We’re celebrating the last Sunday of Easter, the seventh Sunday. We’ve been on a spiritual high as we reviewed and contemplated the Resurrection of Jesus.
On Easter Sunday we were with Mary Magdalene when she discovered that the body of Jesus was gone. We watched Peter as he bent down to look into the empty tomb. We witnessed John gazing into the tomb with the new eyes of faith.
The following Sunday after we heard Thomas say that he would never believe that Jesus was alive unless he touched his wounds. We watched his face when Jesus showed him his hands and his side. We came to realize that Thomas doubted because he had detached himself from the faith community, the body of Christ.
The third Sunday we felt the cool morning breeze along the Sea of Galilee. We saw Peter, Nathaniel, Thomas and a few others catching 153 very large fish. We saw Jesus feeding them with bread and fish, and then freeing Peter from the shackles of his three betrayals. We heard Peter called. We heard ourselves called. “Follow me.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter Jesus looked into our eyes. Love radiated from him as he embraced us and comforted us. He whispered to us his promise of future glory. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
On the fifth Sunday we listened to Jesus as we’ve never listened before. He imparted to us the secret of eternal life. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He made a promise to us the following week. He told us that the Father would send us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. He promised that the Spirit would be our guarantee that throughout the centuries Jesus would remain with us. He would continue to teach us. He promised that we would experience peace – not the world’s idea of peace – true peace – peace of mind and heart – the peace that rests on us as we lay our heads against our Father’s breast.
The week of weeks is over. Now we wait for the new breath of the Spirit.
Today’s gospel passage is a prelude to the feast of Pentecost – the celebration of the birth, life and mission of the Church. In today’s gospel passage we’re at the last supper listening to Jesus prepare his apostles and disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He sets a context for the Spirit’s coming – love. “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Last week we heard the command Jesus spoke to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” His call to a life of sacrificial love is the disciple’s manifesto. He teaches us that as we empty ourselves in love for one another, as we free ourselves of ego and self-centeredness, new life begins to grow in us. “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
The Holy Spirit begins his work in a heart that loves as Jesus loved, sacrificially. The Spirit feeds that love by illuminating our minds and reminding us of all Jesus told us.
Take a moment to think of some of the things Jesus told us.
“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for youselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach or moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.”
“How happy are the poor in spirit. How happy are the meek. How happy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Happy the merciful and the clean of heart. Happy are the peacemakers.”
“You are the light of the world.” “You are the salt of the earth.”
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
When we draw these teachings into our hearts we invite God to make his dwelling in us. Then we begin to know his peace. It won’t be the peace we struggle to achieve in the world. God’s peace dwells in our hearts even in war and our personal struggles. Nothing can trouble our hearts. Nothing can disturb our peace because God has replaced our fear with his love.
When we succumb to the Spirit our hearts become the holy city spoken of in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation. We become the Spirit’s temple. We need no sun or moon because the glory of God is shining within us – the light of the Lamb who was slain.
In preparation for the coming feast of Pentecost I encourage you to pray daily to the Holy Spirit. Invite him into your heart. Ask for a deeper knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. Ask for peace of heart and mind. Ask for all you need to be a true disciple of Jesus. Consecrate yourself to him. Don’t be afraid.
We’re reading from John’s account of the Last Supper, the beginning of the Book of Glory. Jesus and his disciples were at table the night before the Jewish Passover when Jesus shocked them by getting up from the table and washing their feet as if he were the house slave. He told them, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that what I have done for you, you should also do.” Judas left the company shortly after this teaching. His feet had been washed but he hadn’t been cleansed. As he left the dinner walking into the night, the cross cast a shadow across the room. He would return soon, and with a kiss betray his Lord.
“Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” He looked around at the disciples and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” With these words Jesus accepted the cross. It would be the sign of his glory for all time. It would give witness to the
new commandment he was about to give to everyone who wished to be his disciple. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus was asking us to love as he loved. He was asking us to love sacrificially. As he was about to empty himself on the cross, he asked us to empty ourselves for one another. He washed our feet. For love of us he poured out his life’s blood on the cross. Whenever we gather for the sacred meal, the Eucharistic banquet, we hear his call, “Do this in memory of me.”
“When we eat this bread
and drink this cup
we proclaim the death of the Lord
until he comes.”
Lord Jesus, with these words I consecrate my life to you.
May I be your disciple in spirit and in truth.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus declared: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” We’re very used to hearing this teaching. Its familiarity, I’m afraid, can weaken our understanding of Jesus’ message.
