1) One of the main attractions of our diocesan seminary, St. Joseph’s,
a) is a series of pictures,
b) Which line the main corridor of the building.
2) They are the pictures of the graduation classes of the seminarians who studied there,
a) Stretching all the way back to the first class of 1896.
3) Whenever you visit the seminary
a) You will see people scanning the photos
b) Looking for the priests who served them when they were young;
i) The priests who married them,
ii) Gave them first communion,
iii)Baptized their children
iv)And buried their parents.
4) We might think that people would have stopped being so interested in these photos,
a) But they have not stopped; if anything they have increased,
i) For even if people come across a priest there that was involved in a scandal,
b) They see countless others who served their parishes for decades.
c) Those pictures remind so many of us of the time
i) When our seminary was filled with men,
(1) And our church was filled with priests
ii) When our schools were filled with nuns and brothers
(1) And our homes were filled with obedient, faithful children
iii)When our nation respected God
(1) And the world respected us.
iv)Those pictures are poignant reminders of a golden past
(1) When the church was REALLY the church.
5) In short those pictures function for us
a) the way this morning’s first reading functioned for those who first read it.
6) They describe a time when the church
a) Was filled with the disciples who followed Jesus
i) And led by the Apostles who knew him.
b) A time when the church worshiped in the Jewish temple in peace
i) And broke bread with one another in their homes in love
c) A time when the church was growing with new members every day,
i) Attracted by the “exultation and sincerity of heart” of its members.
7) The first reading was written some 70 years after the events it describes
a) And was a poignant reminder to its hearers of a golden past
b) when the church was REALLY the church.
i) Especially since their present was not so perfect
(1) It was a time when most of the apostles had been killed,
(a) And most of the original disciples had died
(2) A time when Jews had rejected Christians
(a) and the empire persecuted them
(3) A time when the temple had been destroyed,
(4) The first church in Jerusalem had been scattered,
(5) Christianity was now growing over the empire,
(a) And those new communities were frequently fighting amongst themselves.
8) In short, it was a time like the time described in this morning’s Gospel reading;
a) The story takes place a week after Easter,
b) but we see reflected in it the world decades later,
i) A world where the church lived in fear of their neighbors
(1) Just like the disciples did
ii) A world in which members lived in doubt of the resurrection
(1) Just like Thomas did.
iii)This picture of the first church in today’s gospel
(1) was not some beautiful photo from the past
(2) But is a portrait of the Church of the present
(3) Both for the Christians who read these words at the end of the first century
(4) And for us who read them at the beginning of the 21st.
9) For we live in a world and a Church every bit as much in trouble as those first Christians did.
a) A church of empty seminaries and convents
b) A church with rules which few follow
c) A church with leaders which few listen to
d) A world which lives in fear of foreigners
e) A world which lives in terror of the tiniest of invaders; the coronavirus
10) In a world filled with such fear it so tempting long to return to the past
a) Where everything was safe and sure.
i) I know it what I would want to do.
b) And it is Exactly what the writer of the first reading did;
c) Counter the doubt and fear of the present of the present
d) with the safety and security of the past.
11) But thanks be to God that is not what the Gospel writer John did;
a) For in the story we hear this morning
b) he does not just speak about the doubt and fear of the disciples
c) But also about the Lord
i) Who comes to them when they do not expect it;
ii) Offers them peace and forgiveness in the midst of their fear
(1) So that they might go out and share it with others
iii)And offers them the possibility of asking questions and searching for answers like Thomas did in the midst of his doubt
(1) So that they might help others do the same.
12) IN this John speaks not about the church of the past but also the present,
a) His Church in the past,
b) ours in the present
c) And because it is also the Church of Jesus Christ
d) the church of the future.
13) The day will come when it will be the Corona Virus that is in the past.
14) Our city, our nation will reopen,
15) And we will begin to live again.
16) And for us that means to be a church
a) that does not need to live in the past
b) to escape the fear and doubt of the present
17) But it is a church that can live in the present when we make Jesus Christ present
a) Offering frightened people a place of peace and forgiveness,
i) As Jesus did to the disciples who had denied and abandoned him
b) Offering to doubting people a place to ask their questions and seek their answers
i) as he did to Thomas who first had doubted him
c) Offering to all people Jesus Christ, who is as present in our generous welcome and acceptance of all
i) as he was to those first Christians who so desperately needed him.
18) In that we do not offer us some faded picture of a church of the past;
a) But a church of the present because Jesus is present.
19) And in that offers of a glimpse of what that first reading really tried to do;
a) hold out hope that
i) a church of the peace which comes from forgiveness
b) and the unity found through love
20) is not just some past memory,
21) but really the church of the present and THUS the future. Our future.