April 18, 2021 – The 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19, 1 John 2:1-5a, Luke 24: 35-48
“You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead.” As I pondered these words, I thought about the people I know who have stopped going to church. The reason for their departure goes beyond the COVID restrictions. Some people dropped out because they failed to encounter people who walked the talk. For some people, the damage done to the credibility of the Catholic Church by the sex scandal and subsequent coverup is irrevocable. Some people prefer to move ahead without a shepherd rather than turn to someone they consider unworthy of trust. This whole problem is exacerbated by the fact that many people have never had a safe, stable, and nurturing family environment.
Because our society is poisoned by bigotry, sexual harassment, and violence, we need to pay close attention to Peter’s comments to the crowd. He heard him identify the failings of the people and their leaders. While doing so, he did not ridicule, demean, or condemn them. His ministry was one of encouragement, invitation, and reconciliation. He was able to speak to the crowd with love and compassion because he knew himself to be a weak and sinful person. He was able to offer those who listened to him a way out of their guilt and shame because the Lord Jesus had shown him mercy and compassion. “God so loved and pitied the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not be lost but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
Peter had been an eyewitness to Christ’s passion and death. He also had a deep insight into the love and compassion that motivated the Lord to embrace the cross. “He bore our sins in His own body on the cross, so that we might be free from sin and live for righteousness. Because of the sufferings he endured that we have been healed” (1Pet. 2:24). Having been filled with the Fire of Divine Love, Peter testified to the mystery of salvation. As the apostle, Paul wrote: “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep we might live together with him” (1Thes 5:10). I can imagine Peter speaking to our generation. “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One and chose a culture of death. However, the Author of Life has trampled death by death and given life to those who are walking in the valley of death.” These are not words of condemnation. They are words of hope to people whose faith is being tested by external and internal forces.
In the face of violence, bigotry, and hatred, we need to be reminded that Christ freely chose to take all our sufferings upon himself. Mindful of our, infidelity, sin, and doubt, we need to be reminded that Christ is faithful and true. Acknowledging our hardhearted selfishness, we need to be reminded that Christ became poor so that we might become rich in grace. The wounds of our society have been healed by the wounds of the Savior. Because Christ came into the world to call sinners, the words we speak must not be words of condemnation but of invitation. Because Christ, who did not know sin, became sin, we must be willing to testifying to the love, mercy, and compassion of God. Because Christ laid down his life for the love of us, we should live and move and have our being for the love of Him. Because Christ trampled death by death, we can be ministers of hope to people walking in darkness and despair. Because Jesus continues to bear the marks of the nails, signs of the Father’s love, we should pour ourselves out in showing compassion to the angry, the doubting, marginalized, the diseased, the dying, and the confused.
God in Christ is not only the author of our faith, but He is also the goal of our journey. Because the Lord Jesus accompanies us on the path, we have the assurance that as he began the good work in us, he will bring it to completion. When Christ embraced the torments of the cross, he descended into the depths of human darkness and death. Trusting in the love of the Father, he exhibited faith in its highest form, placing himself at the head of a cloud of witnesses. When he rose from the dead, he brought faith to its perfection and loftiest triumph. When Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, He opened the way for us to follow. Let us listen to his voice and follow in his steps. Take a few minutes to ponder these assuring words taken from the Book of Revelation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and we will break bread together as friends” (Rev 3:20). May the Lord make himself known to us as we continue our journey to our heavenly homeland. May our hearts burn within us as he opens the scriptures for us. And may he open our eyes that we may recognize him when he breaks the bread that was baked in the fire of the Holy Spirit. May we be witnesses of hope to a broken and pandemic-weary world.