It was a pleasure this morning to celebrate Mass for the people of Lincoln and Leeston. Both communities continue to suffer the effects of the earthquakes with Lincoln parishioners worshipping in the local Anglican church and Leeston back in their church a few months ago but only able to use the front part of the beautiful church which is still without its steeple.
Both communities are facing their challenges positively with Lincoln ready to commence building of their new church and Leeston looking to repair their church and replace the steeple.
The challenge in so many of our Catholic communities is not only to ensure that our church buildings are effective signs of the beauty of God dwelling among us, but for parishioners to live the life of Jesus Christ visibly and wholeheartedly attracting people to fill these beautiful churches in the decades ahead. This means that the building or restoration of a Catholic church is never just about finding resources and raising money, but instead must be focussed primarily on revealing the default setting of every human person, that is life in relationship with Jesus Christ.
In today’s readings we hear the heart of this kerygma. You may have never heard the word kerygma before, but it’s a great word for a Christian community to know and use. It means the communication of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the event that saves us.
The kerygma is about the heart of our Christian faith and is too often camaflauged beneath well-intentioned community projects and systems. As a result (to quote today’s gospel) we are troubled and we have questions. For the first disciples Jesus after his resurrection did all he could to communicate to them that he was risen and alive among them and that this fact was a reality even more real than their projects, systems, troubles and questions:
“Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.”
Our problem is that we forget this central fact of human existence. We forget that Jesus is as present with us today as he was with the disciples in the days after his resurrection. As we are reminded in today’s first reading:
“The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.”
We forget that Peter (whose first sermon begins in today’s first reading) entered the capital city of the mighty Roman Empire bringing nothing but the kerygma, Jesus Christ who died and rose to free us from all that burdens us, even death itself. A couple of centuries later the Roman Empire was in ruins and its heroes dead and buried. But the kerygma at that point had reached every corner of the then-known world.
Today students study the Roman Empire in ancient history classes and in a couple of Shakespearian plays. But the kerygma of Jesus Christ is not a history lesson. Jesus Christ is a living reality and it was Jesus who took me to Leeston and Lincoln for Mass this morning, brought people of all ages together in both places, and will affect the lives of billions of people around the world every day of the week ahead.
Nothing could be more real than this.
In the middle of the first reading today we read the word witness. “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” The same word concludes the gospel reading: You are witnesses of these things.”
A “witness” is one who has personal experience of the kerygma, Jesus risen from the dead. Ask Jesus to reveal himself to you every day of this week through the joys and hopes griefs and anxieties that will be a part of your life until next Sunday.
Then take every opportunity that presents to be a witness of this life-giving reality.