There are three parts to this statement. The first is: “My sheep hear my voice.” Jesus is teaching us that when we hear his voice we enter into a new relationship with him. He isn’t speaking of our ability to hear sounds coming from his mouth; he’s speaking about our ability to hear his message, to digest it, to meld it into our every fiber.
The second part of the teaching is: “I know them.” He’s teaching something very profound. He’s saying that he knows who we are. He sees the beauty of our hearts and minds. He knows our struggles. He knows our sins. He knows our potential and how we use the gifts we have. His knowledge of us is loving and non-judgmental because we’re in harmony with him, because we’re in communion with him. We hear his voice. We listen to him.
“They follow me.” What does this mean? Does it mean that we say yes to doctrines that define him? Do we believe that he’s a man? Do we believe that he’s the Son of God? What do we mean when we say we follow him?
A scribe once told Jesus, “Teacher, I will follow you where ever you go.” Jesus said this to him.
“Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
Following Jesus is demanding. Following him may mean that we won’t have a place to live. It may mean that we must abandon our family. Remember when Jesus was preaching and someone told him that his mother and brothers were outside and wanted to speak with him? His answer continues to challenge us. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.”
Over the centuries we Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, have created a great deal of wiggle room around his invitation to “Follow me.” We’ve pretty much cleansed his invitation of any of its radical implications.
I looked back into the bulletin files to see what I wrote about this same Sunday three years ago. I said pretty much the same thing but brought in an incident that took place a few months before, February 12, 2019. Twenty-one Coptic Christians were beheaded on a beach in Libya by members of the Islamic State. I’ll end today’s reflection with same question I ended with three years ago. What does it mean to be a Christian?
We continue reading accounts of the resurrection as we move through the Sundays of Easter. This Sunday brings us to the third account in John’s Gospel. It takes place along the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).
Once again, this account begins in the darkness of the night. The apostles were gathered near the Sea of Galilee. Peter announced that he was going to fish. The rest of the apostles joined him, bringing their torches. They rowed out about a hundred yards and began casting their nets. They spent the entire night fishing but caught nothing.
As dawn began to break, a voice called out to them from the shore asking if they caught any fish. They answered, no. The man then instructed them to throw their nets over the right side of the boat. They listened to his suggestion. Often enough, while casting their nets, fisherman would have someone on the shore looking over the clear water to spot the movement of a school of fish. It’s very difficult for a fisherman to look into the water for fish while casting his net, hence, the need for a spotter.
To their joyful surprise they hauled in a catch. Later when they brought the net to shore they counted one hundred and fifty-three large fish! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who
looked into the tomb and “saw and believed,” shouted out that he recognized the man. It was Jesus! Peter, impetuous as ever, jumped into the water and swam to shore. There was a strange scene awaiting him.
Jesus had built a charcoal fire and was cooking a fish. Along with the fish he had bread waiting for them. No one said anything. They knew that it was Jesus speaking to them, but they were in shock. “Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.”
This description of Jesus feeding his apostles is a Eucharistic image. The language is very similar to Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup…’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24) As we search for the deeper meaning of this account it’s important to keep a connection between what takes place during this “breakfast” and the Eucharist.
Let’s look over John’s entire account. It began with Peter symbolically attempting his ministry to be “fishers of men.” However, he began his work in the darkness of the night and so his attempt was fruitless. With the coming of the early morn
ing light he heeded the call of Jesus to cast his net on the right side of the boat. The catch was incredible, one hundred and fiftythree large fish! The reference to the number of fish is symbolic. John often used numerological references, here 1+5+3 = 9. Nine is a numerological symbol of the divine. John was telling us that this catch, taking place in the early morning light, wasn’t the work of man it was God’s work.
John continued delving into the meaning of the event. At this early morning gathering of the children of light, more wonderful things took place. Peter, commissioned to be the rock and foundation, needed healing and forgiveness before he could assume his ministry. Three times he denied any knowledge of Jesus. So, three times Jesus asked him: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “You know I love you.” Jesus’ answers forgive him, heal him, and anoint him for his ministry. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep! Follow me!”
This Sunday’s resurrection account once again, leads us to reflect on the Eucharist we’re celebrating. In this sacred gathering of the children of the light the risen Lord reveals himself. He feeds us and offers himself to us as the bread of life. When he feeds us, he heals us and forgives our sins. He anoints us so that we can assume the ministry he began.
The Sundays of Easter are a very special time. Each resurrection account is an invitation for us to open our hearts to the risen Lord. These are weeks of healing and anointing. These are the weeks we look into the empty tomb, when we see more clearly, when we believe more profoundly. These are the weeks when we’re invited, like Peter, to become fishers of men.