for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle C
April 22, 2007
The lovely floral arrangements which continue to adorn our sanctuary are a visual reminder that for us Easter is not just a day or a week but a season. This is not the second Sunday after Easter but rather, the Third Sunday of Easter as we continue to celebrate the glorious fact at the heart of our faith. Week after week, for fifty days, we follow the Gospel story, leading us from the empty tomb of Easter morning to the fiery arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Todayís gospel page is part of that holy progression. If you were to search it out in its scriptural context you would find that it follows immediately after the reading we heard last Sunday taken from the 20th chapter of St. Johnís gospel in which the Evangelist remembers for us the Upper room appearances of the Risen Christ, the first one the evening of Easter and the second, eight days later. The concluding verses of that reading certainly sound as though the sacred author considered his task was now completed. .These would be the final lines of His Jesus story: ďMany other signs Jesus did in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that, believing, you may have life in His Name. ďCanít we imagine the apostle setting aside his pen with a sigh of accomplishment? That was the conclusion of Chapter 20.
But we turn the page and there we find Chapter 2l - obviously a scriptural afterthought! Surely it must have been by a prodding of the Holy Spirit that another memory crowds in upon the evangelist, clamoring to be shared. So he picks up his pen again to add his inspired postscript.
He remembers for us that long night on the Sea of Galilee and the empty nets and the sound of oars striking the water as the weary fishermen turn back to the shore. He remembers the morning mist and the moist breeze and the smell of smoke and the mouth-watering aroma of broiling fish and baking bread. And especially, he remembers the voice from the beach: "Cast your nets to the starboard." And then, the sudden explosion of fish, filling their nets to the breaking point. And he remembers another, earlier miraculous catch - and the same voice from the shore. And through all his senses, the message converges in a great burst of joy: "It is the Lord!"
And so with us this morning. We are invited to immerse ourselves in the memory and open all our senses to the message and make our own the joyful recognition: "It is the Lord. He is truly risen!" These things are written that we may believe.
I say: "Open our senses to the message." Surely this is what must strike us about this gospel incident. It is so sensory - so corporeal, so in touch with every human way of experiencing the world around us. There is the voice, calling out direction to the weary fishermen. There is the barely discernible figure on the sloping shore and the smell of the breakfast so skillfully prepared and the touch of the very one who had said of Himself: "I am in your midst as one who serves - the hands of Christ, reaching out to them, hands still bearing the mark of the nails. That is the way John remembers it for us, all five senses compounding the evidence - the undeniable, irrefutable evidence that Jesus lives.
There is another scripture passage, from St. Johnís first letter, one which is a kind of commentary on this scriptural afterthought. The evangelist must have been recalling that morning beside the Sea of Galilee when he wrote: "This is what we proclaim to you... what was from the beginning... what we have seen with our own eyes... what we have looked upon and our hands have touched. We speak of the word of life. What we have seen and heard, we proclaim in turn to you so that you may share life with us."
Earlier on, we used the expression: "We must immerse ourselves in the memory." It is to this that the liturgy is calling us, not just this morning, not just during these fifty days of the Paschal season, but all through our lives. The modern spiritual writer, Fr. Henri Nouwen, captured a profound truth in a single sentence when he wrote: "To be a Christian is to be a Living Memory of Jesus." We can appropriately paraphrase his words: "To be an Easter Christian is to be a Living Memory of the Risen Christ." It is to this that the great Pope John Paul II called us in one of his earliest Easter messages in which he urges us: "Live your whole life in an Easter awareness. What do I mean by that? I mean that we must live our conviction that the Resurrection of Jesus is the decisive and defining event of all human history. Our faith in the Risen Christ is, for all of us, the guarantee that our lives, like His, have a transcendent and eternal meaning." "Dying He destroyed our death. Rising He restores our life."
I conclude these reflections with a personal question: "Why are you here this morning? What was the underlying reason why you turned your wheels into this parking lot and claimed your place there in that pew?" Now, I am sure that question would call forth a variety of responses but I doubt that very many of you would answer: "I am here because Jesus Rose from the Dead." Really, I can think of no more appropriate answer, not just for this Sunday Mass but for every Mass, every Sunday throughout our lives. We are here because we are Easter Christians. This is the foundational truth, lending credence to everything we believe and all that we are and do as people of living faith in Our Risen and Living Lord. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, could not have put it more explicitly: "If Christ be not risen, then our preaching is void of meaning and your faith is without value." But then, he goes on to proclaim his faith and ours as well: "But Christ has indeed been raised, the first fruits of those who believe."
Why are we here this morning? We are here because we believe that this Eucharist is our Sacramental Meeting with the Risen Christ. His Presence here is just a real as it was that day by the Sea of Galilee - and He is still hosting a meal - in our midst "as one who serves". Truly, my brothers and sisters in Christ:
"It is the Lord!"