Wednesday, April 6, 2016

3rd Sunday of Easter

Answering the Call.  The Lord calls us to be with him, to follow him… but what is our response?  Our readings for this Third Sunday of Easter all show us how others have answered that call…

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Our first reading, from Acts of the Apostles, takes place shortly after our reading from last Sunday.  After preaching and healing in Jesus’ name outside the Temple, the Sanhedrin had the Apostles arrested and put into jail.  That night, however, an angel of the Lord opened the jail and let them out, whereupon the Apostles returned to preaching and healing.  This takes us to our passage today where they are brought before the Court and told that they are forbidden to teach in Jesus’ name.  Here Peter, who only a few weeks ago was so afraid of the Sanhedrin that he denied his connection to Jesus, now speaks passionately in his defense, proud of the fact that they had the courage to accept whatever punishment may come their way.  There is now a joy and a freedom in Peter’s voice that is echoed in our Psalm when we sing “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”

Just as our first reading has the Apostles in the Court room of the Sanhedrin, our second reading from the book of Revelation gives us John’s vision of the Heavenly Court.  Here we see the throne surrounded by the elders and 4 other “living creatures” giving praise to the Lamb.  The Lamb, of course, represents Christ.  The elders and the creatures, shouting their affirmation, stands in sharp contrast to what we see with the Sanhedrin.  The four other creatures, which are described in Chapter 4, are winged creatures with eyes all around, the first resembling a lion, the second a calf (or ox), the third with the face of a man, and the fourth an eagle.  Though these images of the four living creatures mirror those found in Ezekiel 1 and 10, we Christians more readily remember them as the symbols of our four Evangelists, Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John respectively.

Our Gospel, from the second conclusion of John, offers us one of my favorite images of the risen Jesus.  After recent events (with both Jesus’ death and resurrection) Peter is restless, so he grabs some of the other Apostles and goes fishing.  In a scene reminiscent of their calling, they’ve spent the night on the sea but have caught nothing.  As dawn breaks a voice from the shore tells them to cast their nets one more time.  As they manage the great haul to shore, Peter recognizes the Lord, jumps in and swims to shore to greet him.  Jesus is preparing them breakfast.  Jesus then queries Peter, “do you love me?”  Peter replies affirmatively, whereupon Jesus tells him to “feed my lambs.”  He does this three times.  Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus now gives Peter the chance to reconcile that moment of weakness by taking up the challenge of tending to the “flock” which Jesus has gathered in his name.

Final thoughts:
One of the greatest things about spending the Easter Season with the Acts of the Apostles is the opportunity to witness Peter’s growth as a leader and a saint.  As Catholics, when we think of Peter, we often think of him as the wise senior statesman, the great saint, the keeper of the keys… our first pope.  but that image of Peter lies in stark contrast to the Simon-Peter we see in the Gospels.  There we see someone who is somewhat conflicted… someone who’s heart is in the right place, but who’s actions belays that heart (as during Jesus’ Passion.)  And yet we as church feel a great connection to Peter, because in him many times we see ourselves.  But how do we bridge this gap between the Peter of the gospels and the great St. Peter in our stained glass windows?  The simple answer is with the Holy Spirit.  That same Spirit that we can call upon to help us when we need help.  That same guide to lead us to the Lord.  But we also know it’s not always that easy… which brings me back to the Acts of the Apostles.  Even with the Holy Spirit, Peter and the others had their troubles.  Acts now tells us that story.  By spending the Easter Season with the Acts of the Apostles, we get to follow them on their journey from sinners to saints… and perhaps learn something ourselves… something that will help us to answer the call.

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