Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2022)

“The Lord is risen! alleluia, alleluia!” “He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia!”

People were in the busy department store doing their shopping, cashiers were at their stations, and service people were helping customers with their questions. There were people of all different ages, races and backgrounds.

It was a normal Saturday at the Macy’s, formerly Wanamaker’s, in Center City Philadelphia. All of a sudden music started coming from the famous organ (most people probably recall this instrument from the Christmas light shows each year). As the music began, more and more people from the store came into the center court on the main floor and on the surrounding balconies. There were hundreds of people gathered. Then all of a sudden a large number of them broke into Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.

The crowd first reacted in confusion — many thinking “what’s going on?” Store personnel probably wondered that too, not expecting a concert or performance that day. The event was one of the “Random Acts of Culture” that had been taking place at that time. The Opera Company of Philadelphia sponsored the event in which 650 choristers from all over the region sang. The YouTube video that circulated afterwards has had over 9.5 million views.

Something amazing happened that Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010. Something quite unexpected. Something wonderful, joyful and triumphant.

At the conclusion of the performance, the crowd burst into applause. Watching the video, we see smiles of joy-filled people, uplifted by the beauty of the music. Into the hectic day of shopping, and whatever else was going on in those people’s lives at the time, came an opportunity to rejoice and to be raised up and inspired.

Our celebration of Easter continues today and we too can be lifted up in the beauty of God’s love. Jesus has risen from the dead. God’s love manifest in Jesus’ suffering and death is now celebrated in triumph.

Jesus speaks to us in this Sunday’s Gospel as our shepherd. He says: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for the sheep. Through his passion, death and resurrection he has won for us the gift of eternal life. We live under his protection and guidance.

As the shepherd, he leads us through life. He feeds us, nourishes us and cares for us. He protects us. He is with us. Jesus’ words remind us that God’s love is not something abstract or distant. He says: “I know them.” He knows each one of us, his sheep. He knows us as we are, where we are and always. And he loves us.

Jesus, as the shepherd, also gathers us together into a flock, his flock. Together we are invited to rejoice in God’s love and to share it with one another.

Since Easter the first reading for Mass has been from Acts of the Apostles. We hear of the apostles and disciples spreading the message of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection to many people. The joy of Jesus’ resurrection propels them to share the good news and invite others to join in the life God offers to all.

In today’s passage there is a focus on the mission to the Gentiles (important to note that as Acts of the Apostles continues, the Jewish communities continue to be invited first; and many do accept the invitation). Not everyone accepts the invitation and some openly and violently reject it (as happened ever since and still happens today).

Yet for those who do accept, their lives are changed as they realize the power of God’s love and mercy. Jesus’ resurrection is real for them and it sees them through the ups and downs of life. St. Luke, as he witnesses this, uses what is sometimes called a “summary statement” to express it. Such is the case in today’s passage which concludes: “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus, as the shepherd, not only gathers us together into a flock, He keeps us together – forever. The second reading, a passage from the Book of Revelation, reminds us of this. In the heavenly vision, John recalls “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

As explained in the passage, these represent the faithful who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The washing points to baptism – which is the means by which we are united to Christ and thereby to one another. Baptism is a participation in the death of the Lord so as to share in his resurrection. Jesus, as the shepherd, leads his flock through death to resurrection, to life — eternal life. As members of the flock, together we share in his life now and for eternity.

Today we continue to celebrate the glory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Christian joy, hope and love flow from the wellspring of the resurrection. We have the opportunity today to once again tap into that source of life and to rejoice in God’s love for us — a love that is wonderful, joyful and triumphant.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.