Circles and Spirals: the Recurring Paschal Mystery
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
April 16, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year B) on April 15, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:1-5a; and Luke 24:35-48.

Today, we hear the penultimate story in the Gospel of Luke. Let’s set the scene: it’s Easter Sunday. The two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus have just run the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles about their experience.

What happens next is a story of surprise, joy, and next steps commanded by God. Unlike the apostles on that first Easter Sunday, we’ve experienced Easter joy for years. As we are sprinkled once again with the waters of baptism, let us reflect: what surprises us this year? What are the next steps that God commands us to take in the upcoming year?

Of all Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, this is the one that most of us don’t seem to remember. Nevertheless, this is a very Lucan passage.

First of all, it has Jesus eating. In Luke, one out of every five sentences is about Jesus eating a meal. And he’s eating fish. Why fish? Well, the Gospel of John also reports on the resurrected Jesus eating fish, so there’s a good chance it really happened. Also, it takes us back to the feeding of the 5,000, where Jesus shared bread – like in Emmaus – and fish. Here, Jesus is clearly doing this to show that he’s not a ghost or an angel…

… in contrast to the very first scene in the Gospel of Luke, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah. Luke is also very interested in geography and history. More than thirty years before, but not more than a thousand yards away from where the apostles are standing, Zechariah was in the Jerusalem Temple when Gabriel told him that God’s time of fulfillment had come. Zechariah was surprised and fearful, didn’t believe Gabriel, and was struck mute. The apostles, in contrast, are surprised and overjoyed, come to believe Jesus, and go forth to proclaim the gospel.

Easter Sunday is the singular event in salvation history. And yet, Luke gives us a sense that we’ve completed a circle. Jesus explains how he is the fulfillment of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. For us, today is great day to wrestle with a paradox: our lives are always changing, constantly evolving, and yet we go through cycles as well. There can be a danger of feeling, “ho hum, it’s just another Easter season,” without reflecting on how the Easter event has, once and for all, changed our very universe.

Jesus tells the apostles that they are to preach “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” in Jesus’ name to all nations. That may seem a bit out of whack for us. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins sound like themes for Lent, not Easter. In fact, two months ago, many of us received ashes as a minister used the first words that Jesus speaks in the gospels: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” We talked about conversion all through Lent.  Why are we still talking about it now?

Because conversion is a life-long process. We are born into a personal relationship with God, but it is our responsibility to continue to nurture that relationship our whole lives. 

When Jesus rose from the dead, he had some unfinished business to attend to. Even though he is clearly the triumphant, risen Christ, he still had to help repair the damage his apostles did in their betrayal of him in the preceding 72 hours. His appearance to them in the upper room is a story of reconciliation and restoration.

We, too, are called to an ongoing conversion, an ongoing deepening of our relationship with God. As it was for the apostles, it is also for us: God always takes the first step in the deepening of our relationship; we just need to respond to the grace that God offers us. But conversion is also about deepening our relationships with one another. Each of us, at every moment of our lives, is in need of reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another. 

Here at St. Austin’s, we work hard to be a reconciling community, a place where people truly express God’s unconditional love for one another. I remember years ago listening to an interview on NPR about a woman who felt so lost and alone, and the place she found consolation – even though she was not Catholic – was sitting here in the church of St. Austin. Even though it may not be our first Easter season, there are always some people among us who are experiencing their first Easter… or perhaps in the midst of experiencing a painful, extended crucifixion. We need to be Christ’s reconciling agents to them.

Today, we celebrate all those countless people who give so generously of their time to make St. Austin’s the wonderful, vibrant, welcoming place that it is. But even as we celebrate, I’d like to issue a challenge to have at least 52 more people join an important ministry of the parish in the upcoming months:

This past year, for a whole slew of reasons, our ranks of ushers and greeters have gotten very thin. Would you prayerfully consider if the Holy Spirit is calling you to this ministry? We’re looking for at least eighty people to serve. (We currently have 6 trained ushers at the 11:30 am Mass and 7 at the 5:30 pm Mass. We need at least sixteen per Mass – four people per weekend, one weekend per month.) Please see my bulletin column this weekend for more details.

The author of the first letter of John says that if we keep Jesus’ word, the love of God will be “truly perfected” in us. If you’re able to look people in the eye, smile, and say, “We’re glad that you’re here!” you will help all of us reach the peace and the perfection that Jesus Christ desires for us.

And in that way, Easter Sunday doesn’t just remain a historical event. It becomes the energy to propel us upward and onward. Instead of feeling that our lives are going in circles, we sense that we are spiraling ever upward within the cloud of witnesses, growing ever closer to God.