Sunday, 10 April 2016

Easter Week 3 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

There is a well known Italian wine from Montefiascone, near Viterbo, called 'Est, Est, Est'. It gets its name, so the story goes, from a German bishop who sent one of his retinue ahead of him to scout for wines, writing 'Est' on a door where he found a good one and 'Est, Est' wherever he found a very good one. The wine of Montefiascone was given three stars by the scout, 'Est, Est, Est', confirming for the bishop that the wine of this region was more than very good.

We know from the Bible that the word of three witnesses confirms something as definitive, complete, and confirmed beyond doubt. Where something is said, or done, 'again and again and again', we can be sure of it. The evidence of two or three witnesses is needed to sustain a charge, we read in the Book of Deuteronomy (17:6; 19:15) and this requirement continues in the law of the new Israel, the Church (Matthew 18:16). When Samuel is called three times things become absolutely clear to the priest Eli who is taking care of him (1 Samuel 3). Three times Jesus returned to the disciples during the agony in the garden (Mark 14; Matthew 26) and Peter's vision at Joppa is given three times (Acts 10).  This may also be the meaning of Paul's statement that he asked the Lord 'three times' to take away the weakness that had become a thorn in his side (2 Corinthians 12). It is unlikely that he means it literally, that he asked three times and then no more, but rather that he prayed 'again, and again, and again' until finally realising something about God's grace.

Peter's weakness in the face of Jesus' betrayal is confirmed by his threefold denial and in today's gospel he is, famously, given the opportunity to undo that denial with a threefold profession of his love for Jesus (John 21). Just as he had said 'no' to three questions put to him during the passion, now he says 'yes' to the question Jesus puts to him three times, 'do you love me more than these others do'? And this happened 'the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead'.

We are told in the First Letter of Saint John that three witnesses testify to the work of the Risen Lord in the Church, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and that these three agree (1 John 5:8). Water and blood flowed from the side of Jesus as he lay dead on the cross and we know from his gospel that this moment is of particular importance for John (John 19:34). The Spirit is the third witness, sealing the testimony of the other two. Together they refer to baptism, the Eucharist, and charity, the sacramental and spiritual life of the Christian community. This is the most powerful witness in the world to the new life that flows from the resurrected Lord: a community living by the new law, sharing the new life of faith and love that is sealed by the Spirit of God.

The Spirit himself is the third, the love that completes the Blessed Trinity, the seal, the kiss, the breath, the bond uniting the Father and the Son. The threefold so often mentioned in the Bible - testifying, confirming, making definitive - is a sign pointing to the threefold unity of God. In relation above all to the Father, the Son and the Spirit,  the mystery of the Divine Life revealed in the mystery of the Son's death, we can say 'est, est, est': it is good, it is very good, it is super-abundantly excellent.

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