Sunday Sermon for April 18, 2021, the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48
In the fourth week of Lent we had a break and looked forward to the joy that was coming in Easter. That day reminded us to be joyful and spurred us on to continue with our Lenten penances, knowing we had made it more than halfway through the penitential season. Now, in the third week of Easter, we take a break to remind us that, in the midst of our rejoicing in the resurrection, we need to remember the sufferings of our Lord and the reason for His suffering.
For this reason, St. Peter, in the first reading, reminded the people of how they had denied our Lord in Pilate’s presence, and goes on to explain that all this was done to fulfill what they heard week after week in the readings of the Prophets. This statement, however, was not original to Peter; our Lord says the same thing on Easter night when He appeared to His Apostles. We read in today’s Gospel that Jesus reminded the Apostles of His teaching that everything in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets must be fulfilled: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.”
The Apostles had heard our Lord’s teachings, but as often happens, the words went in one ear and out the other. When they heard our Lord speaking during His public ministry, they had no point of reference by which to apply the words to Jesus. Therefore, the words which made sense, did not stick with them because they were not a present reality. Beyond that, it may be that the Apostles had fallen prey to the all too human temptation to ignore the difficult parts of Scripture and focus on the more pleasant parts. If this was the case, they overlooked the passages about the suffering of the Messiah and focused instead on the passages that foretold His coming in glory.
The Apostles could now apply the teachings of our Lord to Jesus Himself, but they were also able to apply His teachings to themselves and to the people to whom they preached. However, we see in the Gospel that this understanding was not immediate. The reading begins with the two disciples to whom our Lord appeared on the road to Emmaus relating the story of our Lord’s appearance. In the verses immediately prior to these, the Apostles were telling these two disciples that the Lord was risen and had appeared to Peter. Even with this in mind, when Jesus appeared in the upper room to the group that was gathered, St. Luke tells us they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.
Once again, we see the weakness of our human nature. The Apostles had accepted and believed in the resurrection based on the words of St. Peter, and now, on the words of these two men who had returned from Emmaus. But when Jesus appeared to them, they were troubled and could not believe it!
Many people of our day struggle with the same problem. We can accept what Scripture tells us and we can accept what the Church teaches, but these things become very objective and we keep them at an arm’s distance. When we need to make these truths our own, believing them suddenly becomes more difficult. The reason for this is that we can accept an objective point without changing our lives, but when we accept this same point subjectively, we need to adjust our lives around the truth we have accepted. Of course, the same holds true if someone allows falsehoods into their lives. This is why the objective teachings of the Church are so necessary, but it is also essential that we allow these objective truths to become our own and adjust our lives accordingly.
In the second reading we see why this is so essential when St. John tells us: Jesus is the expiation for our sins. St. John also makes the objective point that Jesus is the expiation for the sins of the whole world. This is truth: Jesus died for the sins of the world. However, no one can receive the forgiveness of sin until he or she believes in Jesus and what He did for us. St. John reminds us that Jesus still intercedes for us with the Father. Jesus is our only means of forgiveness and our only means of sharing eternal life with Him.
The truth is that Jesus died for the forgiveness of sin, but our sins cannot be forgiven until we make this truth personal: Jesus died so my sins could be forgiven. So, the fulfillment and cause of our hope and our joy is in both the death and resurrection of Jesus the Lord, and making His truth our own.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.