David A. Cregan, O.S.A.
Acts 5: 27-32, 40b-41
Ps 30: 2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Rev 5: 11-14
Jn 21: 1-19
The centerpiece of today’s gospel is an exuberant response to the risen Christ. Peter sets out fishing with the other apostles. There is a tone in his words in today’s Gospel, “I am going fishing”, that seems to be a response to the confusion and frustration with the way events were unfolding after the crucifixion of Jesus. And then everything changes! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, recognizes the Lord standing on the shore, and tells Peter “It is the Lord”. The Evangelist goes on to tell us “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea”. This is a spontaneous response of enthusiasm, courage, and love on the part of Peter to the recognition of Jesus that inspired him to move as quickly towards Jesus as possible; despite that he was out on the water and Jesus was standing on the shore.
Just moments before Peter’s great act of love, the Gospel tells us that while Jesus was standing on the shore, the disciples did not realize who he was. It is compelling that the disciple whom Jesus loved was the first to see through the veil of grief, anxiety, and fear that must have cast a fog over many of the followers of Jesus who had placed their hopes in him. The disciple whom Jesus loved, in the tradition of the church, has always been recognized as John. The repetition of the notion that there was one whom he specially loved in other Gospels gives us a good sense that this particular relationship was important to Jesus and to the memory of the earliest communities.
Let us consider for a moment the reality of being particularly loved by Jesus. John must have been well aware of the closeness of his friendship with Jesus. How privileged it must have been for him to have known this special relationship to Jesus while he was alive, a memory that was surely lodged deep in is heart and soul when Jesus was gone. And yet, this experience is not entirely unique in the rich and long history of the Church. For centuries, men and women who have been claimed for Christ in baptism have had moments of spiritual grace and illumination in which they understood themselves as loved personally by Christ. In fact, I would reckon to say that many, if not all of us have had that same experience of closeness, of companionship, of compassion, and of love with the living Christ in our prayer lives.
What we celebrate in this great season of Easter is the reality that the real presence of Jesus is not some lofty theology, or even a spiritual aspiration, but is, in fact, a common part of the human experience for believers. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church confirms that the Real Presence of Christ is found in the Eucharist which we celebrate each time we gather as a community. That Real Presence is the Resurrection and is at the very core of what we believe.
Often in our lives we are much like the disciples who do not quickly recognize Jesus as he stands close by. But in love we encourage each other to open our eyes to the spiritual reality of the proximity of Christ in the simplicity of our days. When we listen to the Word of God poured forth specifically for us from the Scriptures, some of the fog or confusion of our lives lifts and we are given a clearer perspective. When we come forward to the altar with our hands extended to receive communion, this intimate relationship with Jesus becomes more and more imbedded in our hearts and souls each season, each year of our lives.
What then is this Real Presence that is the eternal gift from God that we, his faithful followers, receive in abundance through grace? Do we not experience the real presence of Jesus in the simplicity of our own prayer lives? For instance, when we close our eyes and he passes his hand over our hearts and we find ourselves in a moment of reflection, contemplation, and of peace in our hectic lives. Can we not all testify to the closeness of Jesus in our lives, not only in those moments of prayer, but in the ordinariness of the blessings we receive through our families; of the guidance and strength we experience in times of struggle; and of the joy and celebration that we experience in the good times of our lives. As Christians, the real presence of Christ is what shapes and forms our experience, and continually lifts our attention to the graces of heaven that give us strength and courage. Through scripture and through the Eucharist we remind ourselves of the great love by which we recognize Jesus, and in return we hear him clearly say “Follow me”. This becomes our hearts’ desire.
The Easter gift of the resurrection, this Eucharistic promise of the Real Presence of Christ, is the source of our strength and the initiator of all good deeds in our lives. In the Acts of the Apostles, when challenged to abandon Christ by the Sanhedrin, the disciples of Jesus respond “We must obey God rather than men”. This response from our ancestors in faith to the pressures of the world to give up Christ continues to inspire and encourage people like you and I today. We are the faithful like-minded individuals of our community of faith who profess the real presence of Christ in our midst, but also in our lives, and in our world. People like you and I, people who believe in the faithfulness of God and the many gifts that he has poured down upon us by leaving us with his peace, are becoming more and more important in the times in which we are living. So much of our public discourse is filled with anger, with hatred, with accusation, with violence and with division, that we are compelled to help others recognize Jesus standing in our midst.
But what is the message of Christ standing in our midst? In last week’s Gospel Jesus repeated three times, “Peace be with you”. Each time we gather as a community to listen to the scriptures and eat from the sacred altar, we remind ourselves that Jesus gave us that peace, and that we find that peace in our lives through our recognition of the real presence of Christ in his many manifestations. He is still with us! He still guides us! He continues to heal within our world! He continues to seek out those who are lost now! He continues to draw us all towards our Heavenly Father! When the disciples recognized Jesus they found their mission. You and I are now responsible to keep that mission flowing throughout the world. We must be the peace that we have received. We must be the reconciliation that others long for. We must be the real presence of Christ in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in our world. We must not be dominated or driven by the negativity that surrounds us in our culture and in the world. We must create bridges and not chasms between people.
So much of the aggression and judgment in the world is based on personal discomfort with ourselves that gets projected on to others. A deep personal love of Jesus heals us and allows us to accept ourselves, weaknesses and all. When we become the one that Jesus loves we learn in our hearts that he accepts us in our fullness. When one truly experiences this kind of love, humility is the response of the soul; a humility out of which our godly response is compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. We become shaped by the values of Jesus that we receive in love.
Because Jesus has loved us so personally, we must follow him in deed and in word: all the while working for a kingdom that values the dignity of all people, a greater respect for life, a world where boundaries and borders do not breed prejudice or exclusion, and a world in which violence is replaced with the gift of peace that Jesus Christ so generously bestows on us.
This Easter season how will you respond to His call in your life, “Follow me”?