There was a popular song that was written in the 1960’s that proclaimed: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there is just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No not just for some, but for everyone.” Even though this song is now more than fifty years old, it is hard to think of a song that better describes what it is that our present world, city, and our own hearts are in need of, better than this song.
When we listen to the news, go out into the streets, or even examine our own hearts, it is clear that since the pandemic, the world has become a crueler place and humanity has become a bit unhinged from its foundations. The stories in the news are of war, random acts of violence and a coldness toward others that looms large over our entire society. I am sure that many of us thought that once the pandemic was over, and the mask and vaccine mandates were lifted, we would go back to the way that world was. That has not been the case. Something about the world; something about us has changed—and not for the better.
If I were to try to put to words what has happened over the pandemic, I would say that the shock of the pandemic and the fear that it caused, has stressed people out and put them into survivor’s mode. There is a Post-Traumatic Stress effecting all of us. When we are frightened and concerned about our survival, we think about ourselves and our needs and we attempt to isolate ourselves from the larger world. This is the way that some of the disciples reacted when Jesus was arrested and they feared for their lives and wellbeing. The disciples ran away and hid themselves in the upper-room and isolated themselves from any outside threats—much as we all did during the pandemic. It was only the appearance of the Risen Lord that freed them from their fear and gave them the strength to go back into the world convinced that Christ had overcome death through His life, death and resurrection. Once the disciples had understood what Christ had done for them, they were transformed and freed to overcome their fear and isolation and to live for Christ. Because Christ had loved them so much, that He had died for them to set them free, His love transformed them and set them free from their fear and gave them the ability to follow His example and live for Him and others.
What the disciples needed to be set free was to understand how much God loved them. In the context of the song, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” and our Christian assertion that God is love, what the disciples needed to be freed from their fear was God and an awareness of His loving presence with them. As we celebrate Easter this year, following the events of the pandemic, it seems to me what each of us needs is a similar awareness of God’s loving presence with us to set us free.
"Once the disciples had understood what Christ had done for them, they were transformed and freed to overcome their fear and isolation and to live for Christ. Because Christ had loved them so much, that He had died for them to set them free, His love transformed them and set them free from their fear and gave them the ability to follow His example and live for Him and others."
Some weeks ago, I went to see a movie called the “Jesus revolution.” The movie was, like the song I have been speaking about, set in the 1960’s. It is set in America during the height of the Vietnamese War, the protest movements, and the Hippies who were saying “no” to all of the traditionally American values. The movie begins by showing a very small Christian community that is afraid of the Hippies and what they represent. As the pastor’s young daughter speaks about the desire of the young people and Hippies to know love and peace, she attempts to show her father, the pastor, that what they are seeking is not all that different from what Christians desire. However, because of fear, this Christian community seeks to close its doors to what is different and what it feels will threaten its existence.
The transforming event for this frightened Christian community comes when a young “Hippie Christian” preacher comes to town and relates how similar the Christians and the “Hippies” really are. This preacher explains that the Hippies are looking for all of the things that Christians seek, they are just looking in the wrong places. He states that because the “Hippies” do not know Christ, they are attempting to deal with their fears through drugs and sex. He states that once people know Christ, they will stop looking to false gods to deal with their needs and fears. As the movie states, what they need is a “Jesus Revolution.” Once all sides start talking about Jesus and allowing Him to be the answer to their fears, both groups are transformed and they are animated by an explosion of love. It was this same explosion of love, following His resurrection, that set the disciples free from their fears and worked in them the “Jesus Revolution” that would set them free to live for others. This Easter, we are all in need of a “Jesus Revolution” to set us free to serve and love one another.
