Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

“Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord”.

That was the Psalm response – a beautiful prayer, especially for Eastertide. God has lifted up his Son from death and in Jesus God’s face has shone upon us.

We need, the whole world needs, this light, this face. “I know whom I have believed”, St Paul will say (2 Tim 1:12). We want to know the Risen One, just as the disciples came to know him in today’s Gospel.

If the Resurrection is real, it is very real. It is the realest thing there is. And it’s worth ‘realising’ him.

“Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord”.

Putting it another way, if the Resurrection isn’t real to me, if I don’t realise it, I am outside reality. And that’s not a good place to be. I’m missing out on reality, and I will be unreal myself, sham.

Here’s Pope Francis on the subject: “If the resurrection were for us a concept, an idea, a thought; if the Risen One were for us the recollection of the recollection of others, however authoritative, as, for example, of the Apostles; if there were not given also to us the possibility of a true encounter with Him, that would be to declare the newness of the Word made flesh to have been all used up…Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist” (Desiderio desideravi, 10).

“Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord”.

St John Henry Newman distinguished two kinds of knowing, “notional” and “real”. Imagine being a medical student, you study illnesses and conditions and so forth. You have a “notional” knowledge of them, a “head” knowledge if you like. But then you meet people suffering these things and you begin to have a less theoretical knowledge of it, a realer one. Finally, perhaps you contract the illness yourself – well, then you have really made the journey from notional knowledge to real. And, in our knowing of Christ (a unique kind of knowing), the Holy Spirit takes us on the same journey – so that the Lord isn’t just a name or a figure from the past or a nice idea, but a reality I can realise.

In the 1st reading, St Peter is speaking to his fellow-Israelities in Jerusalem. They knew about the Crucifixion and they thought they “knew” Jesus. St Peter is trying to re-connect them to reality. You, he says, misread him, misjudged him, supported the idea of disposing of him. But now, by raising him from the dead, God has shown you who he really is, the Prince of Life, the Messiah and so on. “Turn to God”, then. Get real!

In the 2nd reading, St John is writing to members of his community, in a different context. But he is at the same task. There were Christians who said, “Sure, I know him”. St John says, but if you don’t keep his commandments – if you don’t love one another is what he has in mind – you are fooling yourself. You have a false knowledge; you’re not in the truth. You’re unreal. Yes, “real” knowing changes the way we behave. If we really “get” Christ, we will see others in another light. We will acknowledge their dignity. A recent document of the Holy See (Dignitas Infinita) has been spelling this out. There is a God-given dignity in us, prior to every circumstance of our life. This is the light Christ shines on humanity. If we realise Christ, we will realise this. St John, like Peter, is saying “Get real!”

“Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord”.

And then the Gospel. Jesus is making himself known. He is taking the disciples out of their hesitations and doubts about whether he had risen. He’s taking them beyond any notion he’s a ghost or a spirit or a phantom, out of any notional knowledge. Here I am flesh and blood. Look at me. Feel me. “It is I indeed!” Give me some food; look I’m eating. I’m not a concept, not an idea, not a memory, not someone from the past. I’m not virtual. I’m not something on a screen. I’m not fake news. I’m not AI, not a robot. “It is I indeed.” I’m real. “I am who am” God said of himself to Moses.

I think the grace of Eastertide lies precisely here – in the Lord making himself real to us. In us waking up to him. This is the time when he plays hide and seek with us, as he seems to have done with the disciples.

“Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist,” says the Pope. And his next sentence? “The Liturgy guarantees for us the possibility of such an encounter.”  This is where we meet the living presence of Christ. “The Lord Jesus who dies no more, who lives forever with the signs of his Passion, continues to pardon us, to heal us, to save us with the power of the sacraments. It is the concrete way, by means of his incarnation, that he loves us.” Yes, in that Upper Room what does he do? He offers his peace. He explains the Scriptures. He shows them his body. He eats with them. It all points us to his presence among us in Word and Sacrament and Eucharist, until he comes again.  It’s here that Christ can grow real to us, and we shed our falsities and become realer ourselves.

“Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord”.

Let me say something strong. Imagine there is a 3rd World War, imagine the worst happens. It would be real. We’d instantly let go of all our nonsense and sham and superficiality. We’d regret so much. But even the reality of such a sudden wake-up call would be nothing to the reality of the Risen One.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hos 6:3). Let’s ask for this face to shine, on us and on the whole world. It’s a fragile thing this knowledge, incomplete, still leaving us with many questions. But it’s more than enough to live by. It’s real because he is. “It is I indeed.”

“Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord!”. Amen.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 14 April 2024


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