2nd Sunday of Easter (C)
Have you ever attended a religious retreat? I mean one that lasted a weekend or longer. If so, you may understand the meaning of spiritual euphoria. After a period of concentrated prayer and reflection, retreatants frequently speak of being filled up, or high, if you will. There is often a sense of clarity, a lifting, or shifting of burdens, or the discovery of a strength that increases endurance or encourages a fresh start.
Retreats interrupt our “regularly scheduled programming” in order to help us gain a sense of peace, experience joy, healing, and reconciliation. They sometimes force us to probe the depth of our faith and purpose (for which the guidance of a good Spiritual Director is invaluable), help us discern our callings, process new awakenings or closures, and explore our relationship with God, with creation, and with the world.
Then we go home. Home, where life goes on, where “what’s for dinner?” and science projects that are due the next day and laundry await us; where Monday brings meetings and deadlines and demanding co-workers; where illness or grief or loneliness dwell; where the anguish of the world sits on our doorstep. Because, while we were away undergoing the delicate process of spiritual transformation, everything outside remained the same. And so, our euphoria wanes.
Strange as it seems, our struggles and wounds help us comprehend our joy. I don’t think anyone enjoys revisiting or probing past or present pain, but isn’t this what we do when we celebrate the triumph of Jesus’ life and his resurrection? Wounds remind us of what we have sustained and more importantly, what we have overcome; they stave off the fear and doubt and exhaustion that threatens to return us to the place we were before we received the peace and joy of the cure. This is not a morbid thought, it does not imply wearing chains or a hair shirt, nor should it be depressing. Remembering our crosses is what motivates us to keep going.
Recall that the resurrected Jesus still bore the wounds of his crucifixion. They did not disappear, they remained. Thomas needed to probe them. [John 20:24-29]. So do we. The world’s suffering, poverty, injustice, violence, sickness, rejection, loneliness—Jesus’ wounds surround us; they remind us of our calling.
It is so easy to despair the state of the world, isn’t it? The human capacity for cruelty, greed and selfishness seems to increase every day, and our love for our neighbor is sorely tested. Keeping the faith is hard. Happy Easter! we say. He is Risen! we proclaim. Really?
The resurrected Jesus appeared and stood before his disciples who were hiding in fear for their lives and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” [John 20:21-22]. Those words are for us too. We are called, and we are sent. Jesus breathed on the disciples saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We too have inhaled the breath of the Lord and our blood courses with the power of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is that Jesus, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is more powerful today, at work in us, with us and through us, than he was when he walked the earth. Really.
The signs and wonders done through Peter and the apostles led great numbers of men and women from all over to believe in the gospel. These new followers, with the faith that simply being present was enough, carried their physically sick friends and family and those afflicted with unclean spirits to Solomon’s portico, where the mysterious and wonderful apostles gathered. And the scripture tells us all were cured. [Acts 5:12-16].
Don’t we just love to think of the early church as a time of rejoicing, praying, breaking bread, and sharing Christian love? It was all that. But it was also one of the most dangerous times to be a Christian. In fact, as the Acts of the Apostles and Letters of Paul reveal, being a Christian in the early church all but guaranteed a life of persecution and death. To our horror, for some Christians living in the year 2016, this is still true.
It’s been a week since our rejoicing at Easter began and already there are signs that our fervor is waning. Perhaps waning is an imprecise way to describe the return to our regularly scheduled program—business as usual—but the words of John in today’s second reading remind us, Easter people, that there is no turning back. Because we who give testimony to Jesus share in his distress, Kingdom and endurance. [Rev 1:9]. Everything, including us, is transformed. Unlike our retreat euphoria which gradually wanes, the transformation that Easter brings about is everlasting. We are forever changed.
Happy Easter! He is Risen!