3rd Sunday of Easter
Locating Easter Joy
Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Revelations 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 or 21:1-14
Sisters and brothers, we all know from experience the importance of location. It’s one of the key factors we have to consider when we are house-hunting, for example, or when we are choosing a school for our kids, or an office for our business. Indeed – at the risk of sounding morbid – location is a crucial consideration even when we are choosing a final resting place for a loved one or for ourselves. In a columbarium, for example, aren’t the niches at eye-level usually more costly than those at the very bottom or at the very top?
I’m reminded also of a recently concluded debate in a certain religious community over the choice of a suitable holiday destination. Should the community go to a remote island famous for its breathtakingly clear waters and exciting opportunities for water-sports, but which is almost 12 hours from Singapore by land and sea? Or should they settle for a more ordinary, less exotic option, just a hop, a skip and a jump across the Causeway? Location, location, location. The course of battles and the fate of nations have turned on questions of location. And, it would seem, the fates of religious communities as well.
It is not surprising then if, on this 3rd Sunday of Easter, we are also led by our readings to focus our attention on questions of location. As we heard in our opening prayer just now, Easter is the time when we celebrate God restoring to us the joy of our youth. But where exactly must we go to experience this Easter joy? Or does location matter at all in the spiritual life?
At one level, it would seem not. Notice how our readings today are all descriptions of Easter joy. Yet, the action in each of them takes place in a very different physical location: the council room of the Sanhedrin in the first reading, the island of Patmos in the second reading, and the Sea of Tiberias in the gospel. A room, an island and a lake – three very different localities, but the same Easter joy is experienced at each of them. Aren’t we being reminded then that, when it comes to the experience of Easter, our physical location matters little? Whether we are in a posh penthouse suite or a shabby shack in a slum, whether we’re in an air-conditioned office or a chaotic construction site, in a quiet chapel or a noisy market-place, the joy that is God’s gift to us at Easter can still be ours to experience.
Because the Word of God was made flesh and lived among us, because the Lamb of God was sacrificed and then raised to life for us, every nook and cranny of human existence is now capable of revealing to us the joy-producing face of God. In this sense, location doesn’t really matter.
Even so, there’s something about the three places in our readings today that invites deeper reflection. When we look at them a little more carefully, we see that they have more in common than we at first thought. To begin with, all three localities are places of trial and even of humiliation. The council room where the Sanhedrin meets is also the interrogation room for the apostles, the place where their faith is put to the test. The island of Patmos, in the second reading, is also the place of exile for John the visionary. As we were told last week, he was sent there in a time of persecution for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus. And, of course, the Sea of Tiberias is also the lake of luckless fishermen. The boat that bears the apostles upon the waters contains no fish. Apart from the apostles themselves, it carries only their barren nets and their broken dreams.
But, fortunately, that’s not all. Apart from being places of trial, the room, the island, and the lake are also places of vision. It is on the Sea of Tiberias, that the disappointed and disillusioned apostles see and recognize the Crucified and Risen Christ. It is on Patmos, his island of exile, that John is blessed with a vision in which he hears a host of angels and saints and everything that lives singing the praises of the lamb that was sacrificed. It is before the Sanhedrin that the apostles cling steadfastly to their vision of the death and resurrection of Jesus their Lord. You had him executed, they exclaim, but God has now raised him up.
And because they are places of vision, these three localities are also places of power and mission. It is by the lake that we find Peter being strengthened and commissioned through his conversation with Jesus. Do you love me? Lord, you know everything; you know I love you. Feed my sheep. And, as we heard last week, it is on the island of Patmos that John receives instructions to write down all he sees so that the Christian community might find renewed courage to continue living and proclaiming the gospel even in the face of persecution. It is also before the Sanhedrin that the apostles fearlessly testify to the Crucified and Risen Christ with great conviction even to the extent of being glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name.
Clearly, even if the room, the island and the lake are very different physical locations, they share these crucially important characteristics. They are all places of trial, of vision & of mission. And, for the apostles, it is at locations such as these that Easter joy is experienced.
What about us, then? Where might we experience Easter joy? Clearly, our physical location doesn’t really matter. What’s more important is our spiritual location. Crazy as it may sound, Easter joy is experienced precisely at those places in our hearts and in our lives where we are enduring a trial or an ordeal of some sort. For isn’t this is what Easter is about? Isn’t this what our readings have to teach us? Above all, Easter is a celebration of how, through the dying and rising of Christ, God continually transforms our places of trial into localities of vision and power and mission. At Easter, we celebrate the ways in which, even in our difficulties, God enables our eyes to gaze upon a vision full of hope, and our hearts to be filled with a peace that the world cannot give. At Easter, God restores to us the joy of our youth, so that we might in turn share it with others.
Sisters and brothers, at what location are you being offered God’s gift of Easter joy?