29 April 2018
5th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Something wonderful is happening this weekend! Thirty-eight of our children will be receiving Communion for the first time. They’re all dressed up and ready to go. They’ve been practicing how to hold their hands when they come up to receive Jesus. They know how to say, “Amen.” And, of course, they’re all set for the party afterwards.
There’s a lot of preparation that’s gone into today. And that’s because something wonderful is happening! Our children are going to be receiving Jesus for the very first time in Communion. And that’s how it is for us Catholics. Receiving Communion is a big deal. After all, we don’t come up to the altar to eat some bread and some wine; we come up here to receive…Jesus, the Son of the Living God. And that’s a big deal.
In fact, receiving Communion is the highpoint of the whole Mass. It’s the whole reason we’re here: to receive the Lord, to open our hearts and our minds to let him in, so we can share life with him. And so, Communion is a big deal.
If you’ve ever had a best friend, and you just wish you could spend all day with him or her, well, receiving Communion is a way that Jesus and we can be together all the time. And the more we go to Communion, the closer to him we’ll get.
Now, our children here are going to be receiving Jesus for the first time. They’re taking a big step on their journey of faith and growing in friendship with the Lord. But what about the rest of us? Just think of how many times in life we’ve gone to Communion. Hundreds, thousands of times? Just think of how much closer we’ve come to the Lord, Sunday by Sunday. Receiving Communion is a big deal because it really tightens that bond of friendship with God.
But there are even more good things that come from Communion. At the Last Supper, we know that Jesus gave his Blood to the Apostles and he said, “Take this all you and drink from it…it will be poured out for you and for many—for the forgiveness of sins.” And that’s another effect of receiving Communion: the forgiveness of our sins.
You know, we all do things or say things which aren’t the best. We all do it, and it’s okay to admit that. It started way back in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. But Jesus gives us especially his Blood as a way we can “wash away” our sins. Now, normally, blood is something that leaves a stain. But Jesus’ Blood does just the opposite! It takes stain out; it washes our sins away—amazingly. And the more often we go to Communion, the cleaner our soul becomes. And that just makes life better all around.
So Communion is a big deal. It brings us closer to Jesus and it washes away our sins. But there’s even more to it than that. Communion also makes us brothers and sisters…in Christ. Now, we all know who our parents and grandparents are, and who are brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles are. There all those (sometimes crazy) people we’re related to by blood.
Well, when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, everybody who receives Communion becomes “blood relatives;” we all have the same Jesus inside of us. In fact, that’s where the name “Communion” comes from. The Eucharist puts us into communion, into unity and community, with everybody else who receives the Eucharist.
And way back in the first couple of centuries of the early Church, the people knew that. That’s why Saint Paul’s letters always start with something like: “Dear brothers and sisters.” It’s why monks and nuns are called “Brother” so-and-so, and “Sister” so-and-so. Receiving Communion makes us part of the “family of God.” That’s why we call priests “Father,” and why some religious women are called “Mother.” It’s why we call St. Mary our Blessed “Mother.”
But the thing is that receiving Communion makes us part of a very, very large family; a global community of believers. I think this is a reason why several years ago we stopped holding hands during the Our Father; as a reminder that because of Communion we’re connected with a whole lot of people who we can’t see or touch.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, they say that “the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.” Now that’s an area of over 5,000 square miles. It’s like all the land east of Lake Winnebago, from Green Bay to (northern) Milwaukee. And there were believers scattered throughout that whole area, but…they were in unity with one another—because of Communion.
That’s why—as Catholics—we can go to any Catholic church in the world and we belong there. We always have a spiritual “home” wherever we go. And that’s a pretty cool thing. And then there are all the faithful departed, all the Saints in heaven. We’re their brothers and sisters, too. Death doesn’t get in the way of that.
The Acts of the Apostles said that “the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.” Today we’d say, “the church throughout the world, in every country, and throughout all of heaven.” Communion makes us part of a very, very large family of believers; brothers and sisters because of our one common relative: Jesus.
So there are a lot of wonderful things that come from receiving Communion: deepening our friendship with the Lord; being washed clean of our sins again and again; and being part of an enormous family and community of believers, the Church. And the last thing I’ll mention today is what comes from the Gospel of John.
Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Receiving Communion makes us not only friends of the Lord, but also his disciples. That’s one of the meanings behind the “Amen” we say when we come up to receive the Eucharist. “Amen” means—among other things, “I am a disciple of Jesus,” or “I want to be a better disciple of Jesus.” It’s like when the bride and groom say, “I do” at their wedding…sort of. Actually, it’s more like when an athlete says, “Okay, coach. I’ll sign on with you. So teach me, show me.”
Being a disciple means being in a relationship with the Lord, where he’s the coach, he’s the mentor, he’s the “one who knows,” and we’re the student, the learner, the one who’s trying to be like him in some way.
When you hear the word “disciple” think of the word “discipline.” People who are disciplined are those who follow some sort of a standard, who allow themselves to be molded and shaped by something outside themselves. There’s the image of the coach and the athlete, the teacher and the student. There are also cultural norms, social etiquette, systems of values and beliefs, and so on.
In the first Letter of St. John, he refers to the commandments of Jesus: love God, love your neighbor, believe in the name of Jesus. That’s a set of standards which disciples discipline themselves by. Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” By receiving Communion, we’re saying “Amen” to Jesus, but especially to Jesus as our Teacher, our Mentor, our Friend who always love us, but who always encourages us to be more, to be the best person he’s made us to be.
So there are a lot of wonderful things that come from receiving Communion: friendship with the Lord, being washed clean of our sins again and again, being part of an enormous community of believers, and strengthening ourselves as disciples of Jesus. Receiving Communion is the highlight of what we do at Mass. And it happens right here at these steps to the sanctuary.
We don’t usually think of these steps as anything important. But they are a very sacred place; it’s where Communion happens, where heaven and earth meet. It’s where we become what we’re made to be: sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.