First, a welcome to all who gather with us to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection but who are not part of our regular congregation from Sunday to Sunday! You are welcome! Whether you travel some distance to be with family and friends here, or live in our midst but worship only occasionally, know that we are happy to have you pray and celebrate with us on this most important day of the year!
Today’s a good day to ask everyone who reads this, whether you’re an occasional or a weekly (or even daily) worshipper, a key question: What is a parish for? It’s all too easy, given the sort of culture we live in and the history many of us have had with the church, to think of a parish as something like a “spiritual supermarket,” or a “spiritual health club”: I go there to get what I want, or to “work on myself” toward a particular goal. It’s no secret that people do use churches this way; but it’s not what a parish is for. In fact, thinking this way can lead us astray — because faith is not about “getting what I want” (like a supermarket) or about “working on myself” (like a health-club).
The church is the body of the Risen Christ.
That’s it. When we celebrate today that Christ is risen from the dead, that invites us to ask, Where is his risen body today? We hear stories over the coming weeks of times when He appeared in bodily form to the Eleven Apostles — but those appearances stopped after a time. We profess in the creed that “He ascended into heaven” — but that does not mean that He is no longer in our presence. Saint Paul puts it very clearly: “You are the body of Christ — each of you is a member of it.”
At Easter Mass we renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with the baptismal water as a reminder that, by God’s grace, each of us has been chosen by God to become a member of the Risen Christ — “each of you a member.”
This is a vastly different way of thinking about church membership and about parish life: We don’t come as individual consumers or clients — we are, by our baptism and God’s grace, parts of an organic whole that is more powerful and more fundamental even than a family. (For Christians, baptismal water is “thicker than blood.”) It’s no secret that even Christians who believe this very deeply often fail to live this way (for example speaking ill of other Christians); but the key question of Easter is whether or not we believe it.
You see, it’s easy to say, “I believe Christ rose from the dead” if all that means is that I accept as true a statement about something that happened to someone else, somewhere else, at some time other than the present. But if the Easter message is true, it’s a mistake to think that “it happened to someone else at some other time.” By baptism you are now part of Christ’s risen body — happening here and now. The question Easter poses to each of us is, Do I embrace that as my identity? Do I commit myself to acting that way (however imperfectly I may do so in practice)? Do I embrace every other baptized person as “part of me” (as retired Pope Benedict XVI put it)?
When we approach to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Communion at Easter (or on any Sunday) the minister will say to each of us, “The Body of Christ.” To say “Amen” is not simply to say, “I believe Jesus is risen” — although it certainly means that. The “Amen” is not simply to say, “I believe what looks like bread is truly the body and blood of the Risen Christ” – although it certainly means that, too. The minister’s “The Body of Christ” doesn’t ask, “Do you know what this is?” At its most profound, it asks, “Do you know who you are?”
The ministries and societies that fill the pages this week are only some of the ways that parishioners answer “Yes!” to that question. We serve because we are the hands of Christ. We serve as Christ serving others today, just as He did during his ministry in Palestine. And parishioners serve in many others ways – some organized but not church-affiliated (like the fire department and other civic organizations) and some that are simply being neighborly, especially toward neighbors in need. The answer to the question “Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?” is given better by our hands and our checkbooks and our calendars than by our words.
Have a blessed Easter. Until next week, peace.