Reflections on the Readings
April 14, 2013 - Third Sunday of Easter - Year C
Our Easter Mission
"Do you love me?" With these words, Jesus searches the heart of Peter.
Only a few days ago, Peter vehemently denounced the Lord. "I don't know him!" he declared. Warming himself by the fire did nothing to impede the chill growing in his heart. Someone else recognized him, and yet a second time Peter denied the Lord. Then, like clock work, just as Jesus predicted, the cock crowed when the fateful words of denial escaped Peter's lips for the third time. At that dreadful moment the eyes of Peter and Jesus met and Peter ran from the comfortless fire and wept bitterly.
By the seaside Jesus sits closest to Peter as they eat breakfast together. And three times Jesus asks Peter for his heart. Three times Peter declares his love for Jesus. The symbolism is too obvious to miss. But more on that below.
It seems to me there are at least three points to be made about today's readings.
The first has to do with fear. Like Peter we can be paralyzed by fear. We seek the comfort of familiar things. We play it safe. We may not let our light shine as we should because we are afraid that we might be misunderstood or labeled. This fear is not imaginary. It's real. It's potent. And it's promoted. Moral beliefs in the United States are increasingly characterized as hateful and bigoted. Opinion and belief couched in a moral framework is assailed and dismissed as archaic and out of touch with reality. Sometimes, people are even labeled dangerous who embrace what is understood as traditional values.
Peter and company appeared before the Sanhedrin and were warned to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. "You've filled Jerusalem with your teaching. Now stop it!" they demanded. There was a time when Peter might have complied. But no longer. Jesus had met with him in grace and in the power of resurrection life. This personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus gave new life and freedom to the once fearful and timid disciple. And we too must have that relationship with Jesus. When we know Christ, I mean really know him, and the power of his resurrection, we too can count it a privilege to suffer for knowing him; to obey God rather than men.
The second point has to do with failure. There was that time in Peter's life when he wept bitterly for denying Christ. Like Peter, we have sometimes denied the Lord complete and full residence in our lives. There are times when we have not picked up our cross and followed Jesus wherever he may lead. But like Peter we can know the grace of God that is greater than our sin and failings. Where sin and failure is great, God's grace is greater, stronger, and woos us back into the Father's heart.
On that seashore, Jesus woos Peter back into the power of his love. "Yes, I love you," Peter assures Christ, somewhat distressed. The memory of leaving his first love brings pain and distress to Peter. But Jesus asks Peter for all of his heart and for all of his help to feed the precious flock of God. "My sheep know my voice and they will hear my voice in your words. Tend to my sheep and feed my lambs, and I will be with you always," Jesus assures his servant, Peter.
When we love Jesus as we are invited to love him, there is no failure that is stronger than Christ's love. You may think yourself doomed to live forever in your mistakes and failures and bad decisions. But there is a Savior who is not willing that you should perish. He is in fact not willing that any one should live outside of his love, but he invites all of us into repentance and salvation.
I'm reminded of the hymn: Come Thou Fount. In that hymn is the prayerful plea to God to help us be strong and faithful. The second stanza in part says:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love,
Here's my heart. O take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.
And that brings us to the third point. It has to do with faithfulness. We must always pray for the grace and power to be faithful. Inviting the spirit of the Gospel to penetrate deeply into our hearts will give us more desire and strength to be faithful. The Good News of the Kingdom of God forms and shapes our hearts, our words, and our actions. The stories Jesus about love and forgiveness are timeless. His power to heal both body and soul has not diminished these 21 centuries. The Gospel remains the Good News of a loving Father who sent his Son into a world filled with hate, and violence, and scorn for all that his true, and good, and beautiful. And to that world he still says, "Come unto me all of you and find rest for your souls." It is this message of Christ we are asked to faithfully share with everyone.
As I grow older, it seems to me that the Christian life is more like a marathon than like a sprint. The scriptures are filled with promises of salvation to all who endure. As we plod along we can ask the Holy Spirit to be with us and to teach us and to guide us and to glorify Jesus through us. Praying that prayer will help us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
A vision of Christ is given to us by John in the reading from Revelation today. It is a vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God who was once slain. But he no longer suffers the ridicule and wagging heads on Golgotha. Now, right now, he is at the right hand of the Father, high and lifted up. In that regal setting he receives blessing and glory and honor. A countless number of living creatures and angels and elders sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!" And the elders fall down and worship him in that holy place. Let us join them at the altar of Grace. Let us receive the body and blood of Jesus and become for the world a living sacrifice of his presence even him who loved us and gave himself for us and for the whole world. This is our Easter mission until he comes again! Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com
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