Acts of the Apostles 4: 8-12 1 John 3: 1-2 John 10: 11-18
There are times when we can easily overlook what might be considered subtleties in the Scriptures. An incident is recorded. It is the main point of that incident that captures our attention. What might seem to be only a passing remark is ignored. Today presents what I believe is an example of this. We heard, in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter boldly preaching. He makes the statement that there is “no salvation through anyone else.” He adds: “nor any name given to the human race by which we are saved.”
In the context that he is preaching, he is addressing leaders of the Jewish people. It might seem that his concern is only with them and their apparent lack of leadership. But he is also speaking in an area, a country, occupied by Roman soldiers, subject to the Roman emperor. Peter was not only making an audacious statement to the Jewish leaders, that they had failed in their in their task as leaders, he was also making a challenge to and a contradiction of the claim that it was the Roman emperor, often declared to be divine, who was the “Lord and Savior” of his subjects.
We need to recall that this exalted idea or attitude was not just a part of ancient Rome and its empire. History over the centuries is filled with examples of those claiming a similar authority and dignity, often coupled with force as well as death and destruction of any opposition. That same kind of thinking is still found today in many places around the world.
In contrast to these images, we are presented with Jesus Christ, God who became man. He is put before us as a leader, yes, but in the simplicity of the “Good Shepherd.” It is not an image of fear-inducing power, but one who us humble, one who guides, one who protects. It is not a leadership that seeks to overpower and control, but a leadership that is present, loving and embracing.
If there is an underlying message during this Easter season, and especially on this Sunday when we recall the“Good Shepherd,” it is this: The presence of God, the presence that overcomes death in the Resurrection, the presence that we share through baptism, the presence that allows us to be considered “children of God,” is the presence that seeks reconciliation with us and offers genuine salvation to us.
These are not vague ideas or pious thoughts. These are ways of describing the effective possibilities available to us as well as the possibilities to be achieved by us. Reconciliation and salvation can be understood as the manner by which creation, this world in which we live, this reality of which we are all a part, becomes what it ought to be, what God intends it to be, through our being part of a reconciling and restoring effort.
Achieving salvation, achieving in our lives all that builds us up and restores us, and doing so for all of creation that is affected by us is a genuine reflection of and revelation of our God and Creator. It is the ridding from ourselves and from all that is around us whatever limits or diminishes an experience of the reality of God’s presence. A question, then, that we can ask ourselves is this: do the words we speak, the actions we do, bring about reconciliation, salvation, the revelation of God? Does this take place day after day and throughout each day?
The image of the Good Shepherd is put before us today as a means of making evident to us how our God seeks to be united with us by loving, guiding and protecting us. It is also presented to us as a challenge to us to show that image in ourselves so that we allow ourselves and those who are a part of our lives to appreciate that the true “Lord and Savior” is not some earthly authority or power, but our truly good and gracious God.
Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-15, 17-19 1 John 2: 1-5a Luke 24: 35-48
The various accounts of the experiences that the disciples had of Jesus following his resurrection differ according to the particular Gospel writer and the audience which is being addressed. That would be expected. Two of them, however, that is St. John and St. Luke -whose styles are very different, and who are addressing different audiences – want it to be known that when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he addressed them with the words “Peace be with you.”
We have heard this, time and again, over the years. As I thought about it this year, I realized that it seemed unusual that this fact is mentioned so definitely. After all, “Peace” as in the words, “shalom” or “salaam” is a rather standard term of greeting – along the lines of a simple “Hello.” The mention of this by the Gospel writers, as well as the repetition of this by them, suggested a basis for my thought that there must be some deeper meaning or purpose.
The Resurrection of Jesus, and his defeat of the effects of death, particularly the cruel death by execution on the cross, is a call to us, an announcement to us of the reconciliation that has been achieved. It is the means of a genuine restoration of the loving relationship that is to exist with our creator God. By extension this reconciliation is to be achieved by us with all of creation. It is, indeed, to be “peace.”
Listening carefully to Peter and his teaching as it is recorded and as we have heard today, we hear him recognize that the message of God that had ben given beforehand had been rejected. It was self-interest and ignorance that had led to the execution of Jesus, rather than a sincere appreciation of the efforts of God in achieving a covenant relationship with the Chosen People.
