Their joy was so great

POST BY PGallagher

All through the weeks of celebration of Easter, thanksgiving is made over and over again for the most recent baptisms and conversions.  There is an emphasis at this time on new beginnings and fresh starts for everyone.  Renewal is central to our faith.  We are always starting again.  Continually, we rediscover ourselves as beginners.   The return to first fervour humbles us but also gives us energy.   We go back joyfully to the dynamism of youth.  May your people exult forever in renewed youthfulness of spirit [1].   Starting again, we find ourselves stronger, more vigorous and more confident about the future.  There is an intimation of immortality in the youthful supposition that nothing can harm us.  Prudence and experience temper the illusion of earthly indestructibility.  Nevertheless, in that mistake there is a trace of the truth that the Lord, who has risen from the dead, will, one day, call us also out of the grave.  The general resurrection will be a moment of judgement.  Jesus is doing everything to ensure that we are judged favourably.  The joyfulness of being allowed to begin again is composed of gratitude for the Lord’s saving work and the resolve to respond well to the grace he continues to give us.  This resolution is spiritual as well as moral.

I will go in to the altar of God: to God who gives joy to my youth [2].  Our renewed energy is deployed in sacrificial worship and prayer as well as in other kinds of virtuous living. 

For the first disciples, delight preceded belief. Their joy was so great that they could not believe it, and they stood dumbfounded [3].  They came, however, in due course, to believe. Like them we have been given both faith and joy.  We worry, nevertheless, about our sinfulness.  We have Jesus, as our advocate with the Father [4], but, perhaps, without knowing what we were really doing [5], we have drifted too far to be retrieved, even by such powerful advocacy? Will we have been good enough to be judged favourably at the end?  Is our life good enough, to show Christ to others?  Do our discipleship and witness persuade others to follow the master?  Amendment and conversion have their persuasive impact. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out [6].  Part of the joy of the fresh start is the satisfaction which is in sincere repentance. You have put gladness into my heart [7]. Those who share with others their joyful faith in the risen Jesus are reforming an as yet imperfect life and revealing to others the good of such reformation. In his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations [8].   The contrite sinners who share their exultant faith in the resurrection are doing the very opposite of signalling their own virtue.  We know that Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that takes our sins away [9].   He allows us to re-live sacramentally his atoning work on Calvary.  He showed them his hands and feet [10].   He who was lifted up from a death, which continues to mark him, lifts us up from the wrong doing which blemishes our life.  Touch me and see for yourselves [11]. We are not to cling to him, but when we go in to the altar, which is the Lord himself, we are allowed to receive him.  He nourishes us for the energetic life we are going from now on to lead in his service.  This strengthening comes to us by his renewing his real presence among us.  His presence is genuinely saving.  It bears the unmistakeable and authentic wounds inflicted by his sacrifice. Jesus being present with us, however, confers a joyful gratitude for the redemption he has brought about at such a high cost to himself.

‘Have you anything here to eat?’[12]  In the Church, the body of Christ, we hear the answer to his question.   Nourished eucharistically, we start again.  We do so, not wearily, ruefully or with the air of people who have seen it all before, but with the joy of the newcomer who is genuinely hopeful.  In communion, there is an experience of rejuvenation.  The two disciples who had recognized the risen Lord at Emmaus in the breaking of bread [13] experienced the delight of eucharistic re-discovery.  They had been cast down but Jesus raised their spirits.  He did so with the consolation of the truth.  From anguish you released me [14].  It was if they were young again.  Did not our hearts burn within us?[15]  The first fervour, with which his friends know Christ and react to him, returned to them in a deeper understanding of scripture and of the sacramental gestures. He took bread, blessed and broke and gave it to them [16]. For us also, among the graces of the Easter season, can be a renewal of our attachment to the holy mysteries.  The Lord himself invites us to draw closer. Peace be with you [17], he says, as he offers himself for us and to us.  Our fears and doubts are to be put aside. We are being drawn into communion with the saviour who died for us, has risen again and goes ahead of us to prepare a place for us with the Father.  ‘This is what I meant when I said, when I was still with you, that everything written about me…has to be fulfilled.’  He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures [18].

The Easter mysteries are doing their work in our heart, now enlightened, now consoled.  We are caught up in a joyful new beginning of our life of faith.   Communion with the body and blood of Christ makes us spiritually young again. The Holy Spirit is praying in us.  He pushes against our sluggishness.  Stiffly, we find ourselves a little resistant to rejuvenation and to too much joy.  Gloom keeps breaking in. We remember, however, that the risen Jesus energises his friends not by demonstrating his powers and strength but by showing them again the marks of his wounds.  The joy, the new youthfulness, the energy of reconverted faith are in the marks of the passion and in the persuasive evidence of suffering.  Our new life, our new strength and our Easter beginning-again arise not from our feeling wonderful but from an encounter with the real Christ.  He is truly present in our life.  In God’s wounds is our new beginning.  In the risen body, still broken, is our new wholeness and strength.  In his blood poured-out is our salvation and our refreshment.  The renewal that comes to us in sacraments received in faith is a consequence of the resurrection taken together with the terrible events which preceded it.  The Jesus who is our advocate and our sacrifice give us himself, body and blood.  His self-giving is complete.  Dwelling in us he enables our own self-offering.   Jesus’ great sacrifice joins itself to all that we, in our little way, do sacrificially.  He has made, once for all, the offering of himself.  He draws into that offering all that we have to sacrifice and endure in each new day.  The Lord changes suffering into joy. He transforms the bread and wine into his body and blood.  The new life and energy he confers, and the exultation which accompanies the gift, come to us not in spite of the battering of life but because of what Christ has made of such pains.  The rejuvenation, which he brings about, is a new vigour, chosen exultantly and lived with passion and faith.

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              The Roman Missal, Third Sunday of Easter, Collect

[2]              Psalm (43) 42.4, Douay-Rheims translation

[3]              Luke 24.41

[4]              1 John 2.1

[5]              Acts 3.17

[6]              Acts 3.19

[7]              Psalm 4.7

[8]              Luke 24.47

[9]              1 John 2.1-2

[10]            Luke 24.39

[11]            Luke 24.39

[12]            Luke 24.41

[13]            Luke 24.35 and 31

[14]            Psalm 4.1

[15]            Luke 26.32

[16]            Luke 24.30

[17]            Luke 24.36

[18]            Luke 24.44-45