Resurrection & Transformation

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Third Sunday of Easter

Some time ago, I was a teenager. Like many teenagers, I found it hard to believe that my parents or any grown-up were once teenagers themselves. I can remember being full of insecurities at that age while the grown-ups I knew always seemed secure and confident. I imagined I would arrive at some point in life, say 18 or 25 or 30, when I could claim full maturity in every sense of the word – physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually … and people would take me seriously and acknowledge that I was a productive and responsible member of society … that I was no longer a child. Last week while on a Discovery retreat for high school students, some adults were talking about how young the participants were, and as they lamented how old it felt being twice their age, I realized I was over three times their age! Maybe the reading glasses make me look older, or some of you think I know things you don’t, or surviving six years as pastor here at St. John means something, but I can tell you I sometimes feel like I’m in over my head. I went to the hospital after hours once dressed in my clerical collar and the security guard demanded identification. I did a second take. I thought the collar spoke for itself. Instead, I still had to prove who I was!

Do you ever have to prove who you say you are? Every time you pay by check or credit card, every time you write down your social security number, every time you sign your name on the dotted line, you testify to your own identity and credibility, your own dependability and responsibility, that you are who you say you are – cross your heart and hope to die. But in this digital age where identity theft is rampant and people everywhere are less trusting because we are told to be wary of strangers (they might be terrorists, or sexual predators, or illegal aliens), we see the gradual and unfortunate erosion of that instinctive trust we have in the inherent goodness of other people. Yes, the shortcomings of a few have made the rest of us more fearful, more guarded and suspicious, and it is always better to err on the safe side. But in the end, the only person I have to convince is myself. If I can convince myself I am who I say I am regardless of what others may think or say, I am either completely genuine, honest and trustworthy or I am completely delusional. And if I can’t tell the difference, who can?

Then Jesus stood before the eleven in the upper room three days after his death, even though the doors were locked. They were startled and terrified; they thought he was a ghost. He then showed them his hands and side, he asked for something to eat, and he spoke to them as he was accustomed … with great affection and conviction. He had to reassure them he was the same Jesus they knew and loved … but that he had experienced a fundamental transformation, and that they, too, in turn had to experience a transformation down to the very core of their being.

Just this year alone, we have all experienced change in one form or another. We are all a year older and, with some luck, we are all a year wiser. If you consider how much you have struggled, how much you’ve grown, how much you’ve learned about yourself and how God works in your life, you will have to admit you are a changed person to some degree, hopefully toward the better. Some of us have been around for years, some have just recently moved into the area. We have had to adjust some to accommodate change all around. And there will always be change happening around us whether we like it or not. But the Easter event is about interior change that expresses itself in the way we love and the way we live. If our lives have been transformed by God’s healing and forgiveness, people will pick it up in the way we reflect God’s love and compassion to them and to the world.

Peter tells his listeners in the first reading that they shared some responsibility for Christ’s death. He was probably speaking to many of the same people who just days before had condemned him to the cross. We ourselves were not there, but Peter’s words are meant for us, too, because we do today what that crowd did then, when we prefer the values of the world over the values of the gospel, when we persist in a life of misdeeds and indulgence rather than a life of self-discipline and faithfulness to our baptism. Then we hear John tell us in the second reading that “we have an Advocate with the Father, who is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” So we need to acknowledge our offenses. We need to repent and resolve to do better that our sins may be forgiven. And if we want to remain united with him, we must keep his commandments. When all this happens, the love of God is brought to perfection in us. All this implies a significant change from the way we once lived our lives when we had no faith, to the way we now live our lives as we claim faith in Jesus Christ. This is the transformation to which Jesus calls us.

In order to become witnesses of the resurrection as Jesus’ apostles were, we must first experience the suffering, death and resurrection he experienced. Each time we turn from sin and selfishness, each time we support the work of peace and justice, each time we extend our hands to welcome the stranger, the poor, the hungry and the young, each time we make a preference for love and compassion in the face of rejection, ingratitude and hatred, we are drawn into the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. And that mystery has power to transform us.

But this transformation is seldom a pleasant experience, only because we have no idea what it’s like on the other side until we get there. These days, graduating seniors often talk about their impending transition beyond high school. Some of us know what that’s like, and we know how it can be all at once terrifying and exciting. But since we’ve seen the other side, we can tell them there is nothing to fear. That new life out there will be different in many ways, but if we had paid attention and learned our lessons well, we already possess the tools we need to succeed. And if we continue to be open to transformation, there will be no limit to our success. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have been taught the lessons we need to be convincing witnesses of God’s compassion to the world. We have been transformed by the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord. Now we are sent into the world to assist in its transformation. It is all at once terrifying and exciting. That new life out there will be different in many ways, but if we had paid attention and learned our lessons well, we already possess the tools we need to succeed. And if we continue to be open to transformation, there will be no limit to our success.

The apostles were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, and it was evident in their way of life. Do we witness to the resurrection of Jesus by our own way of life? When we tell people who we are, do we need to give further proof?