5th Sunday of Easter – May 14, 2017

I had quite a bit of help with this homily. When I began preparing this homily I knew what I wanted to say to the seven year olds who will receive their First Holy Communion today, but I didn’t know where to begin. The cultural references that are familiar to me are not familiar to Second Graders.

Fortunately, several of the parents of our Second Graders had good advice for me. Please keep that in mind; I’m not having a “second childhood” experience.

There is an episode of “Sponge Bob Square Pants” (a popular children’s television cartoon), that is entitled, “Company Picnic.” In the episode Sponge Bob suggests to Mr. Krabs (owner of a fast food restaurant where Sponge Bob works), that a company picnic would boost morale among the employees. Grudgingly, Mr. Krabs consents.

Mr. Krabs is notoriously penurious. The meal he prepared for the company picnic consisted of paper plates (to be eaten), dressed with mayonnaise past its expiry date. His employees were less than impressed. To make matters worse, Plankton (nemesis of both Sponge Bob and Mr. Krabs), showed up at the same location with a much more appealing picnic lunch.

At the point when all of Mr. Krabs’ employees were ready to abandon him permanently in favor of working for Plankton, Sponge Bob uncovered Plankton’s dirty secret. The enticing picnic lunch was a fraud. It actually consisted of garbage and spoiled food, all of which was covered over in an alluring disguise.

Sponge Bob saved the day. He stopped his co-workers from eating the meal of rotten food. He rescued his fellow employees from a truly terrible fate, and he rescued Mr. Krabs from losing both his employees and his restaurant. I can’t speak from a wide experience of “Sponge Bob Square Pants,” but I’m guessing that most of the Sponge Bob episodes turn out this way.

This particular episode provides a very good illustration of the meaning of Eucharist. Mr. Krabs is a curmudgeon who distrusts and dislikes anyone who appears to be having fun. Plankton is dishonest and manipulative. (At this juncture, I’m tempted to draw parallels to certain kinds of religious perspectives.)

The picnic lunches that Mr. Krabs and Plankton provided were perfect expressions of their personalities. The curmudgeon’s meal was a reflection of how barren and empty his life was. The fraud’s meal was a reflection of his power issues. Sponge Bob’s response to the dysfunction around him was to make the best of a bad situation. Sponge Bob made frisbees out of the paper plates that Mr. Krabs intended to be eaten, and he saved his co-workers from making a truly bad choice. Sponge Bob’s actions are an illustration of the meaning of Eucharist.

Fortunately, not every day of our lives is like the employee picnic that Mr. Krabs organized, but some are so. Some days bring us disappointment; some days bring us tragedy. Most days bring us the reassuring company of friends and family. Eucharist is a sacred celebration of every day.

We bring to each celebration of the Eucharist both the good and the bad in our lives. We bring our successes and our failures. We bring our strengths and our weaknesses. We bring our hopes and our disappointments. We offer everything, our whole selves, to God. We place on the Altar our prayers, our offerings, our sins and our repentance. God accepts and consecrates our life’s offerings, and gives us in return a share in Jesus’ risen life.

Eucharist is a celebration of the good in our lives. Eucharist is healing for the evil in our lives. Eucharist is a renewal of God’s gift of new life. Eucharist is our way of making the best of a less than perfect existence.

At the celebration of your First Reconciliation I explained that the Sacraments are like turn-by-turn directions for life. All of us have survived another Winter of seasonal residents wandering aimlessly on the streets and highways with their turn signals blinking for no apparent reason. Good directions are a necessity when driving a car; good directions are also a necessity when making it through one’s life.

Our weekly celebration of the Eucharist provides good direction for navigating through the world. Our Sunday celebration reminds us of the Divine forgiveness we receive in the death of Jesus. Our communal gathering gives us the strength and support of fellow believers. The Offertory is an opportunity to give ourselves completely to God’s will. Our reception of Holy Communion is affirmation of the good in our lives and healing for the brokenness in our lives.

In a few minutes, when we get to the Communion Rite of this Mass, I’ll ask the congregation to wait for the Acolyte and I to give you Holy Communion for the very first time. When you come forward to receive your First Holy Communion I recommend that you do so with the same attitude that Sponge Bob displays so consistently: giving thanks for those who love you and whom you love, appreciating all the good gifts in your life and hoping to improve those things that are less than ideal.

A note on the Scriptures:

My homily this Sunday is directed to the seven year olds who comprise our First Holy Communion class this year and to their parents. Given the accommodation necessary to preach to children I felt compelled to offer a few additional thoughts for the adults in the congregation.

Today’s Gospel reading addresses an issue that is central to understanding the Catholic faith. Jesus was speaking to his disciples about his impending death and the consequences it would have for the world.

True to form, the disciples failed to comprehend what Jesus said. He promised to prepare a path to God’s presence that they could follow. (John 14:3) Because they had yet to grasp the fact that Jesus was the incarnation of God’s Word, they failed to understand that it was possible for him to lead them to God.

Philip tried to clear the confusion from his mind. He thought he was simplifying the conversation when he requested, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8) He was unprepared for Jesus’ response, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

During his lifetime Jesus was regarded as an engaging preacher, a miracle worker and even a prophet. Only after his death did his disciples come to realize that he was much more than these common conceptualizations could capture. The experience of the Resurrection led the disciples to understand that Jesus, by virtue of his life and death, intended to make God the Father present to all people.

Today, as a consequence of Jesus’ life and death, there is a reliable and clearly discernible path to God. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Reflect, for a moment, on the various images of God that are espoused by Catholics, other Christians and non-Christian religions.

It is common to portray God as an angry judge who awaits the opportunity to punish sinners. Another common image of God is an aloof power indifferent to the human condition and/or uncaring about human suffering. In Catholicism it is popular to conceive of God as a Divine hoarder who has to be appeased or cajoled into sharing gifts such as mercy or forgiveness.

Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Jesus spent his life in the company of society’s castoffs. He sought out sinners. He responded generously to the poor. He healed the sick. He preached an encouraging message of reconciliation to people who were burdened by life’s worries. He died remaining faithful to friends who had abandoned him.

Jesus was the embodiment of forgiveness, compassion and fidelity. We believe that he is the Incarnation of God’s Word. The Scriptures don’t offer syllogisms from classical logic, but in this case, a syllogism wouldn’t necessarily be an injustice to the message of the Scriptures. To the contrary, it would be completely faithful to the message of the Scriptures to say the following. Jesus is the Incarnation of God’s Word. Jesus is forgiving, compassionate and faithful. Therefore, God is forgiving, compassionate and faithful.

Any image of God that does not portray the Divine nature as forgiveness, compassion and trustworthiness is an inadequate image of God. Sadly, most representations of God fall into the category of inadequacy.

Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) It is possible to know God with absolute certainly. If you have ever had any doubts about God, there is a way to satisfy those doubts. If you have ever wondered about God’s concern for the world, or about God’s willingness to forgive, or about God’s proximity to you, there is an unequivocal answer to your questions. If you have ever feared that you might not be using the proper means to reach God, there is a single mediator between God and the world.

Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) God does not need to be cajoled into granting God’s gifts. God does not need to be feared. God does not need to be aroused from sleep or inattention. Human nature is often penurious, unforgiving and inattentive, but God is not like us. God is forgiveness, compassion and trustworthiness.