As we listen to today's lessons, I think the first thing that is being impressed upon us about the message of Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, is that Jesus is still in our midst. He's with us; he's alive. If we listen to our second lesson today from the Book of Revelation, we find the prophet, or as he's called the "seer," John, who because of his faithful witness to Jesus has been exiled to the island of Patmos, we find that this seer, in a vision, sees the risen Lord.
He describes in very special terms how the vision appeared to him. But the main point is seeing him. "I fell at his feet like one dead. But he touched me with his right hand and said, 'Do not be afraid, it is I.'" Jesus has come, peace in their midst. "It is I, the First and the Last. I am the living one. I was dead; and now I am alive, forever and ever; and mine are the keys of death and the netherworld."
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
And then he gives John the commission to write these things down, spread the good news among all the churches.
And also in our first lesson today where we see what was happening a few months after Easter, after the apostles experienced the risen presence of Jesus, Luke, who writes this early history of the church, describes what has been going on. He talks about how the disciples come together in the temple area and Luke says many miraculous signs and wonders were done among the people through the hands of the disciples.
The believers of one accord used to meet in Solomon's porch and an ever-increasing number of men and women believed in the Lord. The people carried their sick into the streets and laid them on cots and on mats so when the disciples passed by, people might be healed. What Luke is telling us is the work of Jesus is going on; Jesus is alive and he's acting in their midst. Certainly in the Gospel lesson, we again have the account of what happened on Easter Sunday night where Jesus came into the midst of the disciples gathered in the upper room.
They were afraid because Jesus had been executed and they weren't sure what was going to happen to them. Suddenly Jesus is in their midst; he's alive. This is the message that we are being told again and again. The witnesses, who first experienced that living presence of Jesus after he had passed through death to new life, are given witness to us that Jesus is alive and is in our midst even now. I hope that as we continue to hear the stories and this witness of those first disciples, we can become more and more convinced that Jesus is still alive and living in our midst.
And as we do get this conviction, we might ask ourselves, "Where do we find Jesus -- you and I -- now?" Well, obviously, in the words that we hear. The Scriptures are a living word of God—God is present. In the Eucharist, obviously, the sacrament that gives us the presence of Jesus, human and divine, under that form of bread and wine so that he becomes our nourishment and he can strengthen and make our spirit life grow. But even more important, Jesus is in our midst as Jesus lives in each one of us who is baptized.
There was a time in the church before the Vatican Council when Catholics referred to their priests as "other Christs." A Scripture scholar friend of mine writes about this, about himself. He says, "The impression I received from this popular belief was that priests alone had a unique mission to be Jesus among us, that priests were other Christs." I remember in my own spiritual formation in the seminary, that continued to be impressed upon us, and what we had to try to live up to -- that we were to be Jesus, the Christ in the midst of the people. When we were ordained, we were to be other Christs.
Perhaps some of you remember that spirituality. But it was so limiting and in a way so wrong because when you listen to the Gospel today, you discover that not a certain small group of people who are ordained, who are priests are other Christs, but everyone in the community -- all are other Christs. Listen to the Gospel, "When Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you,' and then showed them his hands and his side, he says to them, 'As God has sent me, so I send you.'"
It was not a small, special group, ordained men. No, it was the whole church, the community of disciples to whom Jesus is speaking: "As God has sent me, I send you." John goes on, as you heard, "After saying this he breathes on them, said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they're forgiven, the evil you restrain is restrained.'" Jesus is working in the midst of the human family through those in whom he lives, who experience his very presence within themselves.
This became such strong conviction within the early church that St. Paul, writing to the church at Galatia, spoke about it this way, "Now, in Christ Jesus all of you are sons and daughters of God through faith. All of you who were given to Christ through baptism have put on Christ." Remember, baptism was going down into the water and dying, rising again to new life, alive with the life of Jesus.
And Paul goes on to say, "Here there is no longer any difference between Jew or Greek or between slave or free or between rich or poor or between man and woman, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus." This is the truth from Easter that I feel we really have to try to get hold of, to let it be deeply imbedded within our minds, our hearts, within our sprit. "I am living Christ. I am Christ living in the world." Each one of us says that, humbled by the reality, but rejoicing.
And, also, accepting the responsibility that goes with that because as Jesus proclaimed to his disciples that Easter Sunday night, "As God has sent me, I send you." Each of us is being sent out by God to carry on the work of Jesus, to be Jesus in our world. And don't we need Jesus strongly present in our midst? When we think back about his public life, we admire what he did, how he reached out to the poor and comforted them. Those who labor and are burdened, he gave them rest and comfort, how he forgave sinners, how he healed the sick.
Jesus was constantly ministering to the hurts, the wounds of people and of our world. When he comes to the disciples on Easter Sunday night, what's the first thing he says to them? "Peace be with you." He comes to be reconciling. Remember, these are the disciples, almost all of whom had abandoned him. Peter had even denied him. Jesus comes, forgives, reconciles, and brings peace. I think that's maybe the most important thing that Jesus expects us to do, by being Christ in the midst of our human family, to bring reconciliation, to bring peace, to overcome the violence and the hatred that we experience in the world so much all around us.
I hope as we listen to these lessons today, everyone of us become more deeply convinced, and humbled, but also rejoicing that I am Jesus living now in this world and I have a responsibility to carry on his work, to make the reign of God happen. And don't we have a marvelous example in Pope Francis? He's constantly devising new ways to serve the poor. He is reminding us of our responsibility to the stranger, the immigrant.
When he was in Mexico, right at the border of our country, he proclaimed, "Those who follow Jesus don't build walls to keep others out. They build bridges, they reconcile, they try to draw people together." Pope Francis also has denounced the violence in the world. He's gone into areas where there is the violence of war and he's worked to bring about reconciliation and peace. He gives us a marvelous example.
As we rejoice in the fact that we have this leadership from the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, we also must, as he continues to remind us, take up our own responsibility, try to carry out the work of Jesus in whatever way we can. So I hope that each of us remembers now, "I am Christ. Jesus lives in me. He has asked me to carry on his work." As God has sent him, Jesus now sends us.
Think about it -- in what way can I truly be Christ to those around us, around me in my family, my neighborhood, my community, here in my country and also trying to share in the work of bringing our country to do more in the community of nations to bring Christ present wherever our nation is involved with other nations.
It's a huge task and none of us can do it all, but certainly if we think about who Jesus is, what he did, maybe think about the example of Pope Francis, follow his lead, each one of us will find the way to be more effectively Jesus, present now to heal the needs, the wounds of the human family. Each of us can do as Jesus did -- go to others wherever we can and bring that message of peace, reconciliation and love.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]