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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Third Sunday of Easter - 2021. St. John's Cathedral

Third Sunday of Easter

St. John’s Cathedral

Right from the very beginning of Christianity, people have denied that Jesus rose from the dead. Various theories surfaced such as that Jesus never really died at all or that the tomb was empty because someone stole the body. Others said that the disciples were simply hallucinating when they felt they saw Jesus. Others admitted there obviously was some feel-good factor that the apostles experienced that made them realise that Jesus’ spirit was with them in some way, his example lived on, they would now embody his memory.

But Christian faith is much more than that. We believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead. We don’t mean that he was simply resuscitated and walked around again. If that is all it was, it would be very little, he would die again. No Christians believe that Jesus really rose from the dead but with a new, transformed body, whose material was created from the old material having new properties. It is the same body but also different because Jesus has entered into a new glorified existence.

We see it in today’s Gospel. The disciples suddenly see Jesus standing among them. They don’t say he knocked on the door or came into the room. He was just suddenly there. They are afraid. They don’t recognise him immediately. In other words, he’s different. And yet when Jesus speaks, they hear him and then he invites them to “see and touch” his wounds. It is the same Jesus. Not only that, he asks them to come and eat fish, in order words, have a meal in his presence, a very normal thing. They experience great joy. He is the same Jesus but transformed now because he is Risen.

What’s the point of this? Many Jews believed a resurrection of the body would happen at the end of time. A new world would then begin. With Jesus Risen, they realise this new world has begun now already. Jesus is Risen, God’s future has arrived among them. He who has lived our life on earth and gone through death is now alive building the new world, the new creation of peace, reconciliation, justice and truth. He is now journeying among us building the new world out of the material of our world. He can now be seen, touched and encountered in the ordinary every day of life. He is not far away.

What he tells the disciples that Easter Sunday two thousand years ago is that they are to go out to transform the world in the light of his risen presence. He is the future among them. They are to make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. The Risen Jesus tells them “you are the witnesses…go out to all that nations beginning with Jerusalem”, in other words, you yourselves enter into this new world that is opening up with and in Jesus Risen from the dead.

In a play written by Oscar Wilde entitled Salome, there’s a scene when King Herod hears reports about Jesus having been raised from the death. Herod objects saying “I do not wish him to do that… I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead”. Of course, the point is clear. Herod sees the writing on the wall. With Jesus risen a new world is coming into existence that threatens his claims as a tyrant, his claims to be absolute ruler, his claims that the world revolves around him the King.  In this scene Herod then goes on to ask “Where is this man?”. The court official answers “He is in every place, my Lord but it is hard to find him”.

Yes, Jesus Risen is everywhere but we need eyes of love to find him. That’s why in the First Reading we hear Peter say to the People “you must repent”, that is, turn around, open your eyes in love, follow Jesus Risen. For his part, St. John in the Second Reading says, “keep the commandments” (for John that means, put the Word of God into practice, especially the New Commandment) and “obey”, that is open yourself to the new life that is coming to you from God.

So for this week ahead, let’s decide to find the Risen Jesus active in our lives, in our community, in our world. Let’s decide to see him, touch him, eat with him. We need eyes of love to see him at work. He is there. If I think of this past week I realised I saw him in a woman who told me of her daily visits to her mother suffering from Alzheimers, I saw him in people I met who are hoping to create a drop-in centre for homeless and addicts here in Limerick, I met him in a child, Isabel, telling of how she and her brother and their dad run 4 marathons in 4 weeks, 42 km each week to support a project led by a religious sister in Haiti, and, if I’m honest, I’ve been meeting him in so many ways in people I meet every day. So let’s witness to the various Herods who ask us “where is this man” that the Risen Jesus is in every place but not hard to find if we love.