Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)
by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.
We are quickly coming to the conclusion of the Easter Season. Last
Thursday, we celebrated the feast of Christs return to His Father, the
Ascension. Next Sunday, we celebrate the great outpouring of the
Spirit on the Church, the Feast of Pentecost.
Id like to try to summarize what I feel the entire season of Easter has been trying to put us
in touch with during these Seven Sundays. The same basic event has been the
focus of each of these Sundays. We focus on that moment in the life of
Jesus, the mysterious period of time He spent with
His disciples following His Resurrection. Its clear that Jesus
was not a man interested in great numbers. With His
charismatic personality and power, with His ability to perform
miracles, Jesus could have gathered together
thousands of people who were ready to follow Him. But Jesus
didnt seem to want to concentrate so much on the crowds. Instead, Jesus concentrated
His attention on just a few. As He was leaving this world, it was very
important for Jesus to have a group of people who really understood what He
was saying so that they could pass it on. Jesus wanted to plant the seed deep inside of them so
He would be certain it was growing. What I find fascinating is that the eleven
disciples werent really very successful at the end of three years of
Jesus teaching. They saw and experienced so much during this time with Jesus, and yet, when it
came to His death, they were frightened and
shattered by what was happening. They scattered. Evidently, a three-year
retreat with Jesus wasnt enough. John and the women were the
only ones who hung in there.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas -
by CARAVAGGIO -
from Sanssouci, Potsdam
Jesus came back to the disciples after His
death, giving them a short, intense, course of forty days. Jesus
spent time with them, speaking again of everything He had already explained to them.
He gave them proof after proof that He was truly Who He said
He was. He explained that He truly was the
Jesus Who had spent time with them, now transformed through His
pain and His suffering. Ive often envied
these men. Think of what it would be like to have this kind of experience with a religious Teacher Who would
reveal all kinds of insights given by God. Then, this Teacher would do something
extraordinary: Dying, but rising. Having the ability to
walk through doors with a post-resurrection body. Revealing wounds,
but not bleeding. Letting us probe the wounds as
Jesus allowed the disciples. This would be an extraordinary experience. At the end of this experience, we would be so clearly
convinced it would almost seem as if faith were unnecessary. The disciples were given all of these proofs.
And yet, they still had doubts and fears. This is an interesting
revelation of the way in which Jesus wants to work with our weakness.
Jesus wants us to believe. Jesus wants
His disciples to be certain. Thomas, the one who doubted the longest,
finally says, My Lord and my God. I understand Who You really are. The
Ascension reveals Jesus returning to the Father. Before
He does so, He wants the disciples to understand that He is leaving
them with a seed, the heart of the message. They must share this
message with their brothers and sisters. I dont know if we can go this far, but I suspect that
Jesus must have been a little nervous. He must have been afraid that the
message He was leaving with the disciples might end up being a little distorted. Jesus
wants to make sure the disciples understand.
God works through Jesus, convincing people of what they need
to share with one another. We could take this as a reminder of two things: The
work of the Spirit in the Feast of Pentecost has the goal of trying to make everything
clear to us. The Spirit is an Advocate, a Helper,
a Teacher, Who stays with us and works with us. Christ
promises this source that lives inside each and every one of us.
The second facet of the ministry of Jesus stresses the importance
of our being convinced. I mean really convinced. Absolutely certain of two things:
Who Jesus really is.
That He really comes from the Father.
Jesus is not just talking to us about His
human insights into a tradition that had been around for a long time. Its not an insight perhaps
colored by Jesus own wants, needs or background. No, this is the One Who
comes from the Father. Its important for us to know that Jesus is the
One giving us the fullness of the message. Jesus is going back to the
Father, where He will have a certain authority. He
will be placed over all things in the universe. This gives us the sense that there is a benevolent power,
a power stronger than every other power that is able to work with us and all of the situations in the world
to bring about the kingdom. The kingdom is a way of describing a life that is
full, rich and meaningful. We are in the world
for a reason. We have to do what we are called to do in order to fulfill our destiny. That is the kingdom.
This is a wonderful image of Jesus saying, I am the truth. I am engaged in
a work with you that has meaning and purpose.
In the gospel from John (17:1-11), we find a wonderful statement about the mission of Jesus.
He is talking to the Father about His mission,
saying, You know, Ive done it. Weve really done it together.
He makes these statements right before He ascends to the
Father, stressing the point to His disciples so that they will understand what has been done and
what they are being asked to do. What Jesus is really saying is this: You
have done an extraordinary thing through Me, and the glory goes to You, God. I am glorifying You because I am an instrument of Your
presence in the world. What I am giving to these people is an indication of how much You love. And how much You want to
help people and give them the truth. That is the glory of the Father.
