My friends, it is with great joy that I can stand and perhaps at times today, sit before you, and for all of us to gather once again. We have been away from each other for four weeks as I have been recovering from knee surgery.
Now I compare this time to where we were three years ago in the beginning weeks of shut-down due to the COVID pandemic for which there was no vaccine to keep us safe, except for masking and social distancing. We all stayed away from each other in order to keep us safe. And now today, this is the first Sunday with masks being optional, following the lead of all the hospitals in the area.
These past several weeks then, have not been about you, but about me, as I was simply not able to either prepare much, or to be present to you due to my recovery. I found myself being filled with gratitude for your out-pouring of love and care for me, through cards, emails, calls, gifts of food, and all other expressions of love.
Being that we are still in the season of Easter, the Scriptures are filled with ways that the apostles—now, also filled with the Spirit are reaching out, not just to the Jewish people, but to all who will listen to the story of Jesus, the Christ—and of how he spoke to, visited with, and was generally present to all who he encountered. It didn’t matter where people came from, who they associated with—he welcomed all, and offered alternatives to lives without hope and as a result, showed all who he encountered, the best ways to live.
John’s gospel for today includes Jesus’ wonderful words of promise and hope— “I will not leave you” [alone]—actually, he says, “orphaned”—which is the same idea!
A word on these first disciples…we see them going out among strangers—for the most part, preaching what Jesus had said to them that gave them such hope. With the life of the Spirit, they had the faith and the strength to proclaim Jesus’ message of love, justice, and mercy to all who would listen. We might consider friends if we would be able to do the same.
In many ways, for these first disciples, this is all that they, as Jesus’ true followers could do—share with others what had been so graciously shared with them. The psalmist today says rightly what should be the song of us all, as we attempt to follow in Jesus’ footsteps— [Let us] “make a joyful sound to God…” [over] “all the earth.”
There is much talk in our country today from folks who claim to be, “Christian Nationalists.” To my mind, these two words seem to contradict each other. To be a “Christian” in Jesus’ footsteps is all about “including” everyone, whereas being a “nationalist” seems to advocate for “excluding” many, except, “our own kind.”
Jesus, when with us, always talked about knowing someone’s identity by, “the fruits” they produced—is it about justice, mercy, love, and care, not just for ourselves, or for others too? When a group tends toward angry statements, untruths, an inability to really listen, and to hear, and basically a self-serving stance in our world, we have to wonder what Christian actions are in fact taking place.
This time of year within Catholic and other Christian churches is often when young people are confirmed within their faith communities and challenged to be their very best as inspired followers of their brother Jesus.
It is also a good time for those of us to recall our own confirmations, even if it was many years ago, and re-confirm within ourselves what that meant then, and if it means the same today. Peter’s opening to the people in the 2nd reading today seems appropriate for those of us who wish to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, “Venerate Jesus, the Christ in your hearts.” We might also say, keep his message, his actions, always before you, if you truly wish to follow him. Amen? Amen!