The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from a New Testament Book entitled “The Acts of the Apostles”. Readings from the Acts of the Apostles are featured by the Church as the scriptures for Mass during the season of Easter.
I spoke about the book “Acts of the Apostles last week. It is a companion to the Gospel of Luke and continues the testimony of Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel of Luke testifies that the one, true God has done something quite extraordinary and unexpected- he has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. This has happened, not as a myth, but as a real fact of history. God reveals himself as someone like us. He enters into relationship with us person to person and meets us face to face. This is who Jesus of Nazareth is- he is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.
This is what the Gospel of Luke is all about and testimony to this extraordinary revelation continues in the Acts of the Apostles. The great revelation of Acts of the Apostles is that the same divine life and presence that was revealed in the body of the Lord Jesus’ human nature is even right now being revealed in the Church.
The Church is not merely an institution or club, but it is a revelation of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles is testifying to this extraordinary claim.
In today’s scripture from the Acts of the Apostles the apostle Peter testifies to what precisely has been revealed in Christ. What Peter has to say is likely not all that easy for many to understand because his point of reference is how what God has revealed in the Lord Jesus explains what God revealed in the Old Testament, particularly how the Lord Jesus fulfills biblical prophecy about the Messiah.
If you don’t know about all that, it is likely that what Peter has to say doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Here’s the gist of it.
The prophets foresaw that God would restore Israel by sending to Israel someone who would do what David when he established his kingdom. The person who would do this is called the messiah.
David did four mighty deeds- he gathered Israel’s tribes into unity, he defeated the enemies of Israel, he restored Israel’s worship, and he established his kingdom.
Peter is saying that God has in the Lord Jesus accomplished these things, and more. He even did something David could not do- he defeated the power of death itself and demonstrated this power in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead.
In all this, God has revealed the true messiah to be the Lord Jesus.
Why does this matter to us?
Peter’s testimony from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of what the Church believes about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is. The Lord Jesus is not just a creation of our opinions or ideas or emotions. He is not just whoever he might want him to be. His revelation is specific, particular, and objective. If we want to understand his revelation, we have to attend to Peter’s testimony and accept Christ for who he reveals himself to be and not try to accommodate Christ to whoever it is that we might wish him to be.
Believing in the Lord Jesus means believing that he is God, that he is the messiah, that he rose from the dead, and that his life and presence continues to be available to us in the Church. Saying he is a good teacher or a wise philosopher or a social reformer or one of many prophets doesn’t cut it. None of that gets to the heart of the matter or tells the truth about who the Lord Jesus really is.
We live in an age that wants the Lord Jesus to be less than who he reveals himself to be. Why? Because if he is less, than can make his revelation less demanding. If he is less, then we don’t have to change. We can keep our lives at the status quo. We can rest in our easy comforts.
If the Lord Jesus is, contrary to our desires to make him less than who he reveals himself to be, truly God, then we have to accept that, in the words of Pope Benedict, we were not created for easy comforts, but for greatness.
Our second scripture is an excerpt from another New Testament text entitled the First Letter of Peter.
In this scripture, the apostle Peter reminds us that this new way of life that the Lord Jesus has given to us, a way of life called the Church, was made possible by God in Christ’s suffering and death.
In other words, we should never trivialize the Church or our relationship with the Lord Jesus. If we are tempted to do so, we should take a long look at the cross and renew our appreciation for what God in Christ gives to us.
Communion with God in Christ happens through the Church. The Church is the condition for the possibility for our relationship with the Lord.
In an age that wants Christ to be less than who he is, it is also the case that we want the Church to be less than what Christ reveals the Church to be.
We prefer a Church that is merely one of many charitable non for profits (from which we can pick and choose!), a global NGO, a faith based club or expression of ethnicity.
We displace the priority of Christ as our concern and focus on how the Church can satisfy our needs and promote our causes. This makes the Church easier for us to manage and control and allows us to mitigate the true sacrifices that accepting the Church for what Christ reveals her to be would necessitate.
The Apostle Peter sabotages these machinations by begging this question of us:
If Christ has truly given his life for the Church what might I have to sacrifice?
The answer to this question unsettles us, so we try to run around it by making the Church less than what it is and its relationship to the Lord Jesus accidental and tenuous.
And this is the reason the mission of the Church falters and fails.
Because we refuse to accept the Church for what Christ reveals his Church to be.
In this regard, the Apostle Peter compels us to examine our consciences and repent.
Finally, one of the most compelling accounts of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus- testimony from the Gospel of Luke.
Christ manifest that he is indeed alive, and that all that he has revealed has been foreshadowed in the Old Testament scriptures. He is alive, not as a spirit, an idea, or a feeling, but as a living divine person. He manifests his divine life through the body of his human nature, a body that worldly powers tried to kill, but could not.
Christ’s power, manifested in his resurrection, is greater than any other power, even the power of death. Why? Because Christ is God.
Today’s Gospel insists that the same power, the same divine life and presence that Christ revealed in his body, in his resurrection, is given to the Church in the Eucharist. Remember, the Gospel of Luke testified today: “He took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to them. With this their eyes were opened and they recognized him”.
The Mass is not merely the community celebrating itself or faith based entertainment, but a revelation of Christ’s divine life and presence. This is what the Mass really and truly is. This is what the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, opens up to us.
What you receive in the Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ, or even just a memory of Christ, but the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.
Offering his divine life to you, he gives you the opportunity to become like him.
For all of you who might come forward to receive him, consider this:
God in Christ gives to you his divine life and presence.
What will you give to him?