April 29, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Peter’s renewed courage calls us to love Jesus deeper

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Easter show us the remarkable transformation of St. Peter the Apostle from an impetuous, but ultimately unfaithful, follower of Jesus to a bold, courageous advocate for the risen Lord.

As we read in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41), Peter responds to the high priest of the Sanhedrin, who has ordered Jesus’ disciples not to preach about him:

“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and Savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:29-32).

Anyone who is familiar with the Passion narratives in the Gospels will rightly ask, “Is this the same Peter who fled when Jesus was arrested, and then three times denied that he even knew him?” What has happened to him? How did he become the leader of a new movement of courageous witnesses “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of [Jesus’] name”? (Acts 5:41)

Peter showed that he was a new man when the risen Lord confronted him with his infidelity and challenged him to declare his love—both with his words and his actions.

The Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter (Jn 21:1-19) includes the encounter between the risen Jesus and Peter where the Lord asks him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21:15) Each time, Peter answers him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus says to him, “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15). Peter’s verbal declaration of love must be confirmed by his pastoral care of God’s people.

After receiving Peter’s third promise: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17), St. John tells us that Jesus said to him: “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:17-18).

St. John explains that Jesus said this in order to signify the kind of death that Peter would suffer in order to glorify God. And then Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me” (Jn 21:19)

The invitation to follow Jesus, which is extended to St. Peter and to every one of us, necessarily involves suffering and at least some form of martyrdom. We follow the risen Lord confident that he leads us to the joy of eternal life with him in heaven.

But as we know only too well, the path to joy requires us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and walk with Jesus (and with each other) on a journey filled with sorrow, disappointment and pain. We rejoice because the Lord is victorious over sin and death, but, paradoxically, we also rejoice because we have been “found worthy” to suffer physical, emotional and spiritual pain for the sake of Jesus’ name.

In the second reading for the Third Sunday of Easter (Rv 5:11-14), St. John the Apostle, a prisoner in his old age on the Greek island of Patmos, shares with us his vision for the final days of life on Earth:

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: ‘To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.’ The four living creatures answered, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Rv 5:13-14).

The final goal of our synodal journey as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ is unity. On the last day, everything in the universe will unite in praise of God. Every creature will worship the Lord of Life, and every sign of suffering, every evil, will be transformed into a magnificent song of praise.

Just as St. Peter is transformed by his encounter with the risen Jesus by the Sea of Tiberius, everything in the created universe—all things vision and invisible—will be made new in Christ. We rejoice that we who are sinners have been found worthy to share in this glorious transformation of all God’s creation at the end of time.

This Easter season, let’s declare our love for Jesus in our words and actions. May we follow him through the suffering and humiliation of the Cross to the peace, hope and joy of Eternal Life! †

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