3rd Sunday of Easter Year – B – 2015
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19, 1 Jn.2:1-5, Lk.24:35-48
The priest of a small Hindu congregation in a tribal area in India was being persuaded by some energetic Christian missionaries. He listened for a while and then said to them: “Gentlemen, look. I have a proposal that will settle this. I have here a glass of nux vomica, a poison which I use to kill rats.
If you will drink this poison and remain alive as your God Jesus Christ promised, I will join your religion – and not only myself, but my entire Hindu congregation. But if you won’t drink the poison, well, then, I can only conclude that you are false ministers of the gospel you preach because you do not trust that your Lord would not let you perish.”
This created a problem for the missionaries. They conferred with each other and said, “What on earth are we going to do?” Finally, they arrived at a plan of action. They came back, approached the Hindu priest and said, “Here is our plan. You drink the poison, and we’ll raise you from the dead by the power of Jesus!”
Our scripture for this third Sunday of Easter is about believers. But it is also about doubting and wondering and trying to figure things out. The common theme of today’s readings is the challenge to adjust our lives in the living presence of the risen Lord, well aware of his presence, within us and all around us. This awareness should strengthen our hope in his promises.
And this should bring us to the true repentance for our sins and the renewal of our lives. This renewal of lives should lead us to bear witness to Christ. The readings also remind us that the purpose of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus was to save us from sins. These are the words of Jesus to his Apostles.
“You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.” And this is the risen Christ speaking to us from the gospel. And his words are echoed by Peter in the first reading, “Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.”
Even in the second reading, the apostle John urges his readers to stop sinning, and if they have sinned they should seek forgiveness in Christ who by his sacrifice has taken our sins away. Most people who are living in sin silence their consciences if ever they trouble them, with the promise of repenting some future day.
But is it possible that a change of heart can be brought about in a single day? Can we possibly alter our tastes, our will, our character and habits without any difficulty in a brief period of time? We might be inclined to sit back and say, “Why all the fuss if everyone is a sinner, and forgiveness is easily got?”
But John issues a solemn warning, “We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments.” ‘To know’ is one of those terms which had a special meaning in sacred scripture. It had almost nothing to do with intellectual understanding. To know God meant to abide in God, to have a close and personal relationship with him.
And this is only possible if we live in imitation of Christ, if we put on Christ, as St Paul says. Christianity gives us great privileges, but it also makes great demands on us. The demand is this that we cannot be like Christ unless we are pure in heart.
There is a story of a poor and simple man who regularly visited a certain church, and would always pray on his knees before a large crucifix. He was once asked why his lips never moved while in this attitude of prayer before the image of Christ crucified. His reply was, “I look at him, and he looks at me.”
For him words had given way to contemplation. And truly, those who look long enough at Christ, whether before a representation of Christ, or just mentally, will finally become like Christ and that for all eternity, because of the vision of him as he really is.
If we look back over our lives most of us will find something or other that we very much regret. We might remember speaking or acting in ways that hurt or damaged others. We might be aware of not doing something that we could have done and, that in our heart of hearts, wanted to do.
Sometimes these experiences of personal failure can leave us very burdened. We can find it hard to move on from them; they trouble us and we struggle to be free of them. They can weigh heavily on us and drain us of energy. We can find ourselves going back in memory to them over and over again.
The first disciples of Jesus must have felt like this in the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion. During the days of Jesus’ final journey, they had all deserted him. Their mood in the aftermath of Good Friday can only have been one of deep regret. They must have felt that their relationship with Jesus was over.
According to the today’s gospel, however, the first words the risen Jesus spoke to his disciples were, ‘Peace be with you.’ These words assured the disciples of the Lord’s forgiveness. For those first disciples, the initial experience of the risen Lord took the form of a profound experience of forgiveness. This was the risen Lord’s gift to them.
The gift of forgiveness can be difficult to receive at times. We wonder if we are really forgiven. When Jesus said ‘Peace be with you,’ they responded with alarm and fright and thought that they might be seeing a ghost. The risen Jesus then questioned them, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?’ It took the disciples a while to realize that they were forgiven.
Before we can receive the Easter gift of God’ forgiveness that comes to us through the risen Lord, we must first acknowledge our need of that gift. In other words, we need ‘to admit the truth.’ The truth is that we are always in need of the gift of God’s forgiveness. Recognizing our need and asking God for the gift of forgiveness is what we call repentance.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a privileged opportunity to admit the truth, to acknowledge our need of God’s forgiveness and to ask directly for it. In that sacrament that the risen Lord says to us, ‘Peace be with you’. The words of absolution include the prayer, ‘through the ministry of the church may God grant you pardon and peace.’
Who was it who said, ‘to err is human, to forgive is divine’? If that is true, we need divine help to do what is divine. The greatest example we can offer is forgiveness. As the Father forgave us through Jesus’ Death on the Cross, so we forgive others through our example. There are many ways to forgive, but our example has to be a Christian example.
There are different ways to forgive. The Christian offers forgiveness first, not seeking an apology from others. We should offer forgiveness from our hearts and through our words and actions before someone who has wronged us even asks for it. This is the message that alone can bring peace to the world, and that realize Jesus’ words: “Peace be with you.” Amen.