By being raised from the dead, by overcoming the effects of mankind’s rejection of God that resulted in death, those efforts of God had been brought to fulfillment. God’s purpose had been achieved. This is what is presented to us by true faith in the Resurrection. It is through faith in the power and the impact of the Resurrection that true peace can be achieved. It is this peace that is central to the revelation of and the reflection of God that we are to work to accomplish in our lives. If, indeed, we profess to know Christ and his Gospel, his Good News, and if we profess to live that belief in our lives, then the love of God is perfected in us.
The resurrection is a call to us to seek out and to work to be at peace in ourselves and with one another. It is call to do whatever we can in our interaction with one another to be at peace and to work for peace with one another. It is a call to work sincerely to overcome all obstacles to such true peace. It is a call to make efforts to reflect genuinely love and respect for one another.
Jesus addressed his disciples after his resurrection from the dead with “Peace be with you.” It was not just a simple greeting. It was a commission to them and to us. We are to be at peace. We are to make true peace a reality in our lives. We are to make true peace a reality in the world we experience day after day, and in the world at large. We are to recognize that whatever disrupts the efforts to achieve peace is contrary to message of the Resurrection, the message of the Gospel, the message of what we believe.
We declare, though our baptism, that we are one with Jesus Christ. We are one with him in his death and in his Resurrection, and in all that is meant by this. So it is that we are to announce and to live true peace in our lives. It is the experience of “peace” that works to unite rather than to divide. It is the experience of peace that reflects the presence in us and through us of our good and gracious God.
Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-35 1 John 5: 1-6 John 20: 19-31
I must admit that I am somewhat hesitant to use the term but, as I thought about it, a way of understanding the response that Thomas made to the report of the other Apostles – as the gospel writer John records it – is to use an expression we hear all too frequently now: Fake News.
Over the centuries it has been the encounter between Jesus and Thomas the following week that has captured most of the attention and has received most of the commentary. The doubts that are expressed by Thomas are overcome by the invitation made by Jesus to touch the wounds. He was convinced enough to make that memorable statement of Faith: “My Lord and my God.”
But I believe that John had an even more significant purpose in including this account. It is a purpose that is captured in the comments made at the end of the passage, especially in the comment attributed to Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” It is the context of these comments as well as in the encouragement that they offer that is to be the basis of the faith and practice that guide the values of our lives.
Thomas, in the account that is given, is called upon to satisfy his doubts about the news he was told by physical contact with the wounds of Christ. The opportunity to do this is not going to be possible in the future. Yet how was the faith in the Resurrection, the core of the belief of Christians, going to become known? That is what is presented to us today by Luke in the reading which we heard from the Acts of the Apostles.
In the description that is given of the life and behavior of the early Christians an ideal situation is described. It is also a situation that is a challenge to us. If we are to understand that all that is negative and destructive in life has been defeated and overcome by the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, then it is imperative that this ideal way of living that is depicted is the goal, the ideal, for which we are to work. It is not the self that is to be the focus of our attention. Rather, all persons, everyone, has value and importance as a creature of God. Living with a genuine concern for the other, aiding and assisting the other, reflects this understanding of what we all are as images of God, as genuine children of God.
Followers of Jesus Christ, those who profess true faith that God has come into our world in the person of Jesus Christ and that he has overcome the vestiges of death in the Resurrection, show the depth and the reality of that belief in the manner in which they live with one another, value each other, respect all persons, and are of serve to one another. This is not only to be considered or understood, it is an ideal that is earnestly and honestly to be sought and to be lived.
If our faith in God enables us to acknowledge ourselves as children of God, then the words of John in his letter that we heard emphasizes the importance of living what exactly this means. “Everyone who loves the Father loves also the children of God.” It is simply not a “pick and choose” option.
What we proclaim as our faith is not “Fake News,” it is “Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ, It is the good news that is to be lived out day after day. It is the good news that recognizes the value and worth of all creation. It is the good news that seeks the ideal that has been put before us today. It is the good news that radically, “at the root” affects us. It is good news that makes it known, every day and in every way, the meaning of our faith and trust in a truly good and gracious God.
