The Third Sunday of Easter
[Scripture Readings: Acts 3:13-19; l John 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48]
We recently had a technician with us who taped our singing in choir. The plan was to transcribe it to a CD which would then become a bestseller and we could all retire from work. First, however, he had to subject the tape to sophisticated methods of enhancing what was good and eliminating what was bad. Thanks to his magic, we would sound wonderful. I don’t know what has become of the project and as far as I know we haven’t heard from him. Maybe after he eliminated what was bad, there was nothing left to enhance. However, various forms of enhanced reproduction are getting to be a common experience, thanks to technical manipulation of computer images. We see things in films that we could never see in reality. Actors are capable of impossible feats, persons are morphed from one shape to another – all right before our eyes. We know it is not real, but we are fascinated by it. We suspend our disbelief and go along with what we see. Seeing is disbelieving.
This expectation of being able to control at whim what is seen begins to permeate all our forms of understanding. We prefer to be engaged on a sensible level. We want to be entertained and fascinated. We discover what Sigmund Freud discovered, that we are governed by a pleasure principle as well as a reality principle. The pleasure principle tells us to eliminate and enhance. It encourages us to indulge our wants, our enjoyments, our fantasies. One author I was reading calls this inner urge towards satisfaction a “grandiose sense of entitlement.” Deep down, we deserve the best and we deserve it all. This voice can easily overshadow the voice of the reality principle. This principle says we live in an imperfect world with very imperfect people who can’t be morphed into forms pleasing to us. We have to deal with what is available; find ourselves caught up in obligations, duties, and relationships. And everything is touched by contingency and mortality. But this is also the world of meaning precisely because we are related to persons and values outside of ourselves.
This morning’s liturgy escapes the realms of “special effect.” We try to sing well, to dress well, to walk in an orderly way — but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir we are not. The N.Y. Ballet company we are not. We are ordinary people who are here to enter into the extraordinary relationship which Christ creates among us. He stands among us and says “Peace.” He does not take us out of the reality of our lives. He does not eliminate or enhance. He opens our minds to understand the levels of meaning and relationship that make our lives sacred. “He opened their minds to understand the Scripture.” The scripture is not just a collection of texts. It is the intention of God, the meaning of God, the love of God working itself out in time and history. It is God disclosing himself to us. To open our minds to understand his word is to mutually disclose ourselves to him. Understanding is not a matter of exegetical sophistication, but of allowing the word to penetrate into our hearts. To let it have its impact by suspending our disbelief, by suspending the defenses, the questions, the doubts that arise in our minds.
In this morning’s Gospel, Christ confronts those fears and questions not by theological argument, but by interaction at the level of reality. See my body, my flesh, my bones. It is in reality that you are in communion with me. Not in fantasy, not in a spirituality which attempts to bypass reality and material conditions. We are not dealing with a ghost. We are relating to someone who is at home in that most universal of human sacraments, the meal. He can take and receive, eat and digest. It is in eating together that the transformation of material reality into food and the appropriation of “this food” as MY pleasure, the sating of MY grandiose sense of entitlement, is transcended by the common sharing, giving, waiting and receiving of a meal.
Our call is to recognize the Body in this Eucharist, in this liturgy. If we stop at the level of sensory enhancement, of entertainment, we will walk and act in ignorance. “You put to death the author of life. I know you acted in ignorance.” Can we claim ignorance as an excuse? Can we deny that we are putting to death the author of life in the choices and options that dominate our life? Pope John Paul II has indicted the conspiracy against life which is programmed into the very way our society functions.. Individual freedom has become the indisputable point of reference for all choices, and this is based on subjective opinion. Are we called to repent of any behaviors and choices which have simply been based on our individual freedom, on our pleasure principle? The meaning of Jesus, says the Pope, is in the revelation that the greatness of the human person consists in the sincere gift of oneself. It is from communion in the body and blood of Christ that all draw strength to commit themselves to promoting life. Rather than an agenda which is based on the principles of enhance or eliminate, maybe we need to be converted to the reality principles of respect and acceptance.