Our 'Easter Event' on Thursday night was a great success. The meeting room was packed with an overflow crowd. But what stood out for me was a single failure, if I can call it that.
During the videos and the first of the three personal faith stories shared by parishioners, I noticed one woman who seemed to be doing everything she could to shrink into the corner. She made no effort to turn towards the front, and even from a distance I thought she looked uncomfortable.
Half-way through the evening, she got up and left. It's possible she just remembered an appointment, but I felt she was distressed by the message she heard.
I was blocked in by extra chairs, or I would have run after her. Later on, I wondered what I would have said if I had caught up to her in the parking lot. I'm not sure, but when I read today's Gospel, I know what I should have said: "Why are you frightened?"
I might have added "it's okay to be frightened--Christ's own disciples were scared silly when he came back from the dead. And they doubted the same truths that made you so uncomfortable a few moments ago."
The testimonies of faith given by ordinary parishioners were enough to shake up most Catholics; I can't imagine their impact on someone who may have just come by for the dessert.
Look at the reaction of the disciples to the ultimate proof of the Resurrection--the wounded hands and feet of the Risen Lord. St. Luke says "in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering..."
How human and real is that? And how close to the confusion many of us feel when we try to absorb the full meaning of Easter?
We're joyful. Christ has risen. But we're still not altogether sure of what it's all about.
I read a story about a plumber who sent an email to a government agency announcing a great discovery. He'd found that hydrochloric acid did a terrific job of clearing clogged drains.
In due course he received a reply from Ottawa: "The efficiency of hydrochloric acid is indisputable but the corrosive residue is incompatible with metal permanence."
The plumber obviously misunderstood, because he promptly wrote back to say he was very glad the government agreed with him.
The federal official, alarmed at this response, sent a second email which said "We wish to emphasize that we must refrain from assuming responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residue from hydrochloric acid, and consequently, we most emphatically recommend some alternative procedure."
But again the eager plumber misunderstood the official and wrote back saying how pleased he was that the government agreed with him.
Finally, in desperation, the bureaucrat wrote "Don't use hydrochloric acid. It eats the heck out of the pipes!"
If we're honest, a lot of our preaching and teaching sounds more like the first two emails than it does like the last. We can sometimes over-complicate the Gospel to the point of obscuring its message.
Easter offers us a chance to keep it simple and powerful. The two disciples had an awful lot to say to the others when they arrived back in Jerusalem after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. We know part of the story they told—it appears in the earlier verses of this same chapter in Luke, and we read it at the evening Mass of Easter.
But we can guess what they said first: Jesus is alive! He is not dead! It's all true!
The basic fact of the Resurrection is at the heart of all the apostolic preaching. In today's first reading, St. Peter is bold to the point of rudeness, and for one reason only: God has glorified his servant Jesus, raising him from the dead. It’s all the confidence he needs.
The belief that Jesus is risen is also the reason for the confidence St. John shows in our second reading; Jesus is not only the atoning sacrifice for our sins, but the sacrifice that atones for the sins of the whole word--as proven by the fact that the Father has raised him to life.
I'm not giving up on preaching: a good homily can help to open our minds to understand the important truths and teachings in the Scriptures, and can help us apply them in our lives. But I've become convinced that our personal testimonies of faith hold a key to the renewal and the growth of faith in our day.
"You are witnesses of these things," Jesus says in today's Gospel. But not merely witnesses of the Paschal mystery and the forgiveness of sins as history or theology. We are flesh and blood witnesses of the power of Christian faith in our own lives, called to share our story with others.
Let me end with a challenge: take a minute now and ask yourself, “What would I have said to that woman as she rushed out to the parking lot?”