Sunday, April 28, 2019

Stand By Me

2nd Sunday of Easter
(Divine Mercy Sunday)
Video: YouTube fdbormand

When the night has come, and the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we'll see.
No, I won't be afraid. No, I won't be afraid.
Just as long as you stand, stand by me….

My dear friends, do any of you still remember these words? As you may recall, they are taken from a song released in the 1960s, entitled Stand By Me. They describe a particular kind of experience that’s perhaps not always easy to understand. We may call it an experience of the power of presence. The one who is singing claims to feel no fear, even when facing situations as scary as the coming of the night, and the collapse of the mountains into the sea. And why is there no fear? Simply because of the presence of the one who is loved. I won’t be afraid… Just as long as you stand… by me.

The power of presence to keep fear at bay. This is what the song is about. But it’s important to note that it is not just any kind of presence that will do. It is only the presence of the one who is loved. So that the song is really about the power of relationship. The power of love. And this is also what we find in our readings on this 2nd Sunday of Easter.

In the second reading, John is exiled to the island of Patmos, for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus. In the gospel, the disciples have hidden themselves in a room, for fear of the Jews. Yet, in both these readings, those facing scary situations also experience the power of presence.

In the lonely desolation of exile, John hears the consoling voice of the Crucified and Risen Christ, who continues to stand by him. Surrounded by seven golden lamp-stands, which symbolise the seven churches of God. Telling John not to be afraid, but to use his exile as an opportunity to take a sabbatical. To write a book. So that the good news might spread even further and wider.

In the terror of their self-imposed imprisonment, the disciples experience Jesus coming and standing among them. Transforming their fear into joy and peace. And not just joy and peace. For doesn’t the gospel find its continuation in the first reading? Doesn’t the initial fear of the disciples in the upper room eventually give way to their courageous ministry at the Portico of Solomon? Just as they experience Jesus standing by them and liberating them from their fear, the disciples, in their turn, go forth and stand by others, setting them free from their various afflictions.

The liberating power of presence, transforming fear into joy, and peace, and concrete acts of mercy. This is what we find in our readings today. But that’s not all. If it were, then perhaps the gospel would be so much easier for us to put into practice. For we cannot deny that the Crucified and Risen Christ is no longer present among us in exactly the same way as he was to the early disciples. They were able, it would seem, to see and to touch him. To even place their fingers into his wounds, if they wanted to. But we do not have this luxury now, do we?

And yet, our readings challenge us to continue allowing the stone which the builders rejected to become the cornerstone of our lives. To bear witness to the power of the Lord’s enduring presence among us. A presence that we now experience, no longer through physical proof, but instead only by persistent faith. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. Happy are you who, even though you no longer have the joyful privilege of touching the Lord in his physical body, are now offered the awesome ability to recognise his liberating presence in the Body of His Church. Not just in the sacramental forms of Bread and Wine, offered here at Mass. But also in the merciful acts performed out there in the world, by all who stand by others in their time of need.

Isn’t this new and mysterious presence an even greater testimony to the power of love? A power that enables the  radiance of the beloved’s presence to be recognised even beyond the darkness of the tomb. And isn’t this the same grace we are invited to claim for ourselves, as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday? The grace to acknowledge the different ways in which the Crucified and Risen Lord insists on standing by us in the dark and scary moments of our lives, changing our fear into joy and peace and mercy.

And isn’t this something that we need especially today, when we find ourselves reeling from the news of those horrific acts of terror perpetrated on our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday? Precisely on the holiest and most brilliant of days in the Christian calendar, some have attempted to smother us in the dark night of hatred and violence and death. How should we respond? As Christians, perhaps we can do no better than to claim the gift offered to us especially at Easter. To experience anew the consoling presence of the Lord of Mercy standing in the midst of us.

When the night has come, and the land is dark,
And the moon is the only light we'll see.
No, I won't be afraid, No, I won't be afraid.
Just as long as you stand, stand by me….

Sisters and brothers, especially at Easter, we joyously celebrate our belief that Christ our Light has indeed risen! Firmly, we cling to our faith that, even in the darkest of nights, the Lord of Mercy continues to stand by us. What must we do, you and I, to better acknowledge and announce his liberating presence among us today?

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