The Sunday Project

Jesus Was There

Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord |

By Father Peter MacNaughton
ray of light shining through an opening
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First Reading
Acts 10:34a, 37-43

Peter proceeded to speak and said: “You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Second Reading
Col 3:1-4

Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

Gospel Reading
Jn 20:1-9

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

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Content warning: Eating disorders and mental health issues

When I was a little boy, maybe three years old, my mom taught me the song, "Jesus Loves Me"; looking back into that memory it feels less like it was something I was taught and something she helped me to remember--I can clearly remember knowing everything about that song being true, that Jesus did love me, that subsequent to that love, Jesus died on the cross and on the third day lived again.  It was true because I knew it to be, as much as I knew that one plus one made two.

At ten, I didn't really believe the Easter bunny was something but there were chocolate eggs in the house in the morning and that was all that mattered.  It wasn't as big of a day as Christmas because there weren't as many presents, there weren't as many decorations, but it was a holiday with chocolate.  And of course, church.  My father was usually hung over from the night before, my mom was frazzled from being up all night hiding chocolate.  Just not as frazzled as Christmas morning.  The protestant church we went to on Sunday had a huge stained glass window of the Annunciation.  But I didn't know that.  I'm not sure any of us knew it.  It was just an angel standing in a room with a woman.  When the minister would start the sermon, I'd usually fade out.  Not go to sleep really, but I'd just get fuzzy and imagine things.  I pictured a resurrected Jesus coming into the church from the side door, shaking hands with the minister, and taking the pulpit.  Jesus was going to go to all the churches like that, I rationalized.  He was going to go on tour like Billy Joel.  

At thirteen, we'd moved back into the city and I'd become reclusive and shy.  I was a fat, quiet, queer kid in a school with a lot of other kids and I knew the best way to protect myself was to hide, to disappear.  Don't get noticed.  My first day, one of the kids from the popular group of kids actually came over to me, said hi, and asked if I'd like to hang out with them!  I was stunned!  I said no!  I mean, why would I want that kind of attention right?  By that time, Jesus was gone.  Jesus didn't stop my dad from drinking.  He wasn't there when I needed him, when I got beat up at my old school, or when people called me a fag, what ever that meant.  Jesus was an Idea on Sunday.  He was my dad's Idea.  Jesus didn't make my dad and I closer.  It felt like we grew further apart.  Jesus didn't stop my parents from divorcing.  Jesus didn't stop me from being attacked in high school.  He didn't stop me from falling in love with my best friend, and then experiencing the heart break when that friend fell in love with a girl.  Jesus didn't stop me from the pain I experience, the depression, the desire to end my life; I could've sworn at 17 that Jesus wasn't there when I opened a bottle of pills, then wept harder because I didn't have the courage to take my life.  Jesus wasn't there when I purged into a toilet bowl after a binge the first time.  

Jesus wasn't there.  I mean, He was there.  I knew at 17 that He was there.  He was just down deep inside of me, in a dark corner.  When I decided to go looking for a new faith path, one that would affirm my queerness, He was there.  He told me:  "I'll be here when you get back."  I passed it off as just my imagination, an inner voice.  I told myself, Christianity and being queer don't conform.  They're like oil and water.  There's got to be a faith tradition that will affirm me.

Was Jesus in the statues of the Buddha I meditated in front of?  Was Jesus in the tobacco ties and the sweat lodges?  Was Jesus in the Pride movement?  I wandered for what feels now like an eternity.

Was Jesus with me in my most painful moments of acute loneliness and depression?  Was Jesus there when I began listening to an online course on philosophy and the Christian faith?  Was Jesus there when I began to experience, what I can only describe as a recurring three year demonic oppression?

Jesus was there when He rolled back the stone from the tomb.  He was there to take the shroud of pain, of suffering, from my face and rolled it up.  He was there when I was lifted from my bed of anguish.  He was there and welcomed me home.

Jesus was there through the pains of realizing I'd put myself in a job where I was emotionally abused and I had been taken advantage of for 20 years.  He was there the day I met my fiancé.  He was there when I told my father, "No more.  You have to leave my life."  He was there when I dug the hole in my garden for my first day lily.  He was there when I discovered how beauty of wild plants.  He was there when I was lead to support work.  He was in the faces of the people that I supported.  He was there in the face of meth addiction, multiple personality disorder, frontal lobe brain injury.  He was there in their poverty, and I loved Him, and He loved me in return.

He was there the day I sat at my computer, and finally acknowledge my vocation.  Through all of this, through everything that I have lived, Jesus was there.  Jesus was calling me to the priesthood.  I couldn't follow it.  I ran from it.  How could I be a priest in a faith that openly says they will not ordain those who are queer?  How could I be a priest in a faith that teaches that those with same sex attraction should carry their cross and have 'disinterested friendships'?

Jesus was there when I asked for help.  Jesus led me to Father Bob.  Jesus led me to Father Tomas.  He was there when I received tonsure and professed my vows as a Franciscan.  He was there four years later when I professed my perpetual vows in latin.  He was there, like a lover from a long distance, waiting for me and my ordination during the early days of the pandemic.  He was there when the archbishop anointed my hands.  He was there at my first Mass when I leaned forward and said:

Hoc est enim corpus meum.

I know He is there now, but not in the same way as I did when I was a child learning "Jesus loves me."  I know He is there, but there is doubt.  Doubt is normal.  The apostles felt doubt!  They doubted right up until the moment they were able to recognize Him from what He did.  

Of course we doubt!  Given the tremendous pain some of us have, and continue, to experience--how could we not doubt?  We have to come to place where we believe in our own hearts, sometimes on a thin thread of faith, that He is there, that He has always been there.

The Good News is not announced from a pulpit, it's not in the pages of a book, it's not behind a URL.   It is in our actions, in how we love.  It is in the moments when we come home exhausted, lay head in our hands, and know that He was with us in our most difficult times--especially if we need to remind ourselves afterwards.  The Good News is in our hearts from the moment our hearts being to beat, and it is this:  God has touched us from our birth to know innately, like one plus one equals two, that He is there.  And from that knowledge?  Anything is possible.

Jesus Christ is here.  Now.  Christ is in the eyes of the person reading this, right now.  Christ is in your tears.  Christ is in your laughter.  Christ is in the Eucharist.  Christ is in the hearts of the people who suffer from the disease of hate.  Christ is in the heart of those who are hated.  Christ is in the presence of every opportunity to express love.  Every.  Single.  Opportunity.

Even when we are disinterested, Christ is not now, not ever, a disinterested friend.

Pax et Bonum.  God loves you.