I’m aware that Sunday Mass is not the time for theological or biblical instruction, as if this space we occupy at the moment were a classroom instead of a chapel. However, in order to understand the meaning of what we are reading and hearing and to draw something practical and helpful from it, we sometimes have to analyze it a bit in its historical setting.
So, in order for us to profit in some way from the proclamation of the readings appointed for this day, we have to know that there was a time lag between Jesus’ resurrection from death – whatever form that phenomenon may have taken – and the awareness of the infant Christian community, including the twelve apostles, that it had actually happened.
Our reliable friend, Father Roger Karban, whom I have often quoted to you over the past many years, pictures it this way: “We see followers of Jesus who return to Galilee after their disastrous Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, sitting around, mourning the loss of their mentor (Jesus), too depressed to do anything except rehash the events of his death. Finally, Peter announces, ‘I’m going back to fishing.’” Father Karban goes on to say, “Since these guys fish for a living, Peter is actually deciding to go back to doing what he did before this itinerant preacher disturbed his life, admitting his friend is dead. He can never bring back the good old days.”
It took some years for the belief to develop that he was alive, active and present among them even though he was not visible. The scripture readings we’ll be hearing during this 50-day celebration of Easter again this year will dramatize that conviction of theirs with a series of homely stories, many of which are essentially symbolic and need not be interpreted literally, but all of which have the same meaning, namely, that Jesus lives beyond his death on the cross.
How and why do you and I believe that a man who was executed by crucifixion is now alive and present to us? The answer is surprisingly simple: we find him wherever we are, whatever we are doing, with whomever we happen to be with. Who knows whether it was actually by magical miracles that Peter and his friends learned this or by simply being there in the everyday ordinariness of work and family, love and sex, social activity, quiet contemplation and noisy discussion, eating and drinking, recreation and sport, politics and government, and so on?
In the Old Testament, a prophet found God, not in earthquakes and fire and raging storms, but in the gentlest wisp of a breeze at the mouth of a cave. How slow we can be to learn, how little we remember! We mustn’t look for spectacular signs; it is enough to experience Christ in the most ordinary circumstances of our lives, experiences that are self-authenticating. That’s the meaning of Easter: not dazzling demonstrations of awesome divine power, but the abiding presence of God’s love in the mysterious presence of the Risen Christ.
Be convinced that you are never not in his company.