Thank you hardy souls for praying with us today. For those joining us by way of television and social media and wonder where all the people are, you should know that as this Mass is being prayed and recorded, we are in the midst of a blizzard with heavy snow and strong winds. It is important in stormy times like this that we make prudent decisions in dealing with them, especially safe travel. It is also important that we look out for one another, certainly family but also for neighbors especially the elderly and vulnerable who may need support and help. We also should pray for the safety of all in harm’s way especially those responders who protect us and those crews that seek to keep us safe on the roads in ever changing conditions. Storms pass, the sun comes out again; God’s son is our light through and beyond the blizzards whether they are natural, physical or spiritual. That is the power of Easter.
For many though Easter has come and gone. But in the Church the season of Easter lasts 50 days culminating with the celebration of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Our readings during this time reflect on the awesome truth that our Lord is risen and challenges us to respond all year long as Easter people, filled with joy, hope and his peace.
What a moving moment today’s gospel relates for us. The Apostles, whom Jesus had chosen and who chose to follow him, are gathered in the Upper Room filled with grief at the death of Jesus, fearful of what might be ahead and wondering about the incredible reports of his having been seen by some. Suddenly the resurrected Jesus appears to them. Imagine the conflicting emotions. Most had pulled away from him during the passion. Yet he did not reprimand them by saying, “What happened to you after three years together, after all we have been through together, ridicule and opposition, miracles and healing, after listening to me as I was preparing you for all this?” He did not say “You’re fired.” Rather as the Good Shepherd he said, “Peace be with you.” Then he invited them to “touch me”. He did not give up on them, but rather explained to them all that had happened in context of the Father’s will. Then he called them again to be his “witnesses of all these things.”
Did they actually touch him? We do not know. We do know that he spiritually touched them, showed them his mercy, and his peace came upon them; they were filled with joy and amazement. That is what can be ours when we move beyond our losses, worries about the future and wonderment about things we cannot understand and open our hearts to truly believing in Christ crucified and risen. Forgiveness and peace, joy and amazement can be ours. He changed the lives of the Apostles that day. He can change ours every day.
Each of our readings has an element of that gentleness of a shepherd and the promise of peace that Jesus offers to all. Peter in the first reading tells the people, “the author of life you put to death . . . but I know you acted out of ignorance. Repent and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” St. John in the 2nd reading declares. “I am writing to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. Keep his commandments.” He offers to us that our sins may be wiped away. He invites us today to repent, be converted and keep his commandments. He offers us his love and mercy which comes through His church.
Jesus appeared to the apostles as a group and missioned them as a group. They responded together and went forth to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, united with Peter at the center. St. Paul declares that those who are baptized become adopted children of God. Children are part of a family. That family, Christ’s Church, can support us and sustain us in our moments of doubt and questioning, when threatened by the evil one, and when we own up to our failings and seek to begin anew.
One of my favorite Easter stories is about a woman named Anne. She was very close to her father. When he died she grieved his loss deeply. Her father’s sister, aunt Katherine, was in a care facility, unable to speak, mentally still a child. Anne’s father had visited her regularly. Anne never did. Her aunt made her uncomfortable. On his deathbed her father asked Anne to continue his visits. She did not like the mission but because he had asked and to honor him, what else could she do. “If you come often enough she will recognize you,” a nurse offered encouragingly. When Anne first visited, she saw in her aunt features of her father, and tears welled up. She challenged God, why had he taken her father so full of life and left Katherine, this shell. After a few visits when Katherine only stared at her, Anne became angry with her father for having saddled her with this meaningless task.
As Easter approached, Anne’s family colored eggs. Ten year old Tommy asked, “Mom, are you going to make an Easter basket for Aunt Katherine?” “There’s no reason to,” she replied.” “But you told me that she thinks like I did when I was little. Didn’t you make a basket for me then?” Anne later wrote, “I felt very humble. Tommy was thinking of his great aunt as a person. To me she was a duty.”
Tommy colored an egg for his aunt. “Shall I put a cross on her egg? Does she know about Jesus?” he asked. “I don’t know,” Anne responded. “But Jesus knows about her, and loves her very much.” Anne took the Easter basket to Katherine including Tommy’s masterpiece egg with a cross on it. “She looked at me with a flicker in her hazel eyes, my father’s eyes,” Anne remembered. Then, “A…A…Anne,” Katherine spoke. With tears streaming down her face, Anne declared, “Happy Easter, Aunt Katherine. And I mean it.”
That is a resurrection story. God used Tommy to touch the heart of his mother and bring to her the peace the resurrected Christ wishes for us all.
We fully love Christ only when we are prepared to take up the tasks he has for us, face the crosses that come with them, and do both in faith, confident that his peace and grace will be with us. We all have moments of fear, times of questioning, periods of doubt and responsibilities we would rather not have. It is through embracing them not as ours alone but ours as Christ’s instruments that we will experience the grace and joy that the apostles experienced that special day in the Upper Room.
The last verse of today’s psalm puts it so beautifully: “As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O Lord, bring security to my dwelling.” Peace be with you”, Jesus prays and offers.