The glory of the Father is His incredible
interest in you and me. Why would God bother? Why would He pay attention
to one life, among the billions of lives? I dont know why. Thats
the Fathers glory that He cares about
every single individual, and He wants each and every person to be convinced of
the truth so that we might enter into this wonderful process called knowing
God. Knowing what its all about. Knowing the Father, in
Jesus own words, is the same as possessing life. Jesus is saying that when we know the
Father, we experience life. We have this Father Who is
gloriously interested in offering you and me life. He gives
life to us. He asks two things of us: Stay close
to the truth, which means staying close to the Father, and stay close to each
other. I was thinking about this when I was preparing this homily. Religion is a wonderful thing, but it can get so easily sidetracked.
How far away religion can move from the heart of the message. Jesus was speaking to
His disciples right before He left them. He was giving them the challenge
of creating Church. Isnt it interesting that Jesus never took the time
to say, This is the way I want you to worship Me. I want everyone to be at Mass on Sunday. Mass starts
with this prayer. Then you move on to this prayer and the readings. Then you have communion, the sign of peace, and then you leave. I
want to make sure that everybody belongs to a parish. These are the boundaries and the laws. Oh, and by the way, these are the moral codes
I want you to follow. I want you to make sure you never do this and never do that.
Why didnt Jesus do that? Thats the way religion often has a tendency to present
Jesus. Our religion often tells us that this is what it means to be a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Methodist, a
Catholic. This is what it means to be of the Jewish tradition. Religion specifies all of the things we are supposed to do and the way we
are supposed to worship. Its interesting that Jesus begs
His disciples to be of one mind.
He wants them to preserve unity among them. What does God think of all
of us today who carry the name of Jesus in our hearts and say we are
His followers, and yet, we hate each other due to denominational differences?
Or we feel threatened by each other because of denominational differences? Or we dont feel
comfortable with each other because of denominational differences? What a tragedy!
Isnt it interesting that at the heart of the work Jesus gives to us is a
relationship. Its all about a relationship. Its all
about us knowing God, what He stands for and what He
asks of each of us, knowing why He has created the world as it is, understanding that
suffering is part of the process in order to get to the place of wholeness and
fullness. All of these images Jesus has given to us are the core issues. We are to be engaged in a
process that seems mysterious at times, but nevertheless that has a meaning and a
purpose. We enter into that. We stay connected. If we are involved in this relationship with
Christ, we are basically people who offer each other life. And
The Crucifixion - by GRÜNEWALD, Matthias - from Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar
Forgiveness is that major teaching of Christ
that tells us we are to give life to people whether they deserve it or not. We are there for the purpose of giving, not for judging or
holding back from someone. The ultimate meaning of forgiveness is that we are always willing to overlook
someones performance in order to give them what they need, in order to bring life. It seems to me that we should take this
season of Easter as an opportunity to examine our own focus, especially in our spiritual lives. Is
the focus primarily on the formulas that we have learned from religion? Is the focus on the way in which we, in our own particular
denominations, do things? Certainly, the differences are important to each denomination. There is a certain identity resident in our
denominational differences. Im not trying to say that those arent important to the religion itself. Im simply trying
to ask if we, as Christians when we gather together, would be able to feel more unified. Thats what
Jesus wants. Thats the prayer that Jesus is
offering for the Church at the end of His ministry. He
wants so much for us to be connected together loving, offering life to each other. Every time I hear a news report from Northern
Ireland, I have to ask myself, How is it that people of different denominational lines can be fighting
each other because of those differences? Do they not hear this prayer of Jesus? Do they not understand the environment Jesus is trying
to create in the world, where God is given glory for being the sign and source of our unity?
We give God the glory by supporting each other, recognizing
Him as the source of unity. Its through Gods help and power that we are able to
do everything. We can follow the rules of religion without ever opening ourselves up to the Spirit. We can
submit to ritual, feeling that we are doing what God has asked. We can do all of this, and still not do the
essential work that Jesus prays for at the end of His life. If
Jesus really wanted to emphasize doctrine and ritual as the most important thing, then I believe He
would have given lists to His disciples as He departed this world. Instead,
Jesus gave them the challenge to submit to the mysterious process of a loving,
glorious God Who wants more than anything else to simply give life to people. As we conclude the
Season of Easter, celebrating the feast of Pentecost next week, we
will then enter into Ordinary Time
of the church year.
Thats a time when we review all of the different facets of our faith. It is ordinary in
the sense of our returning to the essential challenges of the gospel and how we look at the different facets. The
Church sees the feast and season of Easter as the most essential, not simply because
we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and won
redemption for us. We celebrate these Sundays of Easter because of the teaching that puts us
in touch with the heart of the message. As we go on with the ordinary work of our Christian lives,
we will stay focused on the goals Jesus wants us truly to keep in mind.
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