EASTER SUNDAY (Morning Mass, Year A-B-C)
We are prophets sent to bear witness as Christ’s risen body.
What do you see that needs to be changed — reformed or renewed — in our society? What do you see the Church doing about it?
Stop. When you asked what “the Church” is doing, were you thinking of what the bishops and clergy are doing? Or were you spontaneously thinking of the whole Church — bishops and nuns, laity and priests — all working together?
Do you think of the “Church” as guided and directed “from the top down”? Or do you assume that most of the leadership and initiatives are coming “from the bottom up,” and that those in authority are just accepting and encouraging these initiatives?
Do you think of yourself, with your family and friends, as being the Church? Do you feel called to bear witness as Church wherever you are? In everything you do?
How would you summarize your “job description” as a Christian?
Three things are unique about today’s lay Catholics:
1. The laity who assemble for Mass today are the most educated congregations priests have faced since the beginning of the world.
2. They are the first since the earliest days of the Church to be told that they are called to perfection, and not just to “save their souls” (Vatican II: “The Church,” no. 40: “Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of love”).
3. They are the first to have it explained to them that the vocation for which they are consecrated and empowered by God is the work of transforming society — the mission to “renew the face of the earth.” (Vatican II, “Decree On the Apostolate of the Laity,” chapter 1).
In the Opening Prayer we ask God to “raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us.” That Spirit was given to us at Baptism, when we were solemnly anointed with chrism on the top of our heads and consecrated to carry on the work of Jesus: Prophet, Priest and King. This is our “job description” as Christians: to be the risen Christ, Prophet, Priest and King, and let him continue his mission in us.
In the Prayer over the Gifts we offer God “the sacrifice by which your Church is reborn and nourished.” The sacrifice we offer at Mass is not only Jesus, but ourselves as included and incorporated in him as members of his body. When the bread and wine are placed on the altar at the Presentation of Gifts there should be a host on the plate for each person present — a sign that we are presenting ourselves to be offered with Christ and in Christ for the life of the world. This is our vocation.
Witnesses to the Resurrection:
The Responsorial Psalm is a meditation on the first reading. The response it calls for is: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118) And this gives us a key to all the readings.
Acts 10: 34-43 shows us Peter explaining the Good News for the first time to a Gentile audience. The good news is that Jesus has risen from the dead. His enemies did not defeat him. He has saved the world. We too will rise from the dead. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
To establish his credibility Peter declares, “We are witnesses of all that he did….” And he says Jesus showed himself visibly “to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” He says he is preaching because Jesus “commissioned us to… testify” as witnesses do. And he concludes “To him all the prophets bear witness….”
This is the first work of a Christian: to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. We do this, not just by talking about it, but by showing that Jesus is alive and active in us who are his risen body on earth. The “sign of Jonah,” which is the only sign Jesus promised to those who asked for signs (Matthew 12: 39-40; 16:4) is not just the fact that Jesus came out of the tomb after three days, as Jonah came out of the fish. A sign has to be seen. And what is seen today is the living presence of Jesus in his body on earth today, which is us. Jesus shows himself visibly in and through us, witnesses chosen by God, who to this day “eat and drink with him” and recognize him in the “breaking of the bread” at Mass (Luke 22:31).
“If you were raised…”
For the living Jesus to be visible in us, we have to live and act in ways that cannot be explained except by his life present within us (see Acts 2: 1-36; 12: 1-26). We don’t have to work miracles; we just have to think, speak and act on the level of God. We have to set our hearts visibly on the life Jesus promises us in heaven. We have to live visibly by the ideals Jesus preaches, not just by good human principles of reasonable conduct (see 1Corinthians 1: 17-26; 2: 1-16; 3:18-23). We have to live in such a way that our life does not make sense — cannot be explained — except in the light of the Gospel and by the power of the risen Jesus living and acting in us.
In Colossians 3: 1-4 Paul tells us this: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
This is a question of identity. To be authentically Christian we have to simply “die” to living life in this world according to ordinary human standards. We have to give up everything this world holds out to us, just as if we were dead. Then we have to come to life again to live in this world under an entirely different set of terms. We come back to life to live as the risen body of Jesus. We live for what he lived for and wants to live for now in us. We live to continue his presence and his mission in the world. That is all we live for. Everything else that is presented to us as a possible object of choice — every job, every enjoyment, every relationship, every invitation to do anything — we evaluate in terms of how it will help us carry out the mission of Jesus on earth. There is nothing else to live for. We have died, and our old life was buried with Christ. We have been raised up with Christ to be his risen body on earth. Our minds therefore are set on whatever is important to him. That is what we live for; that and nothing else. This is the good news of our new meaning and purpose in life: a meaning and purpose that are divine. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
This is the day that “makes our day”—every day!
In practice, this means we decide never to ask again just whether something would be to our advantage or not, enjoyable or not, profitable or not, acceptable to our friends or not. We might ask these questions. We will certainly take the answers to them into consideration. But we will decide what to do based on the answer to another question: “If I choose to do this, how will I be bearing witness to Jesus Christ — to his values, to his presence within me? How will this job, this relationship, this activity help me to live a life of prophetic witness as the risen body of Jesus on earth?”
It is a simple matter of accepting our new identity as the risen body of Jesus. We live to let him live in us. It is that simple. We say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
If this sounds too radical to even think about, remember you don’t have to be perfect overnight. The path to perfection starts with a beginning. So begin.
“They saw and believed”
John 20: 1-9 tells us to begin with believing. The first step is to believe that in truth you are the risen body of Jesus. When John and Peter ran to the tomb and found it empty, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” But they “saw and believed.”
And then, the Gospel says, “the disciples returned to their homes.”
If you accept, and accept deeply, to believe you are the risen body of Jesus, and that Jesus is alive and living in you, you can “return to your home” — and to all your daily occupations — but you will not return to live as you did before. You will try, little by little, step by step, to live as Christ and to let Christ live in you. This is to begin a new life, a life the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
Have I really given my body without reserves to be the body of the risen Jesus? Do I find this too threatening to deal with? What is the alternative?
Begin each day by saying, “Lord, I give you my body. Live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.”