Each of the four Gospels refer to followers of the Lord coming to the
tomb ‘early in the morning on the First Day of the Week’. Since the
witnessing of mystical happenings that Easter morning, the phrase took on a
significance for the followers of the Lord. It’s on the First Day of the
Week that Christians formally assemble around the Table of the Lord
for the ‘Breaking and Sharing of Bread’. (Sadly, due to the restrictions
this is not possible at present) In times past Christians sought every
means of partaking in this ritual meal.
During times of persecution, the gathering happened underground in the Catacombs. During the Penal Days, Irish Catholics, protected by remoteness of the location and the darkness of the night met around the Mass Rock. At present, we, regrettably, have to meet around the Eucharistic table remotely, thanks to the internet. This precious ritual, gifted to us by the Lord, ‘the night before he died’, is the principal liturgical prayer of the Church.
The Gospel this Sunday( John 20: 19) opens with the lines:
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week,
and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the JewsA lot can happen during the course of a day. Those who went to the empty tomb that Easter morning, would immediately have wanted to share the good news relating to the Risen Lord with their friends. The passage quoted above suggests that by evening time, not all the disciples were convinced by the news. We’re told that doors of the house were locked, and they were fearful for their lives.
Jesus then mysteriously stands in their midst and greets them. Shalom / Peace be with you. The fear lifted, their hearts were lightened and they were empowered with a new confidence. Following the mysterious encounter with Christ, they became aware of a unique responsibility; namely to continue the mission begun by the Lord. This radical change in them was particularly evidences in Peter , now prepared to boldly stand before the Jews and boldly proclaiming the ‘Good News’. The lifegiving nature of their mission was evidenced in the way they themselves lived together. which is described in this weekends passage from the Act of the Apostles
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:32
This document written by Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, is a fascinating script as it documents the growth of the early Church. The followers of the Lord lived, gave witness and increased in number through the formation of small Christian communities in various towns. The lifestyle lived by them is summed up concisely in Acts 2:42:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.
Presently the Church as we have known it in Ireland is undergoing profound change. For many reasons an institution, which once held a significant presence in the country is now finding itself in a less prominent place. How it will be into the future, is uncertain, but it helps to look back to the life of Christians in the early Church with a view to learning from them. What we notice, initially, are small groups of people, meeting on a regular basis, in the name of the Lord. They met because of the joy they felt in coming to know the Lord at a personal and communal level, and their belief in the with the healing power of the Christian message.
The goodness, kindness and compassion of Christians back then is so much in evidence in the lives of people in an Ireland today, even in people who may have no affinity with organised religion, and this is indeed good news. This is not to discount the value of coming to know the Lord and living the Christian Way as ordained by him.The Church itself is always in need of reform. This is certainly the case today, and specifically regarding the Parish structure which is endangered because of the traditionally heavy reliance on priests who will be numerically scarce into the future. Does the viability of the Christian Community depend on the priest or can it exist healthily without a priest is one of the challenges into the future. Parishioners have made many efforts since Vatican II to introduce a more collaborative form of ministry with the people sharing responsibility with the priest. The weakness in the system at present is that the priest / bishop still has the final say over the parish which may not be the healthiest.
Pope Francis has, for a number of years, been advocating a new way of being Church into the 3rd Millenium: the way of ‘Synodality’ described as ‘a Walking Together’ of people, priests and bishop, a collaborative leadership that listens and discerns and that empowers all the baptised. The Irish Hierarchy have finally agreed to hold a national synod in five years time, which seems like a lifetime away. But there will be opportunity for much discussion, reflection and planning locally in advance.
One of the truly radical reformers since before the Vatican II who would have advocated the same sense of ‘being Church’ was a Swiss theologian, Hans Küng, who died last Tuesday. Peter Hebbletwaite a respected correspondent during Vatican II said of Küng, ‘no theologian would ever again exert as much influence on the agenda of a council as Küng had’.
He often fell out of favour with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Paul VI is reputed to have told him during a private audience that he would have preferred if Küng had ‘written nothing’. Later, the scholar in response said,‘my theology obviously isn’t for the pope. I will do my theology for my fellow human beings, for those people who need my theology’.
Without my realising that Hans Kung was nearing the end of his life journey on this earth, I had posted an Easter quote from him last Sunday on the notice board to the right of the altar.
He is the God
who does not make empty promises
for the hereafter
nor trivialise the present darkness,
futility & meaninglessness…
But who himself
in the midst of darkness, futility & meaninglessness…
invites us to the venture of hope.
Hans Küng (1928 – 2021)