5th Sunday of Easter

One groundbreaking event leads to another, and another and another. A groundbreaking event is something that has never happened before. It’s unique, innovative, and pioneering; it shakes the world and causes culture to go in an entirely different direction. A groundbreaking event revolutionizes how we think and communicate with each other, reshaping our worldview forever. 

The development of the Internet is one of recent history’s most groundbreaking events. Computer scientists developed it in the 1980s as a form of military communication, but it soon took off, creating more and more groundbreaking events. It led to the development of email, social media, and a communications revolution, all of which are groundbreaking events in their own right.

Easter reminds us that the most groundbreaking event in history is the Resurrection; when a young carpenter named Jesus from a small village in an out-of-the-way corner of the world rose from the dead. This unique event occurred after His execution on a cross by the Roman authorities at the prompting of the religious leaders because He claimed He was the Son of God. 

Jesus’ Resurrection is so mindboggling because Jesus was who He said He was and did what He said He would do. He predicted His death and that God the Father would resurrect Him on the third day. Anyone who can say that and have it come true is a groundbreaker. More astonishing is that Jesus predicts all who believe in Him will also experience Resurrection on the last day. 

The Resurrection set off another groundbreaking event. It triggered the founding of the Church by Jesus’ disciples. Jesus made such an amazing impression on the twelve apostles and the men and women who were His disciples that after His ascension back to heaven, they didn’t forget Him. Realistically, a person like Jesus should have sunk back into obscurity. He should have become a footnote in history. But today, one-third of the world’s inhabitants claim to worship Him as God, and there isn’t a corner of the world where people do not recognize His name. He is the most incredible figure in history. The good news Jesus shared so impacted the apostles that all but one sacrificed their lives to share their faith with others. Many disciples down to our present-day have done the same.  

Jesus’ preaching and healing caused the disciples to envision a transformed world. John the Evangelist described a vision of that world in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation. He wrote:

"I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God..." (Rev 21: 1-5a)

John went on to describe this new vision of the Kingdom of God and how God would act:

"He will dwell with them and they will be his people 

and God himself will always be with them as their God.

He will wipe every tear from  their eyes,

And there will be no more death, mourning, wailing or pain,

 for the old order has passed away.” 

The One who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'” (Rev 21: 1-5a)

Today’s gospel passage also gives us a vision of the new Kingdom Jesus came to establish. In John, the gospel writer recorded his recollections of the Last Supper and he writes that Jesus said:

"I give you a new commandment: love one another. 

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13: 31-35) 

Jesus had a vision for a changed world not based on law but on a heartfelt relationship with God. 

The disciples were so excited about the opportunity to share the news about this new creation that they set about creating the Christian Church.

Today’s reading from Acts tells us of the completion of Paul, Barnabas, and their companions’ first missionary trip. It was groundbreaking. They started out visiting the Jewish communities in such places as Crete and cities in Asia Minor, today’s Syria, and Turkey. While they gained some converts among their fellow Jews, they soon found the Gentiles more eager to learn about Jesus’ message. The Gentiles' reaction was groundbreaking! 

Before Paul returned to report back to the Christians in Antioch, he revisited the various places he founded communities and the disciples there. He strengthened them so they could continue to grow in faith. When Paul got to Antioch at the end of today’s reading, the Christians were anxious to hear Paul’s stories because they had heard some startling reports. The Christians heard Paul had been imprisoned, beaten, and abused in many ways and were concerned for his welfare. 

When the Christians gather to hear Paul’s report, he doesn’t dwell on the hardships he faced. Luke wrote:

"[T]hey called the Church together 

and reported what God had done with them

and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." (Acts 14: 25-27)

Rather than dwell on their sufferings, Paul and Barabas rejoiced in their accomplishments. They explained how God had opened the doors of faith to the Gentiles, and they reported something groundbreaking. They told the people in Antioch that God didn’t only want a relationship with Jews but with all people, even Gentiles. They celebrated their victories and didn’t dwell on their suffering.

That is something we need to do more of, too. While we can’t ignore problems, we need to celebrate our successes. Last week our two Synod Ambassadors- Ron Weishaar and Liz McCarte- reported on the listening sessions they facilitated. They remarked that many parishioners were concerned about a post-pandemic decline in Mass attendance locally and in the broader Church. While that is true, we can’t let it define us. No one wants to cling to a sinking ship, no one wants to be part of a failing community, and we need not feel that way about the Church. Like Paul, the Church and this parish have endured much suffering in recent years, but God has opened many doors of faith to us. 

In last week’s bulletin, I wrote about a kind work of hospitality a parishioner offers to a visitor. I understand it caused some positive reactions. Like Paul, our parishioners have many more successes to report. We need to celebrate our victories, even the small ones, because they add up. 

We also need to celebrate the big victories. This week, the diocese sold a parcel of land in South Chatham to the town on the parish’s behalf. The land will be used as a site for affordable housing, a desperate need in Chatham. When the Parish Finance Committee determined the property was surplus, they voted to offer Chatham first refusal on the land with the stipulation that it is used for affordable housing. While the parish received a fair price for the land, we could have possibly received even more in today’s real estate market if we had placed it on the open market. Instead, the committee’s vision saw the need to respond to the community’s needs. We all are to be congratulated on that decision. 

The parish has other successes that show our vision for parish growth and concern for our community. During the pandemic, we began Livestreaming our weekend masses. That continues not just as a service to shut-in parishioners but as a tool for evangelization. Many people looking to find a parish want to observe the community before they visit, and the Livestream offers an introduction to Holy Redeemer for them.

Automatic giving was a lifesaver for us during the pandemic and even now. Participation in this program was minimal before Covid came along. Thank you to parishioners who signed up for automatic giving during the pandemic. The parish survived because of you. If you don’t participate in automatic giving, please seriously consider doing so. Automatic giving allows you to set your contribution and forget it. You can easily contribute to the parish even if you aren’t in Mass on the weekend.

The specialized church email system called Flocknotes was also a sign of progress beginning during the pandemic. It has become a powerful adult faith formation tool. People who would never have come to an adult education presentation are opening our emails, reading them, and growing in faith. If you aren’t on Flocknotes, join up.

This spring, we have an opportunity to continue to share our vision of the Church being a sign of God’s love for the community. It is the Diocese of Fall River’s 81st Catholic Appeal. The Appeal helps fund much of the charitable and pastoral works of the diocese. The agencies funded by this drive reach out to encourage people of all backgrounds to learn more about God’s loving desire for a relationship with them. It provides the resources to do the work of rebuilding our Church and helping it grow. If you are genuinely concerned about passing on the faith to future generations, you will want to be generous to this year’s Appeal. Last week I told you how important the Catholic Appeal is to me. I donate a percentage of my income to it each year. Could you start donating a percentage of your income to the Appeal? Could you start at ½%, 1 %, or 2%? Using our treasure from God to help share your faith is a worthwhile endeavor. 

Being true to our parish vision of developing a culture of excellence, Holy Redeemer Parish lives in faith, grows in faith, and shares faith. We are walking through the doors of faith opened for us by God to share the Father’s love with the lost and forsaken here in Chatham and the wider Lower Cape community. We are proving that the trembling of the earth caused by the groundbreaking event called the Resurrection is still heard today; all we need to do is turn our ears to listen to its roar.