This Sunday is called “Shepherd Sunday” because of the readings.
The Gospel is from Jesus, the Perfect Shepherd, of course;
but the first reading and the second reading feature Saint Peter,
an imperfect shepherd.
And that’s what I am! That’s why I find Peter very consoling.
Since Jesus was able to work with him,
I am more confident he can work through me.
This Sunday – and this time of year –
is usually when our second graders come to Holy Communion
the first time. For you second-graders, I bet you’re nervous.
It’s going to be just fine!
Your parents and I will take good care of you.
You see, that’s our job. That’s what we do as shepherds.
Notice in the Gospel, Jesus talked about other people.
He mentioned a “thief” and a “robber” –
those are kind of the same thing – and he mentioned a “stranger.”
And Jesus’ point is, he is not any of those things.
Sometimes people think God wants to take things from us.
To take our freedom or to take away things we like to do.
The truth is, Jesus only takes away what hurts us.
Above all, he takes our sins away, otherwise, they will kill us.
Jesus is no thief! He doesn’t steal anything. He gives.
And right here, this is why it is absolutely necessary
to know that the Holy Eucharist is not a mere symbol,
and it absolutely is not merely bread or wine.
Actually, when the priest stands at the altar,
and Jesus speaks through the priest,
the bread and wine cease to exist.
In their place are Jesus’ own Body and Blood.
And I was going to say, here is why that is so essential:
Because of what I just said:
Jesus doesn’t come to steal; he comes to give.
And isn’t it obvious that there’s a world of difference
between saying Jesus gives us bread and wine – versus,
Jesus gives us his own Body and Blood?
Anyone can give you a snack; or a symbol – like a picture.
But that’s not what the Eucharist is.
Jesus gives each of us his whole, entire self.
So when you and I share Holy Communion –
in faith, in a state of grace –
then there simply is nothing else to receive.
Jesus giving himself means, he gives everything!
On Christmas, we all love to get lots of presents, right?
It’s wonderful to find yet another one under the tree.
But imagine getting a gift that was so amazing, so awesome,
you didn’t even want any other gift after that!
That’s what the Holy Eucharist is! Because the Eucharist is Jesus.
Boys and girls, I want to thank you.
You don’t realize how much the rest of us need to be here with you.
We need to be reminded of how wonderful this Gift is.
Your good example today reminds us not to take this for granted.
Not to be casual or sloppy when we take part.
The rest of us need to follow your good example.
You know lots of people are praying for you.
I ask you to pray for me, and the rest of us,
that each of us will hunger for Jesus the way you do.
And, I want you to know that as important as today is,
it isn’t your First Communion that matters the most.
No: it’s your last Communion.
What we want is to receive Jesus in the Eucharist
at the end of our life here, then close our eyes,
and when we reopen them, we see Jesus!
Of course, none of us knows when that last communion will happen.
So we keep coming. Sunday after Sunday.
You and I need help to stay on track.
And we don’t want to treat Jesus as a stranger.
How can we not keep coming, for the greatest of Gifts?