Acts of the Apostles 10: 34a, 37-43 Colossians 3: 1-4 John 20: 1-9
We do not need to use our imaginations too much to envision what was going through the minds of the followers of Jesus over the days of this particular weekend in their lives. On the evening of Friday, when Jesus had been executed on the cross, the minds and the hearts of those who had denied him or abandoned him out of fear had to be bewildered, puzzled, and certainly remorseful. They had to be asking themselves: Now what? What do we do? Where do we go? What happens with our lives? Given the time and the effort they had invested in associating with Jesus over the past months and years, they had to be wondering: Had they been fooled? Had they been fools?
Then reports started to trickle in from Mary and from the other women. They had gone to the tomb: the place that was the physical reminder of the defeat, the end, of all that they had been a part. The reports that were being heard were that the stone covering of the tomb had somehow been moved, the tomb was empty, the wrappings were there, but the body was not. The beaten, bruised, disfigured body ofJesus was gone. What had happened?
Slowly, gradually, it becomes apparent. Some how, in some way, it was not over. It was not defeat; it was victory.
If we want to get a sense of what the experience of the Resurrection began to mean for the followers of Jesus, it was this: The impossible is no longer impossible. Even death itself has been overcome. As this momentous event of the Resurrection from the dead by Jesus Christ took hold in the minds and hearts of his followers, their lives – from that moment on – experienced radical, fundamental, transformation. The defeat of death – the effect of the rejection of the Creator God – had occurred because of the Resurrection to life by Jesus, the God-man.
The triumph over death was – is – the ultimate revelation of the totality of God’s committed love for all of creation, for all of humanity, for all of us. This is the message, the “Good News’ that we have heard once again.
Perhaps this story is too familiar, perhaps the annual celebration of the event of Easter is too routine. The truth is, that as the impact of that event became evident in the lives of the followers of Jesus, so is that impact to continue to be evident in us, here and now, today.
Year after year we renew the faith of our baptism on this day. This is an effective response to the Good News we have once again heard. But it must be a genuine response. A response that affects every aspect of our lives. Nothing is impossible, nothing can totally defeat us. Even death has been overcome. Those who profess faith in the totality of God’s love for us demonstrated in the defeat of death and the victory of life the Resurrection proclaims, can face the world, our world, with optimism, with confidence, with an overwhelmingly positive outlook. It is with true and genuine hope that we reflect our experience and our commitment in faith to our truly good and gracious God.
Isaiah 54: 4-7 Philippians 2: 6-11 Mark 14: – 15: 47
Today begins the holiest week in the liturgical calendar of the Church’s year. We listen today to the account of the betrayal, condemnation and execution of Jesus Christ as told to us by the gospel writer, St. Mark. It is an account that is rich in different ways. It tells if the preparation of Jesus for his death; of the instructions he gives to his friends at a final meal; of betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane of the trial that really cannot find a cause for condemnation; of the death by execution on a cross that ultimately leads to life.
Mark also presents to us many individuals who are a part of this drama. Each can attract our attention in a different way. There are those who betray Jesus: Peter, Judas and even James and John. There are those who are merely observers of what is happening: the bystanders at the cross, the revolutionaries crucified along with Jesus. There are those who supported Jesus in some way: Simon the Leper, the woman who anointed him, Simon of Cyrene, Mary of Magdala, Salome, Mary, the mother of the younger James and Simon, the women who mourned for him from a distance. Finally, there were two who had a conversion of heart: the centurion who announced his death, and Joseph of Arimathea who was a member of the Council that condemned Jesus, but who then came forward to claim his body.
We can hear a suggestion in Mark’s account that we ask ourselves with whom, in this list of those surrounding Jesus at these moments, might we identify ourselves. Would we be among the faithful women? Would we be among those who condemned him out of our own fear? Or would we speak out bravely like the centurion?
In the many representations of the human reactions to this total self-giving on the part of the Son of God for us, we can be grateful for the reminder that hearts can be changed, and action scan be taken to make amends for weaknesses and failings. The story of the Passions is truly a revelation of the depth of God’s love for us.