews back a young man dealing with a recent diagnosis of serious illness.
On the other side of the church, a couple struggling to keep their marriage going; to the right of them a man unemployed after many years with the same company. Five rows back a grieving widow; right behind her someone struggling with addiction.
Real people. Real problems. But real Christians, putting their faith in the power of God to get them through.
You don’t get there in an hour on Sunday or an hour and ten minutes at Easter. You get that kind of practical help from the friendship of Jesus and a living faith in his power to save and to heal.
So there’s a prescription: The Ultimate Relationship booklet is a prescription you can take home with you today. But some of us need a referral. That’s the Alpha course.
Alpha is a series of social evenings where we explore life’s big questions with food, a talk and open discussion. There’s no pressure and no question that’s off-limits.
When the doctor at Lions Gate referred me to a specialist, he made sure I saw him right away. I want to refer you to Alpha with the same urgency—it starts this Thursday night, with dinner at 6:30.
It might just prove to be the kind of meal the disciples shared with Jesus that first Easter night.