In the gospel for today’s Mass we see how the Lord Jesus encounters frightened and discouraged men and, in effect reorders their lives. As we shall see he does through what is essentially a liturgical experience with all the basic elements of the Mass. I wrote last week (HERE) about the way the Lord uses the Liturgy to reorient and reorder our lives. Today’s Gospel is another example.
Let’s look at this reordering which Jesus, like a Divine Physician accomplishes. It may be helpful to see it in three stages.
I. Critical Care – As the Gospel opens, we see ten frightened apostles. The text describes them in various ways as terrified, troubled, doubting and questioning. In this sense we can see their lives as disordered, for they are dominated by fear, doubt, and forgetfulness. They are forgetful in the sense that the Lord had told them many times over that he would rise on the third day. They seem wholly to have forgotten this, to a man. Not one recalled, or announced the Lord’s promise. Even now, on the evening of the resurrection, even having heard multiple reports of the Lord’s rising, they still remain deeply confused, doubtful and frightened.
Into this disordered scene, the Lord will appear, and he minister to them a restore them to order. He will perform a kind of critical care for them. And this critical care has all the fundamental elements of the Mass. Consider the following aspects of the Mass that we can see.
1. They are gathered, just as we gather for Mass. It is true, they gather with many struggles and concerns. But they are gathered just as we gather with all our struggles and concerns, joys and victories.
2. The Presence of the Lord and the Greeting by him – Scripture says, Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them (Matt 18:20). Sure enough, into this gathering of two or more, our Lord comes, visibly present, and he gives the greeting: “Peace be with you.” So too in our midst does the Lord come, and in the person of the priest or Bishop, he greets us. While only a bishop is permitted to say, “Peace be with you,” the liturgical greeting of the Priest, “The Lord be with you” serves a similar purpose of announcing the Lord’s presence and calling us to a faith in the reality of that presence.
3. Penitential Rite – These gathered men, to whom the Lord appears, need to have their lives reordered and the Lord goes right to work. In a kind of penitential rite, he asks them: Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? In a way, this is what the Lord says to us, through the priest, at the penitential rite. For many of us have brought troubles and sorrows with us to Mass, yes, sins and struggles. We are encouraged to lay them all before the Lord, to acknowledge our sins and struggles and ask the Lord’s mercy. Contrite and humbled before the Lord we ask his mercy and, receive reassurance as we recall the wounds he suffered for us, and the mercy he shows. Yes, the Lord showed them his wounds, he also shows us. Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!
4. The Liturgy of the Word – So here we are in the critical care unit, if you will, our lives disordered, and our fears evident. Having bestowed his mercy, the Lord now applies the medicine of his Word. The text says, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, ““Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Thus the Lord not only quotes Scripture, he opened their minds to the understanding of it. He applies and interprets it for them in a kind of homily. And this too is what the Lord does for us. For whatever fears and struggles we have brought, the Word of God has answers for us, reassurance, vision and perspective.
And what is that perspective? It is the Paschal mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Yes, there is the cross, even death, but there is always victory if we stay with the Lord! There are crosses, but the cross wins! It ALWAYS wins!
In effect this is the meaning of every liturgy of the Word. The Lord, through his body the Church, declares his word to us, reminds us of our victory and summons us to live victorious lives, free of sin and fear. And this medicine of the Word, especially received regularly over time, works, along with the sacraments, prayer and fellowship (cf Acts 2:42) to reorder our lives.
5. The Liturgy of the Eucharist – In this case the Eucharist is very stylized, but its contours are still very clear. The Lord, in order to reassure them, says, Have you anything here to eat?”” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
While it is true that we usually think of the Eucharist in terms of bread, nevertheless, fish too was a very common sign of the Eucharist, and of Jesus, in the early Church.
When the Lord fed the multitudes in a kind of precursor of the Eucharist, he multiplied the loaves AND the fishes.
Perhaps for this reason, the early Church often spoke of the Lord, and also of His presence in the Eucharist, in terms of the symbol of the fish. The Greek word for fish was ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus) which served also as a acronym for Jesus: Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior. In many early depictions of the Last Supper fish are seen on the table, a plate not common to the Passover meal, but placed there by Christians as a sign of the Eucharist.
Thus, Jesus eats in their presence and, in a Eucharistic manner, he eats fish.
And note how this too he does to reassure and reorder their lives away from fear and turmoil, and unto confidence and serenity. This eating is to reassure them that he is not a ghost. For eating pertains to living humans, not to angels, spirits, demons or ghosts.
Further, we read in the 23rd Psalm an important reminder of how the Eucharist is an essential and important sign of the Lords protection and our ultimate victory: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over (Ps 23:5). Yes, the Eucharist is both the sign of our victory and an overwhelming experience of it. And through the confidence that comes from the Eucharist, and the strength of this food from on high, we are strengthened and reassured of victory against every enemy and oppression. In this way too the Lord reorders our broken and fearful lives.
6. Ite Missa est – Jesus, having reordered their lives by calming their fears and giving them new visions, says simply, Forgiveness of sins, [is to] be preached…to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Yes, he sends them forth, having reordered their lives. It is the same for us. Drawing us into the liturgy by gathering us, drawing for our fears, cancelling them by his Word and Sacrament, the Lord now sends us forth with the same command to announce his name to all and to be witnesses of all he has done.
II. Crucial Questions – Just as a personal practice you and I might make it a fruitful thing to get in the habit of answering the questions Jesus asks. It is too easy for us merely to wait and see how the apostles or other biblical figures respond to the Lord. But in the end, it is YOU and I who must answer these questions. And what are the questions the Lord asks? They are two, simple but also questions that cut to the core:
– Why are you troubled?
– And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Answer him. Why? Why are our lives so frequently disordered by fear and doubts? What is the origin of that for you? Do you feed your negativity so that it grows? Do you lack gratitude for the gifts of the past? DO you minimize or forget what God has done for you, and what he has promised? Have you failed to recognize that God sets a table for you in the presence of your enemy the Devil? Have you forgotten his love? Has it ever really dawned on you what he has done for you?
The questions could go on. But the point is, answer the Lord. If he is going to reorder your life, these are questions which we must answer, and realities that we must allow Him to diminish for us. Fear and doubts have to go and only God can do it. And be aware of the Medicine he will use, Prayer, Scripture, fellowship, and the Eucharist (cf Acts 2:42).
III. Commissioning – In every Mass the Lord looks to reorder our lives. Has he done this for you? How? Are you a witness of these things? What testimony do you have of how the Lord has blessed you over the years as you have attended mass and experienced his healing? The Lord wants to send you forth with the message of a new and reordered life. Go tell somebody what the Lord has done for you!