Implications of the Resurrection

Going to Church

Third Sunday of Easter


Most of us are in the habit of coming to church each weekend, same time, same place, same seat, same clique, same disposition. There will be as many reasons for being in church as there are people. And if I ask you, “Why are you here?,” your answers will range from “This is what I do on Sunday mornings” to “It was the only option if I value my life” to everything in between. For some being here is important to their spiritual lives. They hope to leave with something to digest for the next few days. Some may be asking God to touch their hearts in a special way, or help them with a specific concern. There may be some who are here out of curiosity, no real reason why, but open to possibility. There may even be some who are here physically but whose minds are elsewhere. They will make sure to stay only as long as they have to, usually until just after communion. And there are some who are here out of sheer habit, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But when people leave from church in the same exact condition as when they arrived, I am curious what they were hoping would happen. So how about you? Why are you here?

When the apostles gathered at the end of the day in today’s gospel reading, some of them had had a powerful experience of Jesus, they just had to share it. Two of them had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, a few miles from Jerusalem. They did not know it was him until he broke bread with them. It was the same day as when some women of their company went to his tomb and said they saw him alive. Then suddenly, Jesus was standing in their midst. It must have been a startling experience, even frightening, considering two of them had just seen him—but he vanished, and the rest had not seen him since his death and burial. So for them, he was dead. Yet even as he stood before their eyes, some of them would not believe. How much more powerful an experience would convince anyone beyond all doubt, we might ask, than Jesus, whose death they had witnessed but a few days before, standing right there now alive and well?

Then he asked, “Do you have anything here to eat?” So Jesus ate baked fish to prove it was really him. I don’t know about you, but I have never considered eating baked fish to be a religious experience. And that was what Jesus had to do to convince some of them. Yet it is not as important how the disciples came to believe, only that they finally did.

baked fish

It is not important how we come to believe that Jesus is risen, that he is alive among us, that our sins are forgiven, that we are reconciled with God and with one another, that we have become heirs to eternal life, that death is conquered, that God’s love is beyond measure. It is not important how we are awakened to the wonder and beauty of God’s faithfulness, only that we are—after years perhaps of just going along with the crowd, of living without conviction or purpose. At the moment of awakening, our hearts and minds come face to face with a new reality, one that moves us, is immediate, and personal. When we hear an invitation to examine our faith, we are called to experience God in a moving, immediate, and personal way, by opening us to whatever God intends, that God would strengthen us and help us persevere.

Signs of God’s presence and God’s marvelous deeds are all around us everyday. If only our hearts and minds were open and awake, these experiences would draw us to know God in a moving, immediate, and personal way. They need not be multi-million dollar sound and stage productions, nor encounters with popular religious celebrities, although sometimes it does help. I’ve been to World Youth Day a few times, and I was always amazed how people would jump up and down when the Holy Father came into view, but I felt nothing. I wondered often what was wrong with me. But I suppose that kind of experience works for some people.

These signs of God’s presence may be experiences as ordinary as the piercing quiet of church before people assemble, the soft melodies that invite the heart to sing, the flicker of candles or the faint scent of Easter flowers, or even seeing someone close by you deep in prayer. It matters not how we are awakened to wonder and beauty, only that we are finally awakened, and that we come to know Jesus through forgiveness and healing, through our sharing of God’s goodness with others, through our resolve to leave our former lives of selfishness behind, through living in earnest the new life Jesus gives.

pope-delights-parade-crowd-in-copacabana-for-world-youth-day-in-rio

We read in the first letter of John, “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments.” If we say we know him but do not do as he asks, we do not speak the truth. To know Jesus is not about attending popular religious events, or singing along to Christian music, or quoting scripture, or praying out loud. Instead, it is about being obedient to God’s commandments faithfully everyday, without attracting attention or seeking approval. How does anyone trust the truth of a religious experience we claim if we are still critical and unkind to our neighbor, if we cannot give up lying and other forms of dishonesty, if we are unwilling to serve the poor? Jesus did not want his apostles to lock themselves in the upper room and just celebrate that he is alive. Jesus wanted them and the rest of the church from thereon to proclaim God’s Good News of repentance and forgiveness to the ends of the earth by our words and our actions.

So let’s get back to the original question, “Why are you here?” And if Jesus is truly risen from the dead, how do we proclaim God’s Good News of repentance and forgiveness by our words and our actions? Otherwise, what’s the point of being here? I’m sure you could find a more productive way to spend an hour on Sunday. But I’m glad you’re here. So I hope you are, too.

praying

Rolo B Castillo © 2015