April 10, 2016 — Third Sunday of Easter
On this Third Sunday of Easter Jesus instructs Peter to “Feed my lambs,” and “Tend my sheep.” These are instructions for us as well, making it clear to us that we have a responsibility to more than ourselves; we also are called to care for and most especially love those around us.
The Easter Season is actually from Easter Sunday to Pentecost — 50 days! And is celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better, as one “great Sunday”. These above all others are the days for the singing of the Alleluia. The paschal candle, a symbol of the presence of the risen Christ among the people of God, remains in the sanctuary near the altar or ambo through Pentecost Sunday.
Our readings on this Third Sunday of Easter augment the continuance of the Easter season and our Easter celebrations. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles continues the narrative of what happened after Jesus’ death and resurrection, what the Apostles did and where and how they did it. This reading speaks specifically of how the Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, because they (the Apostles) had not conformed to the orders they had received.
They key question and answer in this reading for us is when the Sanhedrin pose to the Apostles, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in Jesus’ name?” Peter’s reply is important to us, but especially significant during this Easter season. “We must obey God rather than men…We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” This is a bold answer, but it is based upon the faith of the Apostles. Is our faith strong enough to hold to our beliefs in the face sometimes of a society that contradicts it?
The Book of Revelation, from which our Second Reading is drawn, can be sometimes confusing and unclear to us. Nevertheless, within today’s reading are some clauses and statements that supplement well the First Reading. For example, John hears the angels cry out, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The term “forever and ever” appears 23 times in the New Testament. In every instance it is the translation of the Greek phrase eis tous aionas ton aionon, which means literally “into the age of the ages.”
The point is, of course, that we are dealing with eternity, something of which we should never lose sight. We are reminded often in Scripture that we are citizens of Heaven more so than citizens of earth and need to always keep that in mind. That is why, as in the First Reading, faith can sustain so much on this world. The living God reigns eternally and the Apostles knew that. Even the Caesars of ancient times came and went, but the Lord lives “forever and ever.”
The Gospel Reading from the Book of St. John relates how Jesus appeared to the Apostles for the third time after His Resurrection. As is always the case with Holy Scripture, there is much in this Gospel to absorb and appreciate. We would call your attention, however, to that moment when Jesus seems to challenge St. Peter by asking “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” When St. Peter assures Him that he does, Jesus says to him simply “Feed my lambs.” We are His lambs.
It is fascinating to note that three times Jesus asks Peter this question. You might think, and perhaps would not be far off, that Jesus is recalling that Peter denied Him three times on the night before He was crucified. Now He gives Peter three opportunities to redeem himself. Just as for Peter, following Jesus involves serving His lambs, serving others. If we are truly stewards of who and what we are and if we are stewards in the service of Christ, we, too, will assure the Lord of our love and devotion. That is how we need to respond to the call to “Follow me.”