As we continue through the Easter season, today’s readings illuminate the implications and salvation that come from Christ’s suffering on the cross. As we continue to suffer hardships related to Covid-19, the readings offer guidance to help us endure during this difficult time.
You have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. (1 Pt 2:21)
What can you do to endure during periods of suffering?
How can you support people who face challenges and hardships?
If you are suffering, do you recognize and reach out to people for support?
In the Gospel from John, Jesus teaches using a metaphorical short story. He compares his followers to sheep and himself to a gate that protects them. Jesus characterizes himself as a barrier against corruption and an entryway to salvation and eternal life: “I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” As the passage continues, Jesus also calls himself the good shepherd who sacrifices his life for his sheep.
The first reading from Acts provides directives for what Christ’s flock should do: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Belief in salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection is connected with personal responsibility and ritual action. Repentance requires an acknowledgement of failings, an openness to forgiveness and a commitment to reform. Baptism provides a cleansing of sin and initiation into the community. These actions prepare converts physically and spiritually to encounter God through the Holy Spirit. At this point in Acts, the apostles have already received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Today’s reading depicts Peter inviting converts into the community of faith and affirming the ability of all people to receive the Holy Spirit.
The second reading from 1 Peter reflects on the suffering that can come with being in the Christian community. The text is part of a passage, starting at 1 Pt 2:18, that has unfortunately been used to justify slavery, a reading that must be condemned as it supports an immoral institution. Read properly, the second reading can provide some level of comfort during a time of suffering by offering Christ’s suffering as a model. The agony that Christ felt while being crucified illustrates the power of endurance. Even as Christ suffered an unjust crucifixion, he endured this treatment and did not retaliate against those who caused him pain. Like John, 1 Peter incorporates the sheep and shepherd metaphors to explain how Christ suffers for his flock.
Over these recent months, we have seen many people suffering and dying because of Covid-19, and many others face the less visible suffering of isolation, anxiety and poverty. We can find some comfort in 1 Peter and try to endure our collective pain following the model of Christ, not retaliating against one another but instead facing our challenges while working for the common good. Also, we should always remember that many people around the world have suffered and continue to suffer forms of injustice and oppression not connected to this virus. Our gaze is rightfully focused on Covid-19. But we must not forget the marginalized and poor who have already been suffering and often bear a disproportionate share of this crisis. Following Christ requires us to maintain a commitment to all people, especially those most in need.