Introduction to Eastertime: In the post-Vatican II reform of the Roman liturgy, Easter became not a day but a season. The Sundays are not named as “after” Easter but rather “of” Easter. We must not subdivide this season into chunks but celebrate its overall flow.
Because the different New Testament writers approached their proclamation of the Good News of Jesus from different perspectives, there are two chronologies at work in the readings of this season. For John, on Good Friday Jesus breathes forth his Spirit as he dies, and then blood and water flow from his side, a passage that serves as the guarantee that the rites of initiation at Easter Vigil have power to give rebirth to those who believe. The risen Christ renews that Spirit on the evening of Easter Day when Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room and breathes the Spirit upon them to empower their mission. In this gospel Easter Day is the “birthday of the church.” For Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, the definitive sending of the Spirit does not occur until the fiftieth day on Pentecost itself.
This difference in these two chronologies should not disturb us; instead, they give us complementary narratives of the meaning of what God is accomplishing in us and in the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
During this season in every cycle, the lectionary abandons any use of the Old Testament, the history of God’s dealings with the first community called into existence by divine love. For seven weeks the first reading is from Acts, portraying life in and the challenges faced by the new Christian community in our earliest days.
In this cycle the second reading is from the First Letter of John, an exhortation to a community divided over various theological issues. Its constant message is that, for those reborn by water and the Spirit, life is marked by faith in the saving power of Jesus and in authentic love of one another.
The gospel selections (almost entirely from John) in every cycle follow the same pattern, one that allows the newly-initiated and the whole community to begin the process of mystagogy/reflection upon the sacraments. The first three Sundays describe appearances of the risen Jesus. The next three Sundays focus on our ongoing relationship with the risen Lord, leading up his departure and his parting gift of the Spirit.
Easter Sunday The Resurrection of the Lord
Background: Today there are two choices for the second reading and three for the gospel. Among these possibilities what stands out is the fact that Jesus’ resurrection two millennia ago is still happening in the lives of baptized Christians.
- What new life and joy is Christ giving you today?
- As living witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, how can we be sure that what we are bringing to people is Good News and not condemnation?
- We are called to celebrate this feast by sharing the “bread of sincerity and truth.” How will you let people see the authentic goodness that God has shaped within you?
- What would bring a springtime of love and care to your family, your neighborhood, your city, etc.?
Practice: Decorate Easter eggs. They are an ancient symbol of new life breaking forth from its old shell. After the egg hunt and without turning it into a grand competition, you can even have an easter egg fight as Christ struggles once again to get out of the tomb. Yes, Eastern Christians do this all the time.
Second Sunday of Easter
Background: This was the day on which in ancient Rome the neophytes laid aside the white robes that they had been given during the rites of initiation at Easter Vigil and joined the body of the Faithful. And so, today’s readings were chosen with them in mind. There are two episodes in today’s selection from John’s gospel. The first is the missioning of the disciples and the sending of the Spirit by the risen Lord on the evening of Easter Day itself. The second occurs eight days later with the story of doubting Thomas who is transformed from a skeptic into the first person in the gospel narrative to greet Jesus as his Lord and God.
- The “proof” that Thomas was looking for he found when Jesus showed him his wounds. 1 John says that “the blood, the water, and the Spirit” bear the same “witness.” When in your tough times has Jesus been your rock, your refuge, and your stronghold? The one you could turn to because he understood?
- Jesus has breathed the Spirit upon each of us. When you have concretely experienced the Spirit’s power at work in and through you? When have you been “bigger” than yourself?
- Jesus articulates that the core of our mission in the power of the Spirit is to bring forgiveness and reconciliation. When have you had to struggle to live up to that challenge? Are you struggling now?
- Acts presents an idealized version of life in the earliest Christian community? How can you help the Church live up to that ideal of mutual support and care presented there?
Practice: What wound from your past still pains you? How might Jesus bring healing and new strength to you? This week, after meditating upon this topic, journal about it as well. Explain to Jesus all the details, ask him to send the Spirit upon you and anyone else involved, and each day slowly pray the Lord’s Prayer. (Alternate languages if you can.)
Third Sunday of Easter
Background: Western theology and devotion have long associated the Eucharist with Calvary, and that is the first part of the paschal mystery. In the Gospels, though, the risen Lord is present among and encounters his disciples in the context of a meal, the second part of the paschal mystery. The Jesus we meet in the Eucharist is the one who is alive now and forming us daily more and more into his living Body.
- Guilt is easy since we are flawed human beings. Living in the Spirit’s grace is a challenge. When have you experienced the transforming love of Jesus?
- When do you experience his real presence most at Mass?
- In every reading today we hear about repentance, forgiveness, and healing. Which person most embodies those qualities for you? And challenges you in your own life?
- In 1 John we are challenged to keep God’s commandments. In this context that is not a call to the 10 Commandments but to the twofold love of God and neighbor. Which of those two is more challenging for you? How do you want Jesus to help you?
Practice: Just like eating a meal with family and friends is deeply bonding so the Eucharist is not a me-and-Jesus experience but a moment of building up the Body of the risen Christ. Today watch your fellow-communicants as they receive today; appreciate the love that is binding you all together; pick one that you feel called to encounter. Be bold, introduce yourself after Mass, and chat a bit. Pray for that person throughout this week.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Background: Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, an image that provides the pivot for the focus of the Gospel selections of Easter. It harkens back to last Sunday’s mention of the Eucharistic Meal since the Shepherd feeds his flock. It looks forward to the next few Sundays’ call to embody our baptismal call to embody the life of the risen Christ in all our relationships.
Warning: the statement in Acts about there is “no salvation in any other Name” is not a condemnation of those who are not Christian. In the gospel Jesus says that he leads “other sheep who are not of this fold.
- In whose voice do you hear the Good Shepherd’s voice most often? Why do you hear him speaking through them?
- Which voices in society drown out the voice of Jesus for you? Is there anything you can do about that?
- In what direction do you hear the voice of Christ calling you right now?
- How might you share the joy of life in Christ with others?
Practice:Find a copy of the second half of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, the section beginning “Christ be with me, Christ within me,” and pray it daily this week.