Sunday, April 19, 2015

You are witnesses of these things...

3rd Sun Easter – Yr B  2015

‘You are witnesses of these things…’

What would it have been like, to have seen and heard first hand all the events that we've been celebrating these last weeks?  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with great fanfare.  The intimate meal in the upper room.  The great betrayal in the garden and in the courtyard – one marked by the traitor’s quiet kiss, the other by the piercing cry of the rooster shattering the darkness of fear and uncertainty that had settled over Peter’s mind.  The crowd chanting for Barabbas – the whiplash of the scourging post – the dull thud of Calvary’s nails, the Lord crying out in a loud voice: It is finished!

How wonderful it would have been to have felt the refreshing coolness of that wonderfully empty tomb that first Easter morning, to stand in the bright glow of the angel declaring that Jesus can’t be found in the darkness of death, but only in the warm glow of light and life.  How amazing it would have been to have been crammed in that stuffy, stale room where the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews…filled with the sweaty stench of fear, the awkward jittery energy of uncertainty – and to feel the refreshing whisper of calmness and excitement when, all of a sudden, the Lord stood in their presence, washing the air and their hearts and minds clean with the simple greeting, ‘Peace be with you.’

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Wouldn't it have been wonderful to be witnesses to these things?  The amazing thing about our faith is this:  Even though you and I weren't there in these moments, each one of us is called to stand as witness in the here and how to the reality of all these things.  Truly – you are witnesses of these things.  We are, in fact, the only remaining witnesses.  Peter and Paul have gone from this life to the next; Mary Magdalene and Blessed Mother Mary are with the Lord in heaven.  The great Fathers and Mothers of the faith in 20 ages past are gone from among us.  If there are to be any witnesses to Easter joy, hope, and resurrection – if there are to be any witnesses to the living Christ and His desire and ability to save us, set us free from sin and death, and call us into eternity – if there are to be any witnesses today, we are the witnesses to these things!

But, how can that be?  We weren't there! 

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I’m always struck by a detail in the post-resurrection accounts of Jesus: even those folks who were historically present for these events weren't able to grasp them at first –not even when the resurrected Lord appeared to them.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with Jesus for quite some time without even knowing who He was.  In today’s Gospel, the Christians Jesus appeared to didn't recognize Him when H appeared even when that’s what they were talking about!  They thought He was a ghost!

But notice when they do recognize Him, understand all that had come before – notice when His teaching begins to click into place and things start to make sense – notice when the fear is dispelled, and the mission gets clarified, and the Lord Jesus is recognized for Who He is:  they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread; their minds are opened to understand Scripture in the breaking of the bread.  We have no hope of recognizing the Lord Jesus active and present in our lives, understanding His Word, living a life of faith, or having a relationship with Him apart from the breaking of the bread.

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That’s why the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church refer to the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith.  That’s why our Catholic discipline draws us into the frequent and at least weekly gathering at this altar.  That’s why priests try so hard to celebrate the liturgies well and try our best to be reverent to the mystery and reality of the Eucharist whenever we go up to the altar of God in the presence of the people.  Because – just like the first century Christians who knew what Jesus looked and smelled like, who knew what His voice sounded like – just like them, we've no chance of recognizing Him except in the breaking of the bread.

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We’re His witnesses in the world – in our parishes and our workplaces – in our families and in our communities.  We’re His witnesses to one another in our darkest, loneliest, most doubting, fearful, and troubled moments.  We need to recognize Him at work in the tombs of our life, resurrecting us into newness and freedom – we need to recognize Him walking beside us on the road into tomorrow – we need to recognize Him in order to live this Christian life with faith, hope, love, and joy.  And that’s only possible if we encounter Him in the breaking of the bread on this altar…

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What will you see and hear and experience today in our breaking of the bread that will reveal the Lord among us?  Will you look for it here today?  Will you share it with others when you encounter it – when you encounter Him

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‘You are witnesses of these things…’

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