The entire celebration of Easter is the celebration of God’s unconditional love for each of us. Throughout the entire Triduum, we have remembered how much Christ has loved us and what He came to do through His incarnation to show us that love. On Holy Thursday, we recounted the manner in which Christ, knowing that He would die for us, gave us the Eucharist in order that we might remember the extent that He has gone to save us and the fact that He wishes to abide with us always through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. As we recounted His example of washing the feet of His disciples, we re-called how vividly He wished us to follow after His example by loving our brothers and sister by real acts of charity lived in the flesh of our day to day experiences. On Good Friday, by commemorating His Passion, we recalled the deep love of Christ for each of us and His obedience to follow the will of His Father. In our own lives, we are to follow His trust and confidence in God’s will for us, if we wish to be at peace and find real fulfillment in life. The ratification and acceptance of the sacrifice that Christ made is witnessed to by the fact that God the Father raised Him up to reconcile us to Him for all eternity. As Christ’s resurrection is proclaimed, we are told of God’s desire to be with us today and for all eternity.
This year at the Easter Vigil, we read the Resurrection story from the Gospel of Matthew. During the Lenten Retreat, that Fr. Rosica gave to our parish community this Lent, he emphasized a significant aspect of Matthew’s Resurrection story: this was the importance of rolling the stone away from the tomb. At first, the women who went to the tomb did not know how they would roll the stone away from the tomb. They did not know if they could do it. However, when they arrived at the tomb, the stone had been rolled away. It is significant that in order for them to discover the new life to be announced by the tomb, they had to come out of themselves and risk that trip to the grave in order to assist their friend Jesus. It was only through the risk to help another that they discovered the new life that was to be offered to them. Easter is a time for all of us to risk allowing God to roll the stone away from the tombs that might be holding us hostage from living lives of Christian love and service. As part of the Jesus revolution that is so badly needed in our lives, we must invite Jesus to roll the stone out of the way and to take away our fears about loving others.
I frequently spoke during the pandemic about how one of my favorite images during the pandemic was the stained-glass window in our choir loft. It portrays the image of the story that we hear proclaimed at the Masses on Easter Sunday morning from the Gospel of John, as John and Peter come to the empty tomb. In the history of all humanity there has never been better news then that announced by the empty tomb. The empty tomb announces that death has been destroyed and God has loved us so much that He has prepared a place for us with Him in Heaven for all eternity. And yet, despite the Good News that is announced by the empty tomb, as John and Peter look into the tomb, in the stained-glass window in our choir loft, it holds a mysterious darkness, indicating that we cannot know the way that God has prepared for us; we must walk by faith. Even though God is with us through His victory for all eternity, He still leaves us free to walk by faith and to respond to His love.
In the coming weeks, leading up to the celebration of Pentecost, we will hear how Jesus’ frightened disciples, who isolated and locked themselves away for fear, were slowly transformed by God’s love to be His loving presence in the world. As they realized what Christ had done for them, and celebrated the Eucharist in His presence, they realized how much He had loved them, and were able to set aside their fear, in order to be transformed into His living Body the Church. Each Sunday, we are invited to celebrate the same Eucharist, and deepen in our awareness of God’s love for us, so that we too might be transformed and set free to be His Church. On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus celebrated the First Eucharist with His disciples to help them overcome their fear and isolation, so that they might live for others. This is the same reason that the Church continues to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday and that Christ has called us to do so in memory of Him. The Lord intends His love to set us free and to make each one of us a part of the Jesus Revolution. As Jesus’s love is the reason that motivates us to follow Him in the Jesus Revolution, the Sunday Eucharist is the food by which we are to be nourished and set free to live this call to love each week.
May this Easter be a blessed time for all of us to celebrate that Jesus is the love that the world so desperately longs for to free it from hatred, fear, sin and isolation. Let us trust Him to roll the stone away from our hearts to set us free to live the life of discipleship to which we are called. The Jesus Revolution that the world so desperately needs begins with each of us accepting God’s love for us and allowing it to set us free to follow Christ. In this freedom, we are to be sent into the world, like the first disciples to help transform it and free it of hatred and sin, as His disciples sent to lovingly announce a “Jesus Revolution.”
Happy Easter to you and your families.
Fr. Michael McGourty is Pastor of St. Peter’s Church in downtown Toronto.