Over the past few weekends, we’ve seen many of our second graders get to do something so amazingly awesome — Receive their First Holy Communion! I for one was so thrilled to see so many of you come forward — in suits and flowing white dresses — to receive Jesus for the very first time. It was so beautiful!
As I was praying with the Scriptures for this morning’s mass, it dawned on me: Whether today was your second, third, or maybe even fourth Holy Communion… This was the first time we could all come together for Mass where all this year’s First Communicants were able to come forward and receive the Holy Eucharist. We are closer together now than we ever have been. We are joined together as a family in a powerful way. That’s what happens in the Holy Eucharist — We are made One Body. Our unity as Christians, our one-ness as God’s family is made possible when we come together and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. I’d like you all to think about that — We are united in the Eucharist. Nothing can separate us from each other or from Jesus if we remain in Him, if we keep coming back to Holy Communion week after week… growing closer and closer to God each time.
This is why I believe our Gospel passage this morning is so appropriate.
You remember the story, right? Jesus has already risen from the dead. Peter and a couple of the other apostles were out fishing… when all of a sudden St John sees the Lord on the beach. He cries out “It is the Lord!” — and right away Peter jumps into the water and swims all the way back to the shore to greet Jesus. And what’s the Lord doing when he gets there? Cookin’ breakfast!
After eating, Peter and Jesus have this absolutely amazing conversation that we just heard in the Gospel: Jesus asks Peter a very important question over and over and over — “Peter, do you love me?” Peter is confused. He responds: “Yes Lord, you know that I love you!”
Then Jesus answers with a command: “Feed my sheep.”
This happens three times, and many theologians point to this moment as God giving Peter a chance to “un-do” his three denials of Jesus. Remember Peter rejected Jesus on the night he was arrested, saying three times “I don’t know him.” Here, Christ is saying: “Ok Peter, here’s your chance to hit the “un-do” button and be healed: Do you love me? Yes. Do you love me? Yes. Do you love me? Yes. What does this conversation teach us about Holy Communion?
Every time we come forward to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and hear those words “The Body of Christ” … “The Blood of Christ” … Jesus is asking us the same question he once asked Peter: “Do you love me?” Our Amen is the same as “Yes Lord! You know that I love you!”
Of course, God already loves us. That’s the great thing about the Lord — We don’t have to worry whether or not He cares about us. We don’t ever need to convince Him to love us. He’s absolutely on our side, and we can’t do anything to make Him love us any more or less than He already does! He is Our Father — He loved us FIRST, and He continues to help us to love Him back with the support of His grace.
But what about Jesus’ response to Peter? “Feed my sheep.” What does that mean?
It means Jesus has a job for us — a mission!
When I asked one of the first communicants what it was like to receive Jesus for the very first time, she told me: “I felt like God was happy to be in me.”
That is profoundly true — God is happy to come to us, to be with us. But He doesn’t want us to just keep Him to ourselves. He comes to dwell inside us so we can then go feed others.
And I don’t just mean literally giving food to those who need it, though that’s certainly important. What I mean is something deeper: We feed Jesus’ sheep every time we love God and our neighbor. So when you put the video game away and have a conversation with your mom and dad instead, you’re feeding Jesus’ sheep. When you think of someone else before yourself, you’re feeding Jesus’ sheep. When you choose not to tease or make fun of someone, you’re feeding Jesus’ sheep. The Eucharist gives us the strength, the power, and the joy to do these kinds of things all the time.
So another huge congratulations to everyone who received their first Holy Communion over the last three weekends. I’m so happy for you all.
My prayer for you and for all of us is that when we approach Holy Communion, we realize that Jesus is asking us the only question that really matters in the end: “Do you love me?” If we want to be happy in this life and the next, our answer needs to be like Peter’s: “Yes Lord! You know that I love you.”