In the early Church, those newly baptized at Easter received white baptismal robes that would be worn at Mass each day of Easter Week. The Sunday after Easter was therefore called Dominica in Albis Depositis ("Sunday in Setting Aside the White Garments"). This serves as a reminder to us all that the Easter season was originally a special season for the newly baptized, a time for them to “process” (as we might say nowadays) their Easter experience.
One of the ways they did that - and the rest of the Church still does that at Easter Time - is through the daily reading of the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel according to Luke. It continues the story after the Risen Lord’s ascension and is Luke’s account of the experience of the apostolic Church and of its growth & expansion – an experience summed up in the title of a certain children’s book version of Acts that came out some 20 or so years ago, called Good News Travels Fast.
Today’s 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 4:32-35] describes the life of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Of all the things that might have been mentioned (many of which are mentioned elsewhere), 2 aspects of the life of those 1st Christians are emphasized: first, the powerful witness of the apostles to the reality of the resurrection, and, second, the dramatic transformation in people’s behavior that resulted from that and then in turn became itself a powerful form of witness.
The prominence of the apostles in this account reflects their prominence in the early Church, not only as those chosen by Jesus to be among his closest companions during his lifetime but also as those designated by the Risen Christ to be witnesses that the same Jesus who had lived and died was now risen from the dead and to proclaim this message to the entire world.
The power of that witness was demonstrated for all the world to see not only in the exciting and miraculous deeds done by and among the 1st Christians but also - and especially – by their way of life. In a world torn by conflict and division, the community of believers strove to be of one heart and mind. In a world divided between rich and poor, between “haves” and “have nots,” no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.
As the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church represent our link back across time to the Apostolic Church, of whose faith we are the inheritors and of whose witness we are the beneficiaries. As successors of the apostolic college and members of the world-wide College of Bishops, the bishops of the Church also represent our link – one local church to another – uniting us across space as well as time with believers of every race, language, nation, and way of life.
The world in which we live seems overall to be much more characterized by doubt and cynicism than by faith and hope. All the more necessary, then, is the living witness of the Church to the presence of the Risen Christ in our midst and his continued action in the world through his Body, the Church. In the world in which we now live, it is division – not unity – that remains fundamental to the human condition. Social, economic, ethnic, linguistic, national, and generational divisions form the structural fabric of human relations. All the more necessary, then, is the living witness of the Church to a new order of relationships linking people and communities of every race, language, nation, and way of life – challenging us all, individually and collectively, to live as changed people because of the presence of the Risen Christ in our midst, as witnessed by his continued action in the world through his Body, the Church.
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, April 15, 2012