Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ups & Downs

   Third Sunday of Easter   B 

How did you celebrate Easter?  (It’s only been a couple of weeks, so you can’t have forgotten already!)

Believe it or not, I celebrated Easter on a trampoline.  After the Masses, I headed to my sister’s house in Plattsburgh to have Easter dinner with my family.  After dinner, there was the Easter egg hunt.  And after the hunt, the grown ups went inside to visit and my nieces and nephew stayed outside to jump on the trampoline.  Having seen all the fun they were having, I headed out into the backyard.  Everyone else just assumed that I was going to watch…but I already had other plans. After determining that the thing could actually hold me, I climbed in and started jumping.  It wasn’t long before my youngest sister came out to tell me they’d already called 911 and put an ambulance on standby—and, of course, to take a few pictures.  I soon learned that jumping on a trampoline is harder than it looks—at least at my age, anyway.  I also learned that all that bouncing isn’t exactly the best thing to do with a tummy full of Easter dinner.

That’s how you celebrated Easter.  Now, why did you celebrate Easter?

So you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  Why?  On what evidence?

Don’t worry: your pastor’s not having a crisis of faith!  But that’s a reasonable question, isn’t?  And the world has every right to ask it, because there seems to be plenty of evidence to the contrary…

We want to believe that Jesus, by his death and Resurrection, has triumphed over sin and death—once and for all.  But sin and death still hit us hard.  Easter comes along with the promise of springtime—full of hope and new life.  After the austerities of Lent, we can eat chocolate and dessert again!  But then the jelly beans get stale, the lilies wilt and die, and it starts to snow again…and again and again.  There’s political turmoil in our country and violent unrest in the wider world.  There are our individual or family struggles with illness or finances or conflict.  And there’s even heartbreaking diminishment in the Church—something we’re experiencing right here, right now.  If Jesus is risen, if he’s alive again and working among us still, then shouldn’t every day feel like Easter?  The world we live in doesn’t exactly look like everything’s been changed, and changed for the better.

Life—even for us Christians—can often feel an awful lot like jumping on a trampoline, with so many ups and downs.  But wasn’t the Easter grass supposed to be greener on the other side?  Weren’t the powers of hell defeated?  Where are the signs of victory?  

And so we end up being in much the same state as Jesus found the Eleven: startled, terrified, troubled, with hearts full of questions.

And the risen Jesus says to us precisely what he said to them: “Peace be with you.”

A little context here helps us better understand…

This Sunday’s gospel reading starts at the tail end of another story: that of the Easter walk to Emmaus.  With their Messiah (they think) dead and buried, two downcast disciples meet a stranger on the road: it’s Jesus, but they don’t recognize him.  He gradually sets their battered hearts on fire by the word he speaks, and then opens their eyes in the breaking of the bread.  They’ve run—breathless—the seven miles back to Jerusalem, and have burst into the upper room: “Listen up, everybody!  We need to tell you what Jesus just did for us!”  But before they can finish telling their remarkable tale…Jesus himself walks in.  (It’s what Jesus always does when you speak about him, isn’t it?)

And in our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear one of the first sermons of the first Pope.  But what was the occasion for this homily?  Peter and John went to the temple to pray, and at the temple gate they met a crippled man, begging.  “We have no money,” they told him, “but what we do have, we give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.” And that’s just what the man did. The place goes wild!  This man was well known; he’d been crippled from birth and begging for years.  Now he’s leaping and dancing about!  The cured man is actually still clinging tightly to Peter when he starts to preach to the crowd: “You think that was amazing?  Let me tell you my story about the man who made this all possible…”

In both of these cases, we meet people who are living witnesses of the risen Jesus.  A witness, of course, is someone with personal knowledge of something.  They’re not teaching catechism from a book or making studied theological arguments—although those have their crucial place.  But it all has to start by speaking from their own, first-hand experience: “Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me…”  And through their witness, other people come to know Jesus personally and powerfully, too.

They don’t have evidence that Jesus is risen from the dead; they are the evidence.

People who witness to Jesus and his Resurrection testify to the wholeness, the healing, the fullness of life—in other words, to the true and abiding peace—that he brings them.  This is not a peace found apart from all the dizzying ups and downs life throws our way; it’s a peace found right in the midst of them. And this peace of Christ that they experience, they in turn can pass on to others

I learned on the trampoline—and rather quickly!—that you can’t always be going up-up-up. (Yes, we’re on our way to heaven—God willing—but you don’t need me to tell you that we’re not there yet.) You see, the question isn’t whether or not you will come back down; the question is how you will land.  And that makes all the difference.

While the Resurrection is the ultimate proof of his divinity, Jesus didn’t shed his humanity after rising from the dead.  He’s still flesh and bones—still very much human, like you and me.  Jesus still bears the wounds of the Cross in his hands and feet for all to see.  But those wounds have been transfigured.  They are no longer wounds of suffering and shame, wounds of injury inflicted by the cruelty of others or circumstance.  Rather, they have become wounds of love, holy and glorious wounds, wounds that reveal just how close God has come to man in order to restore man to closeness with God—to the communion with God for which we were made.

We all have wounds—from when we haven’t landed well; from when’ve come crashing down hard into reality on the trampoline of life.  Have you invited the risen Jesus into your wounds?  Have you allowed him to transfigure them?  To make them no longer a badge of your shame, but an emblem of his victory?  Are you willing to be a witness to the Lord’s Resurrection, sharing that personal, first-hand knowledge: “Let me tell you what Christ has done for me…”? Are you ready to pass on his peace?

Our world desperately needs such witnesses in the face of all the seeming evidence otherwise.

While it’s oh-so-tempting to try and look like you have it all together—as if that’s what it takes to be a “real” follower of Jesus—that won’t convince anyone for the simple reason that it would be a lie.  Instead, let the very fact that you’re wounded, yet still incredibly alive and well, be evidence of the all-important truth that Jesus of Nazareth, though himself wounded, too, is indeed risen from the grave.

Of this, my friends, we are all witnesses.

* * *
After Holy Communion:
Lord Jesus, in the gospels, after your Resurrection, time and time again you make yourself known to your disciples by joining them at table, doing what you did so often before your death: remaining in their company and breaking the bread. Open our eyes to recognize your presence here among and within us.  Heal our wounds.  Make us your courageous witnesses.  Fill us with your peace.

1 comment:

Andrea Maiorana said...

Fr. Joe, just read an article about this. Seems important. Hope you’ll do this for me and others if you happen to be there at the time.:)
You are on your death bed and you can feel it coming. The priest came, who forgave your sins with the Sacrament of Penance and then Anointed you for final perseverance and readied you for your last breath. You may have even received Viaticum. As your lights fade, you see the priest’s hand raised in the sign of the Cross as he says (in the traditional version):
“By the Faculty which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a plenary indulgence and the remission of all your sins, and I bless you. In the Name of the Father and the Son + and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

“Ego facultate mihi ab Apostolica Sede tributa, indulgentiam plenariam et remissionem omnium peccatorum tibi concedo et benedico te. In nomine Patris, et Filii, + et Spirtus Sancti, Amen.”

Sins forgiven. CHECK
Fortified with the Sacraments. CHECK
Apostolic Pardon. CHECK
All temporal punishment remitted. CHECK

Straight to the Beatific Vision.

My Jesus, mercy and thank you.

From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us, O Lord.