Last week we heard St. John’s account of Jesus’ return from the dead. He passes through the walls of the upper room and faces the apostles, showing them his open wounds. Naturally the apostles are terrified, so Jesus reassures them four times with the same words: “Peace be with you.” He is not a horror, a dead man walking, but the very source of life. This Sunday we have Luke’s version. The disciples were huddled together in fear, talking about reports that Jesus had been seen risen from the dead. And suddenly “he stood in their midst.” Imagine you are talking about a dead man about whom reports are circulating of his walking the streets, and then he appears in front of you. Pretty scary. They were “terrified” but he asks “why are you troubled?”
The disturbance of sin
We are troubled by death. I would say that all our troubles stem from the fact that we are all headed for death, which will end all of our friendships, our memories, and indeed all of our capacities. But death is just the manifestation of a deeper problem, which is sin. Sin causes death–before original sin, no one died. What troubles us, what causes panic and sleepless nights and addictive behaviors, is sin. Sin causes imbalance in the natural order, and ultimately death.
“My children,” writes St. John in the second reading, do “not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have … Jesus Christ …the expiation for our sins and those of the whole world.” Jesus is the only answer to the anguished imbalance in our lives.
If seems strange to still be talking about sin during Eastertide (we thought we took care of sin during Lent), consider St. Peter’s Easter homily in our first reading. “Christ is risen,” he says (sounds like most Easter homilies), but he goes on to point out that you put Christ to death. “The author of life you killed…but God raised him up. So repent, that you sins may be wiped away.” Peter’s is no feel-good homily on Easter bunnies and colored eggs. In fact, all of the readings today speak primarily of sin and repentance, because Christ’s resurrection vanquished not only death but sin itself, the source of death. Peter does not condemn the people (“I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance”) but he does convict them of their sin and calls them to repentance. Some people were struck to the heart and did repent, but others set their faces against Peter’s testimony. In fact he was crucified for witnessing to “these things” in Rome 30 years after this homily.
You are witnesses
The world is tilting. It’s been tilting since Adam and Eve defied God by trying to do it “my way.” But perhaps now the tilt is even more severe as western culture denies the very existence of God. Only Christ can right this imbalance, and we are witnesses of the world’s only hope. By entering this church this morning in a secular city, everybody knows you are a witness to God’s sovereignty. Do you know it? The last words of today’s gospel must convict us: “you are witnesses to these things.”
The world will not regain its balance by a better application of technology or government or academic degrees. These things are all helpful, but in the end humanity cannot solve its most fundamental problem, which is sin and death. We are destroying ourselves, and only God can save us. An increasing number of people do not want to hear that we depend on anyone but ourselves. The illusion of the autonomous self is gaining ground. Most imagine that they can be like gods, fully self-determinative. We are all witnesses that we need help, that we so need God.
The core of our witness is right here, at the Mass. Be faithful to the Mass, and become more a Eucharistic people who can think clearly and speak clearly about God. Commit yourselves to Eucharistic adoration, especially our Tuesday parish holy hour, because there is no help, and no other name, by which we are to be saved but that of Jesus Christ. You and I are witnesses of these things.