Fr. Charles Irvin
Acts 3:13-15. 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48
It’s good once in a while to stand back and take a look at the big picture. Whenever we examine scripture passages we need to see them in context, how they fit in with other aspects of scripture with which they are related. Understanding today’s Gospel passages is best achieved by looking at the grand sweep of God our Father sending His Christ to us and through Him endowing us with the Holy Spirit. Allow me to suggest the “big picture” can be seen as a four act drama.
The First Act brings us the time from Adam and Eve through the birth and infancy of Jesus Christ. This act is filled with prophecy and promise, the prophecies about God’s promised Messiah that He will send us. God’s promise is fulfilled when the angel Gabriel makes his annunciation to the Virgin Mary, Christ is born, and then the magi, representing the powers of this world, come to acknowledge His presence among us.
The Second Act begins with Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan and ends with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This act is filled with the teachings of Jesus, His astounding miracles, and His divine dominance over all that is demonic, even over death itself.
The Third Act opens with Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. It is filled with the dramatic events of Holy Week during which the Church invites us to enter into those events and share in the drama. It ends with the glorious resurrection of Christ from the dead. Many stop there, believing that the drama ends there but I am suggesting there is more.
The Fourth Act in the drama is found in what are called the post-resurrection accounts. Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each give us post-resurrection accounts, narrations of the events that occurred after Jesus rose from the dead. As a matter of fact, that is what the Book of Acts is all about. But for my purposes today, I want to focus on the gospel account we just heard, the one presented to us by St. Luke.
In St. Luke’s post-resurrection account we find the women going to the tomb only to discover that it is empty. The went to the apostles and the apostles refused to believe them until Peter went to the tomb and found for himself that Christ had risen from the dead.
Next, the disciples on their journey to Emmaus were encountered by the risen Jesus who, beginning with Moses and going through the Old Testament prophets, explained what they are all about. Then He ate a meal with them, something that can be done only by a living human being. He was not a ghost; He was truly the risen Christ living and present among them.
Now we come to today’s Gospel account where we hear:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
The point I want to make with you here today is that you, too, are witnesses of these things. The commission of Jesus to His disciples, His sending them out as missionaries into our world, applies to you and me just as much as it applied to them. We, too, are Christ’s followers, His disciples; we, too, empowered by Pentecost’s Holy Spirit, are people who are sent. We are missionaries.
We need to be conscious of the truth that Jesus left us with task of bringing God’s kingdom to realization here on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to pray: “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In the New Testament we find “the kingdom” mentioned 150 times. Jesus is quoted as speaking of it 107 times. Obviously, then, it was of tremendous importance to Him.
I fear that too often we think of coming to church and celebrating Mass in terms of saving our own souls. We think we come to church in order to save our own souls and get to heaven. That’s far too self-centered. Furthermore, it misses the point. We need to remember that we don’t justify ourselves, God does. We don’t sanctify ourselves, God does. We don’t save ourselves, God does. Religion is not all about self, it’s about others.
We come to church and we celebrate Mass with our priest in order to receive Christ, true enough. But the critical thing is to recognize that we do that in communion with others. Then when Mass is over we take what we have received and shared out into the world around us. Just as on Pentecost the apostles received the Holy Spirit who descended upon them in a great wind and as tongues of fire we, like them, are to go out into the public world around us bringing the presence of the risen Christ to them. We do that to make His kingdom come here on earth. We don’t establish the kingdom; Christ has done that. What we do is realize it, make it real, in our lives and in the world around us. We come here to thank God for all that He has done for us, receive His greatest gift to us, then share the presence of Christ, share not only with the other people who are here with us, but share with those who are not here… particularly with those who are not here.
We have a wonderful gift to offer people, particularly these days when so many folks are dealing with both the economic depression that is upon us as well as personal emotional feelings of depression. The wonderful gift we have to share with them is the gift of hope.
Ultimately good will triumph over evil, light will dispel the darkness, and God has not left us. The Christ is still with us. We have HOPE, a hope that is not just a nice feeling but a hope that is based on what Jesus will give us if we turn to Him and let Him give us all that He wants to give us.
He is risen… and now everything is changed.