THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – YEAR C
Immediately after the tragic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, while the embers were still hot, French officials announced the firm intention of restoring the venerable structure as quickly as possible. And the donations started pouring in from all over the world
Today’s liturgy on the Third Sunday of Easter is all about the restoration of lost treasures. The Scripture readings today are filled with the joy of people receiving back what they had lost.
Let’s start with the charming story in the Gospel about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples at the lakeside. When I visited that site three years ago, we celebrated Mass outdoors on a lovely Sunday morning looking at the spot where Jesus had built a small fire and was preparing breakfast. Even in 2013, two thousand years and countless generations after the event, I could feel the joy of St. Peter as he knelt before Jesus and professed his love.
The disciples had received clear instructions to go to that spot in Galilee on Easter day. “There you will see him,” was the angel’s instruction to the women at Jesus’ empty tomb. But when the disciples got to Galilee, there was no Jesus. So they went back to doing the only other thing they knew. They got back into the same old boat Peter had been using the day Jesus came along and invited him and Andrew and James and John to follow him. Then they discovered that even their fishing skill was gone. All night and no fish. Then Jesus appears and the joy of that first meeting is restored. It was happening all over again: nets full to the breaking point, Jesus back, even another meal with him on the shore. And most importantly, Peter recovers his relationship with Jesus that he had renounced in fear with he repeated and repeated again, “I do not know the man.” “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep.” It was all back: the friendship, the love, the commission.
In the Acts of the Apostles that commission seems to have been lost again. Their preaching about Jesus after Pentecost has gotten the apostles into hot water with the authorities. They have been imprisoned in a dark, dank jail cell. And it must have seemed like Good Friday all over again. Peter, especially, must have remembered the fear that led him to deny his Master early on that terrible morning when the cock crowed three times. “It’s all over,” he must have thought to himself. But then an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, Go, stand in the temple and tell people the whole message.” Their freedom is restored, their mission is renewed, and in the first reading today we come upon them addressing the Sanhedrin before going off to keep on preaching, no matter what they have to suffer for doing that.
John the Presbyter, when we meet him today, is living on the Island of Patmos where he has been exiled for bearing witness to Jesus by his preaching. And he is experiencing a series of visions that he will set down as the Book of Revelation, the final book of the bible. When the visions started to come to him, John was a lonely man. Taken away from his home, his congregation, possibly from his family and friends, John is suffering from the loss of companionship, living as a lonely old man. But then, when the visions begin, John finds that he is not alone any more. Companionship, friendship, encouragement have been restored to him as he sees the Risen Jesus, finds himself in the company of countless angels and blessed souls in heaven. And he hears joyful singing, the voices of every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and even in the sea as they praise God and the Lamb. “Halleluiah! I am not alone anymore,” John must have cried out. “I have company again.”
“May your people exult forever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit,” we prayed at the opening of this Mass. Today we rejoice with everyone who has lost something precious, and has had it restored. We pray that our Heavenly Father will restore peace to our world, joy to all who mourn, hope to everyone who is troubled or depressed. And we recall, as Pope Francis and the folks we meet in the readings today remind us, that God is always ready and eager to restore us to his friendship and his family even if, like Peter and the crowd in the boat, we have ever failed him.