Third Sunday of Easter
D ear brothers and sisters, have you ever suffered a very persistent cold? I recently heard a woman talk about such an experience. She told me that she had already taken several courses of antibiotics, but even after a couple weeks, she still didn’t feel one hundred percent yet.
This reminds me of the two pieces of advice that I have received in the past regarding real medication. The first is an old Vietnamese proverb that goes thuốc đắng dã tật or good medicine is bitter to the taste. This probably explains why many of us continue taking antibiotics even if it’s seldom a pleasant experience. The second piece of advice is from a musical produced in the sixties that was made into a movie, which I watched years ago. Some of you may recall Mary Poppins, and the song entitled A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down. There is much wisdom in that, don’t you think? My sick friend needs rest.
Taken together, these two pieces of advice tell us that real medicine needs to be both bitter and sweet. And this seems also to be the experience of the people in our reading today, third Sunday of Easter. There are at least two groups of people who are feeling unwell. In the Gospel, the disciples are still suffering the traumatic effects of having witnessed the shameful execution of Jesus, in whom they had invested all their dreams and hopes for a better life. And even though the Risen Christ had already appeared to several of them including, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Even though, He had supported them and administered to them His own powerful brand of antibiotics, they are still feeling under the weather. Yet, the condition of the people that Peter addresses in the first reading is probably even more serious. Not only do they have no experience of the Risen Christ at all, but also they don’t even realize the depth of their need for Him. How do these persistent illnesses find their cure?
In both cases, there is a bitter pill that needs to take. There is the need to acknowledge, not only that Jesus died but also that those who are ill are somehow implicated in His death. As St. Peter says to his listeners and to each one of us that “The author of life you put to death.” And even if the disciple did not actually kill their master, in the Gospel reading today, they remain burdened by the shame and guilt of having abandoned Him. Isn’t this why they are so fearful when at first they mistake the Risen Christ for a ghost?
Indeed, thankfully the cure is not all bitter. Actually, unlike many of our modern sugar coated pills, which are sweet only on the outside, but bitter on the inside. The core of the Easter message is one of joy, as it is the experience of the disciples in the Gospel. For the one directing the precious cure to them is not a ghost but someone who they can experience in a very real way, one who is truly alive. As St. Peter also tells us that, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead.” The disciples’ fear is changed into joy and amazement, for in the Risen Christ they find that their mistakes have somehow been neutralized. And not just neutralized but even used to bring about a greater good. They have an intimate experience of what the awesome power of God can do even in the face of human weakness and sin. Much more than a spoonful of sugar, the disciples experience the sublime sweetness of the resurrection.
My brothers and sisters, today how might we deepen our experience of this bittersweet cure of Easter, so that we might better share it with others?
Rev. Dominic Toan Tran
This is the day
the Lord has made ;
let us rejoice
and be glad.