4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
1 Peter 2:20b-25
Today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Each year on this Sunday we hear Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse as found in chapter 10 of John’s Gospel. Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd who always watches over his sheep. Today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations as we pray for all those who serve our church.
Today we hear Jesus tell how the sheep know the voice of their shepherd and will not follow any other shepherd. They trust the one who has protected them in the past.
Unfortunately, today Jesus’ voice may be one voice among many that we hear. There can be many different people trying to tell us how we should live. Which voice should we listen to? Jesus loves us so much that he willingly gives his life on the Cross for us. He is the one we can trust.
Still, it can be hard for us to recognize his voice apart from all the others. That is why we need to keep coming back to church each and every Sunday, so that we can learn Jesus’ voice apart from the others.
When we keep coming to Jesus, he will, as the 23rd Psalm says, refresh our souls, he will spread the table before us. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus always feeds his flock with grace.
God nourishes us with his words, providing us divine wisdom and grace to follow him. One of the ways God gives us grace is the “sacraments.”
The first sacrament we receive is Baptism. In Baptism we are marked with what we term an “indelible” mark, meaning it can never be taken away. We are forever marked as children of God. In Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit.
I said Baptism is the first sacrament. There are seven total. Today I want to focus on three of them that we call “Sacraments of Initiation.” Baptism is a Sacrament of Initiation as it is how we come (are initiated) into God’s Church.
The second Sacrament of Initiation is Confirmation. We receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. As Catholics, most often we are baptized as little children. Confirmation comes when we have grown into an awareness of our faith for ourselves and are sealed with Holy Spirit. As we come to this “awareness of faith” for ourselves, we see Confirmation as a new step in our initiation in faith. This week, sixteen of our youth will be confirmed at the Cathedral by Bishop Matano.
Now, we turn to the third Sacrament of Initiation, the Eucharist. Baptism and Confirmation are both celebrated just once (and can never be undone). While Baptism and Confirmation are each done once in a lifetime, Eucharist is the sacrament we are called to repeat over and over, at least weekly on Sunday, and even daily for those who are able to come during the week.
It might seem strange to call something we do over and over “initiation.” One way we can see the Eucharist as initiation is that, since it is the Body and Blood of Christ, it is the highest the highest of the sacrament. It is Jesus we receive and it is Jesus we strive to become like.
When we receive the Eucharist over and over, we might become complacent in what it means to us. It might become too routine for us, meaning we receive without thinking too much about it when what we really need to do is think about what it is that we are receiving.
If all we needed to do was just receive Jesus, one might suppose that we could run into church, receive Communion, and leave. That would be simple but I think we would have no appreciation for what we receive. Every time we celebrate Mass, we participate in the consecration and should think about what it is we are receiving. It is not just bread and wine. It is the Body and Blood of Jesus that he gave on the Cross for us.
As we get ready to receive Communion, we need to realize that “Communion” indicates a coming together. That’s why we start with readings from the Bible, so that we can hear how God calls us to live.
We can also think about how it is that we receive Communion.
We do not simply pass the ciborium around and everyone reach in and grab a host for themselves. No, we come forth in line for Communion. Our coming forth in a line signifies our desire to come to Jesus. Then as the consecrated host is placed in our hands, we receive the host as a gift while hearing the words “The Body of Christ” and we respond “amen” which means yes I believe. Then we can receive the Precious Blood as the chalice is handed to us with the words, “The Blood of Christ” to which we again respond “amen” signifying our belief.
Then, we don’t go immediately running out of church. Instead we return to our pews and kneel to think about what it is that we have received and to give thanks to Jesus as our Good Shepherd for this gift of the Eucharist.
At the 10:30 Mass we have six children who will be receiving their First Communion. At the Easter Vigil, we had one person complete their Sacraments of Initiation so this weekend will be the fourth time she receives Communion. How many times have you received Communion? What does it mean to you to receive this gift of Jesus?