I hope you had an opportunity to view the solar eclipse last Monday.  Despite the partial cloud cover, it was quite interesting as the moon slid over the sun, leaving just a banana-shaped illumination.  The temperature dropped as the sky darkened in an unusual way.  As I enjoyed this rare event, I was reminded, once again, of the wonder of God’s creation. 

Another wondrous sign of God’s creation is nature springing back to its glory after lying dormant over the winter.  I hope you’re paying attention to the beauty unfolding around us: hyacinths and daffodils, splendid magnolia trees and brightly colored cherry and apple tree.  And now, the trees turning a mint green as their leaves begin to grow in.  It really lifts our spirits as we experience nature bursting to life all around us. 

Ever since Easter, our Sunday readings are equally uplifting.  After hearing over the last Sundays of Lent, of the turmoil our Lord faced in Jerusalem as he struggled with the hardhearted Jewish leaders and experiencing the gloom of Good Friday, we’ve heard  over the past few weeks how our Lord, now risen from the dead, has revealed himself in resurrection glory.  Like the awakening of nature, awareness of our Lord’s resurrection and the impact it has on our lives is, for most of us, a gradual process.  And, it often comes when we face our sinfulness and wonder if God can ever forgive us or we struggle with something in our lives and ask if God is with us.

In today’s first reading, we hear the apostle Peter speak to a crowd that has just witnessed the curing of a crippled man.  Peter had been able to perform this miracle “in the name of Jesus Christ.”  As Peter speaks to this amazed crowd, he reminds them that they are all sinners.  And their sins were not minor.  He declares, “the author of life you put to death.”  I’m not sure if there is a greater sin.  But, thankfully, Peter doesn’t end there.  He goes on to explain: “God, however, raised him from the dead.”  In saying this, Peter is saying that God has an answer for sin, for every sin.  And, the answer is the resurrection.  On the cross, Jesus took upon himself the burden of our sins – and it killed him.  Through his resurrection, however, his life has been restored and, in fact, transformed, and so has ours.  The burden of our sin has been lifted.  The intimate connection between the resurrection and the forgiveness of sins is highlighted also in today’s Gospel.  The disciples are together when Jesus suddenly stands in their midst and greets them with the words, “Peace be with you.”  But, far from being at peace, they are at first filled with alarm and fear.  After all, in the first century, just as in the twenty-first, everyone knows that dead people remain dead.  Understandably, the disciples think that they are seeing a ghost.  Jesus’ response is to show them his hands and his feet, hands and feet that bear the imprint of the nails. 

“Touch me,” he says, “and see for yourselves because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”  Then, we’re told that the disciples’ joy was great; they simply could not believe it.  It’s as though they were caught between lingering doubts and overflowing joy; it seemed just too good to be true!  Finally, to make it clear that he is really alive, Jesus asks for something to eat; ghosts don’t usually ask for food.

Once his friends are convinced of his identity, Jesus “opened their minds”, helping them understand why he had to suffer and on the third day rise again.  And now, he tells them, it is “in his name,” the name of the risen Christ, that they are to preach repentance of sins to all nations.  Forgiveness of sins is the special gift of Easter.  It was central to Jesus’ teaching and will be central to the Church’s teaching until the end of time. 

During our Lord’s public ministry, he showed God’s mercy in so many ways.  And, often, it was at a meal.  It was at a meal that he welcomed Matthew, a public sinner, as one of his disciples.  It was at a meal that he said to the woman who washed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair: “Your sins are forgiven.”  It was at that most important meal – the Last Supper – that Jesus washed the feet of those who would soon sin against him by abandoning him at his hour of greatest need.  And, as we hear in today’s Gospel, it is at a meal that the risen Lord assures his frightened followers that he had suffered, died and been raised from the dead “for the forgiveness of sins.”

As we gather to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, we give thanks to God for his mercy and forgiveness.  In fact, we begin every Mass with a Penitential Act, when we are called to examine our consciences and admit our sins.  In the Gloria, we glorify God – not once but twice – for taking away our sins and beg him to have mercy on us.  Then, we are privileged to share in that same sacred meal – the Last Supper – that was central to our Lord’s mission of overcoming our sinfulness.  Nourished by Holy Communion, we, like the first followers of Jesus, are called to witness to all of this – repentance for the forgiveness of sins – in our daily lives.  That’s why receiving our Lord in Holy Communion regularly is so important.

Each Eucharistic celebration offers us the spiritual nourishment we need to help us overcome our sinful nature and live more fully in God’s grace, acting according to his will, assured that God is truly with us.  As we continue to celebrate this Easter season with such great joy, still basking in the excitement of the solar eclipse and eagerly awaiting the full glory of spring, grateful to God for his boundless mercy, let us all recommit ourselves to receiving the Eucharist regularly so that all of us, the living Body of Christ, can continue the work Christ called all of his followers to do: to witness to all nations the saving power of God!