Jesus still re-groups his church
The first power given by Christ at Easter was the power of forgiveness
By Bishop Robert Banks
The following is the prepared text for my homily on Easter Sunday morning:
Let us for a few minutes go back in imagination to the first Easter Sunday morning.
It is early morning. Jesus has risen from the dead. Now what is he to do? Should he simply drop in on his friends to let them know that he is once again alive?
No, Jesus has more serious things to do.
Doesn't sound like Jesus
Some people today think it would be enough if Jesus just appeared to people and let them know that God loved them and they could live whatever way each of them thought best. But that does not sound like Jesus.
Perhaps Jesus should have gathered the crowds together and told them how they should live their lives. No, he had already spent years doing that. The message had been given.
So, what did he do? He once again set about the work that his Father had given him long ago -- to establish the reign of God, the Kingdom of God upon earth. The plan, from the beginning, was that he would preach the Good News and form a group of disciples, a community, what would later be called a church. This group, once formed, would carry on the work of establishing God's reign.
Jesus' first task then was to gather together that band of disciples who had run in all directions when he was arrested. His task was to re-group that community of 12, now 11, and the other disciples. He would give them new hope and hand over to them his mission.
So he told Mary Magdalen to let the apostles know that he had risen. He then appeared to the apostles and shared with them his Spirit.
He also reached out to other disciples, the two disappointed followers who were going back home to Emmaus. And how did he bring them back? Almost by saying Mass! First, he explained the Scriptures to them and then broke bread with them. Then they ran back to the community of believers in Jerusalem.
Jesus' task in those 40 days after his resurrection was to re-group his church. Jesus did not come to this earth simply to give a message and then let each person go his or her own way, like a Lone Ranger with the Gospel. Jesus came to call people to believe his message and join his community.
And what was the tool he used to re-group his church? Forgiveness -- beginning from the top. Peter had denied him three times, so Jesus invited him to breakfast and asked him three times, "Do you love me?" Then he gave him the task of leading his church, "Feed my sheep."
What was the first power he gave to the apostles when he appeared to them in the upper room? Forgiveness. "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them."
What was the mission that Jesus gave his apostles as he ascended into heaven? First, they were to teach the people all that he had taught them.
But that was not enough. It is never enough just to agree with Jesus' teaching. The apostles were then to baptize those who believed. In other words, by baptism, their sins would be forgiven and they would become members of Jesus' community, the church.
We now need re-grouping
Now let's come back to the year 2002 and what is the task of the risen Christ? The same as it has been for the past 2,000 years -- to regroup the Church by offering forgiveness. This year we especially feel the need to re-group the Church and to seek forgiveness as the news is filled with stories of priests and bishops failing in their responsibilities.
But every year, Jesus offers forgiveness to those who have sinned or to those who have wandered off from a close relationship with the Church.
Jesus reminds us of that basic, essential responsibility of forgiveness -- of forgiving one another -- every time we pray his own prayer, the Our Father: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us."
Softening our hearts
Maybe for some of us the most difficult thing is to forgive ourselves, to let the forgiveness we receive from God soften our hearts so that we can forgive ourselves, rather than holding on to the memory or guilt of bygone failures.
Forgiveness is very much the message of the risen Christ. We remember it every time we begin Mass, "Let us call to mind our sins." This is not because the Church is so focused on sin, but because God is so much about mercy and forgiveness.
As we prepare to receive Communion, the priest raises the host and says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." In other words, behold Jesus who sacrificed his life for us out of love, who takes away the sins of the world and our sins too.
Then we do what makes us most truly members of the Church, the Body of Christ. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion.
That is Easter.