3rd Sunday of Easter (B)
Are We There Yet?
Readings: Acts 3:13-15,17-19; 1 John 2:1-5 ; Luke 24:35-48
Dear sisters and brothers, have you ever been on a long drive – maybe on the North-South highway in Malaysia – with one or two little children in the car? After some time on the road, maybe after you’ve passed JB, the little ones will probably start asking you: “Are we there yet?” And the longer the journey stretches the more insistent and even irritated those little voices will sound, no? “Aiyah! Are we there yet?”
Today we are about a third of the way through the great season of Easter. It’s already the third Sunday. And we might ask ourselves this very same question: “Are we there yet?” Have we begun to enter into the experience of Easter yet? “What experience?” you might ask. The same experience that we mentioned in our opening prayer just now, when we declared to God our Father: “You have made us your sons and daughters and restored the joy of our youth.”
Are we there yet? Do we find ourselves already experiencing the “joy of our youth,” the joy of Easter? Or do we still find ourselves too bogged down by the difficulties of our daily existence, too tightly tied up by the stress and strains of work and family, and much too confused by our own personal hang-ups, to even think about what Easter joy really means?
Of course, the fact that Easter is here doesn’t mean that all our troubles will vanish. Nor does Easter joy mean being on an emotional high at every moment of every day. But we might ask ourselves whether even in the midst of our daily struggles, there is a place, perhaps very deep within us, where we are able to find that quiet conviction that Jesus is indeed risen, that our life has meaning and is worth living; a place from which we can draw the energy we need to face whatever life has in store for us each day; and most importantly, a place where we can find the strength to do what Peter does in today’s first reading and what Jesus tells the disciples to do in today’s gospel: to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins… to all the nations.” Are we there yet?
If you’re even a little like me, your response will probably be a long silence or a long “eh…” I don’t really have the confidence to answer the question with a loud “yes.” I know myself a little too well. I know I’m not really there yet. There’s still a distance to go, which is why I think it is a good idea to take time to meditate a little more deeply on our readings for today. It is good to pay careful attention to them, because in them we see how the crucified and risen Jesus leads his disciples more deeply into the joy of Easter.
When we first meet them in the gospel reading of today, the disciples are talking among themselves. There is obviously some excitement among them because some of them – such as the two on the road to Emmaus – have already seen and recognized Jesus. But, for the most part, many of them are probably still caught up in the fear and confusion of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. They had seen their Lord and master tortured, executed, and laid lifeless in a tomb. They probably still feel very keenly the shame of having deserted Him. Like some, if not all of us, they are bogged down. So that when the risen Jesus comes among them again, he finds them “in a state of alarm and fright,” thinking that they are “seeing a ghost.”
And yet, they do not remain in that condition. As we noted earlier, in the first reading, we find Peter fearlessly bearing witness to Jesus and challenging those responsible for putting him to death to “repent and turn to God, so that (their) sins may be wiped out.”
How did this remarkable change come about? How did the disciples move from being stressed out, confused and anxious to being energized, courageous, and hopeful? Where did they get the power to do this?
For the beginnings of an answer, we need to look more closely at the gospel. What does the risen Christ do when he notices his disciples’ fear? He helps them to recognize him. “Look at my hands and feet,” he says, ”yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves…” And notice the change that comes over them. “Their joy was so great,” we are told, “that they could not believe it…” And later, it is in this joy, and in the power of the Spirit that they go out and bear witness to Christ.
This is the lesson for us this morning, isn’t it – that if there is one thing that can get us to where we want to go, it is the joy and power of recognition. Part of the wonder of this Easter season we’re celebrating is that, because of his life, death and resurrection, Jesus our Lord can be found and recognized in every possible situation that life might throw in our path. We can recognize him even in those areas of our lives that seem to be engulfed in darkness. For did he not invite the disciples to gaze upon the ugly wounds in his hands and feet? And did this sight not bring them great joy?
It is when we are able to recognize Christ that we will begin to experience what the first disciples experienced: energy where there once was fatigue, joy where there once was sadness, courage where there once was fear, clarity where there once was confusion.
Joy comes with recognition.
We find the same thing in the responsorial psalm (4:7). “’What can bring us happiness?’ many say. Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.” And isn’t this what we celebrate at Easter: the risen Lord lifting up his face on us? And doesn’t the face of Christ appear to us in many different ways, in the many different people and situations that we encounter in our lives? But we need to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear Him.
And is this not why we are here this morning: to allow the crucified and risen Jesus to help us recognize Him in our lives, even as we recognize Him in the community that gathers, in the priest who presides, in the Word that is proclaimed, and especially in the bread that is broken and the wine that is poured out? And in that recognition, we begin to experience the same Easter joy that has been the birthright of all Christians down through the ages; the joy of the One who conquered death and all its terrors and so set us free to be his witnesses to all the nations.
My sisters and brothers, on this third Sunday of Easter, the Risen Lord desires to help us reach our destination. Do you recognize him? Are you there yet?