Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Lord's Day

Just one week ago, on Easter Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection. The resurrection was a real, historical event, but one which no one witnessed first-hand. What was witnessed initially was an empty tomb – a necessary condition, of course, for any claim about Jesus’ resurrection to be true, but hardly sufficient confirmation of it. Tombs can be empty for all sorts of reasons. This year, we have even had a movie made with this premise that tries to retell the story from the vantage point of a Roman Tribune assigned by Pontius Pilate to investigate the disappearance of Jesus and to try to find his body.

It was not just the Romans, however, but Jesus’ own friends and followers for whom the immediate result that the empty tomb produced was confusion. Something more had to happen to make it make a difference. Something more did happen when the risen Lord himself appeared to his disciples, demonstrating that the same Jesus who had lived and died was now alive again in a gloriously new way.

The gospel we just heard recounts two such appearances – the first on Easter Sunday itself, the second one week later (which would be today). Understandably still fearful for their safety, the disciples had hidden behind locked doors. In this Jubilee Year, when the Holy Doors of the 4 papal basilicas of Rome, along with designated “Doors of Mercy” all over the world, are open for pilgrims to pass through, the locked doors in today’s Gospel dramatize the deeper problem which can only be overcome by God’s mercy made freely available to us by the risen Christ. 

Perhaps, as Jerusalem tradition suggests, their hiding place was the same “Upper Room,” where they had so recently celebrated the Last Supper and where they would soon assemble again after Jesus’ ascension to await his promised gift of the Holy Spirit. If so, that would be very appropriate, wouldn’t it? Since the time of the apostles, Sunday, the first day of the week, has been the special day, the privileged day, when the risen Lord’s followers everywhere meet in their churches to experience the risen Lord’s mercy, present (through the power of the Holy Spirit) in the sacramental celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.

And it was on Sunday, the Lord’s Day (as it was already being called even back then, as we just heard), that  John in exile on Patmos experienced yet another vision of the risen Christ, once dead but now alive forever and ever.

Like Thomas, we were not there that first Lord’s Day, but we are here today, on this Lord’s Day, when, with Thomas, we too are invited to believe and so to experience the peace that flows from the wounds of Christ. For the same God who raised Christ’s wounded body from the tomb has, by the gift of his Holy Spirit, brought into being a Church, which is Christ’s body in the world, with all its wounds.

And we, who have been united with the risen Lord in his Church are the same fearful, wounded individuals who first came to Jesus for mercy and peace – not unlike the many who carried their sick and disturbed to shelter in Peter’s shadow. The risen Christ incorporates us all in his Church, just as his resurrected and glorified body still retains his wounds. Those wounds, which confirmed for the disciples the connection between Jesus’ earthly body and his risen body, confirm for us the connection between our ordinary earthly lives (wounded in so many different ways) and our new lives as members of Christ’s Church. 

Hence the central importance of Sunday for us. From the first half of the 4th century up until the last half of the 20th, both Church and State collaborated in keeping Sunday special. Some of us here are surely old enough to remember, as well I do, what it was like when Sunday was still a day set apart from ordinary, commercial activities, when stores were closed, and ordinary people had the time and the leisure to celebrate Sunday as it is meant to be – with time not just for church in the morning but a full day devoted to family, friends, and community. That is obviously no longer the case. And, if we are honest about it, we will readily admit how we ourselves have been active accomplices in our society’s abandonment of Sunday’s specialness. But Sunday must remain special. For it is that uniquely special day of the week when we come together to express our identity as the Church of the risen Lord.

“On Sunday,” Pope Francis reminds us, "our participation in the Eucharist has special importance.” It “is the day of the Resurrection, the ‘first day’ of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality.” Sunday “is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world.”  And so Sunday, “centered on the Eucharist, sheds its light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor” [Laudato Si’, 237].

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, April 3, 2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment