We’ve been given a passage from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel for our reflection today, the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Today, I’d like to reflect on the meaning of the Eucharist by focusing on one sentence from that passage: “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Let’s begin by noting that John’s gospel, the last to be written, breaks from the pattern and style of the other gospels. When we notice that John’s text is departing from the other gospels, we know that he’s doing so to clarify his personal insight into the Christ-event. So, with that in mind let’s move on.
You might think that we would begin this reflection on the Eucharist by looking at the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. However, John’s account of the Last Supper doesn’t include Jesus giving new meaning to bread and wine: “This is my body – This is my blood.” Rather, John devotes his account of the Last Supper to Jesus’ final teaching and prayer for his disciples. He transfers his Eucharistic teaching from the Last Supper setting to the sixth chapter of his gospel. This is how John unfolds the teaching.
He begins with an account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, clearly a Eucharistic image in all the Gospels. But John adds details not used by the other gospel writers to enrich his teaching. Also, keep in mind that by the time John’s gospel is written the Christian community is quite established and is reflecting on the meaning of the Eucharist and its effect on the community. This is reflected throughout chapter six.
John’s account notes a boy who volunteers five barley loaves, the bread of the poor, and two fish to help feed the crowd. This detail is a subtle reference to the kingdom of heaven as it’s described in Mathew’s Gospel. “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4) By noting this poor boy offering all the food he had, John is highlighting the giving nature of the Eucharistic Community as it’s described in the Acts of the Apostles. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts: 4:32)
This boy’s generosity is an essential component for this Eucharistic manifestation of the kingdom of heaven. It’s what the Christian Community is based upon. Five barley loaves and two fish, freely and lovingly given, can feed five thousand people. But this isn’t a one-time miracle. There are still twelve baskets of leftovers remaining to feed other crowds that are hungry, not only for food, but for the bread of life!
John then moves on to another scene. He shifts from the grass-filled field of the multiplication of the loaves and fish to the sea. The disciples get into their boat to sail to the other side of the lake. A storm suddenly strikes. They’re filled with fear but become even more fearful when they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. As he’s urging them not to be afraid, they suddenly realize that they’ve arrived safely at the shore.
Like the accounts of the resurrection and the transfiguration, the disciples recognize Jesus but also realize that he’s different. He has transcended time and space and the laws of nature. He can walk on water! His message is the same here on the stormy lake as it will be at the garden tomb. “Do not be afraid!” Fear has no place in the Eucharistic community because the risen-transfigured Christ is always with them, feeding them and banishing their fears.
As his narrative goes on, the crowd that had been fed with the loaves and fish the previous day find Jesus and his disciples on the other side of the lake. Jesus gives them an interpretation of the miracle they had witnessed. It’s during this teaching, called the Bread of Life Discourse, that Jesus proclaims to the crowd, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven” evokes the image of the manna that fed the Jewish people during their journey to the Promised Land. However, manna was only a symbol of what was to come. The “living bread from heaven” is the transfigured-resurrected Christ, whose living presence nourishes the community as it sows the seeds of the kingdom of God on earth.
When we eat this bread, we share in the divine life of the resurrected – transfigured Christ who lives forever. However, this heavenly bread isn’t magical food. A single bite of this bread doesn’t automatically transport us into the life of the eternal One. There’s much more to the Eucharist, “the living bread that came down from heaven.”
Jesus’ continues his explanation. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” This statement is so wonderful, and so essential to an understanding of the Eucharist. Christ is not only resurrected and transfigured; he’s, at the same time, profoundly bound to the earth. John stresses this idea by his use of the word “flesh,” sarx in Greek. This doesn’t mean just a human body. John would have chosen the Greek word “soma” if he meant merely “a body.” Sarx is flesh and blood – corruptible, like the carcass of a dead animal. John stresses this aspect of Christ quite graphically in his account of Thomas after the resurrection who declared to the other disciples who have been telling him that they had seen the risen Lord: “Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
John is teaching that the resurrected transfigured Lord is, at one and the same time, flesh and blood. He’s with the Father eternally, but in no way has he abandoned any of us. Christ, the bread of life, is the food of the Eucharistic community – a fragile, flesh and blood community. He’s the bread that came down from heaven, connecting the divine life to the world – offering it eternal life. We remind ourselves that while we live in this wonderful, still-evolving earth we have the mission to sow the seeds of the kingdom of heaven. We remind ourselves, today, that as his Eucharistic community we are the body of Christ.
I’m going to begin this week’s reflection by bringing into focus three quotes from the scriptures we’re reading today. In the first, Moses prays for his people as they are about to begin their journey to the Promised Land. In the second, Paul directs the Christians in Corinth to change their ways so that they may enjoy God’s gift of peace. In the Gospel, Jesus defines his mission and, in doing so, presents us with a new and radical vision of God. I encourage you to spend some time in personal reflection on these three sentences before you read my reflection. What feelings and thoughts do they bring up in you, today? After you’ve spent some time in reflection move on, and perhaps add my reflection to your own.
Exodus “If I find favor with you, O Lord, come along in our company. This is a stiffnecked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins and receive us as your own.”
Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Gospel of John “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through him.”
Many months ago, when it was first reported that government law enforcement along our Southern border was arresting and separating children from their families and putting them into cages, I stood in front of you during a Sunday Mass and admitted that I was so appalled by what I had seen on the news that I was rendered speechless. I only spoke for about a minute that day. All I could say was, “How could we have allowed this?”
Today nothing has changed for these unfortunate people. Children are still being separated and put into cages. The only thing that has changed is that these people have been generally forgotten by the American people. These children have been traumatized and, if they survive Covid19 as they’re imprisoned in their cages, will carry the trauma with them for the rest of their lives. All this hostility and torture just to fulfill a campaign promise made to white supremacists. I’m still asking, “How could we have allowed this?”
Now, after our entire nation has witnessed the sadistic nine-minute execution/ murder of George Floyd on national TV, millions of our fellow citizens are asking, “How could we have allowed this?” This is the most important question we’ve ever asked as a nation. That question is the beginning of a national examination of conscience. We don’t need to point fingers at anyone. We, each of us, first need to confess that, throughout our four-hundred year history, we have been complicit in racism and injustice by our communal silence.
We were complicit when the first slave ships were greeted at our harbors in 1619. We were complicit when the genocide of the indigenous people of America began. We were complicit in 1867 when the Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott vs. Sanford declared that black people, whether enslaved or free, were not included in the rights afforded to American citizens.
We were complicit when Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and placed in internment camps. We were complicit when we annihilated the population of two Japanese cities with atomic bombs. We were complicit when we dropped Agent Orange on the population of Vietnam for ten years.
We must confess that we’re a stiff-necked people. We don’t acknowledge that we’re the children of our history. We don’t acknowledge that the sins of our fathers and mothers rest heavy on our shoulders. We don’t agree with one another, and so we have no peace. We’ve lost our souls – personal and communal, and so we suffer the hell of inequality and injustice. We lack compassion for one another and so we can’t love – we can’t heal.
Today I pray that we, as a nation, may have the courage to begin the long and painfully difficult process of confessing the sins we have committed over the past four hundred years. We have to acknowledge that we must mend our ways. We have to begin healing our nation by working to heal each other’s wounds.
In the gospel Jesus tells us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” God’s love is always embracing us – saints and sinners alike that we might be saved. We need to reach out to the power of God’s love. We need the courage to be truthful about our past. We need to stoke up the courage to be truthful about our present. We need to trust the divine energy that can heal us. We need to envision the new world our scriptures prophesied. We need to move forward. Each and every one of us needs to hope again.
Today is a very special day for several reasons. First of all, it’s Pentecost. Secondly, it’s the Feast of the Visitation. Thirdly, it’s my 45 th anniversary of ordination. These three celebrations may, at first, seem disconnected, but in my mind and heart, they’re linked together in a wonderful way. So, I’ll draw my reflection today from all three.
Pentecost floods my personal, and our communal, imagination with images of power and transformation – a noise from the sky – a driving wind – tongues of fire ecstatic babbling. Let’s begin our reflection by remembering the great theophany on Mount Sinai, the day God spoke with Moses.
“There were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast…Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the Lord came down upon it, for the Lord came down upon it with fire…the trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him in thunder.” Power. Awe. The voice of God! Let’s continue with the images by recalling the first sentence of the bible. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” God spoke a command from within that mighty wind. With that single command, “Let there be light,” the darkness of chaos was replaced by the magnificent order of the cosmos.
Let’s not forget the moment Moses encountered God in fire. “Moses came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed…When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’”
Lastly, let’s remember what happened to Saul before he was anointed King of Israel. “When they were going from there to Gibeah, a band of prophets meet him (Saul), and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, so that he joined them in their prophetic state.” Ecstasy!
The account of Pentecost merges all these images. We recognize tremendous power and creative energy in the images of the loud noise from the sky and the mighty wind. We see the divine presence linking itself to the disciples through tongues of fire. We see the rush of the Spirit wash over them, throwing them into ecstasy. They begin to pray in unintelligible words – the language of the Spirit.
As I reflect on my fifty-two years of religious life, and forty-five years of parochial ministry, I can see all the elements of Pentecost manifesting themselves throughout those years. Of course, there wasn’t the great drama Moses experienced at Sinai, but that’s not to say that I didn’t experience a little theophany now and then.
In the course of five years of psychoanalysis I experienced several powerfully spiritual moments. Once, while lying on the analyst’s couch exploring an image I had in a dream, I was suddenly overtaken by a profound peace and an overwhelming sense of security. I knew, in the depths of my heart, for a few, seemingly eternal moments, that I was being held by God. I felt the comfort of a mother and a father. I felt absolute, unconditional love. This happened thirty years ago but, even today, when I sometimes speak about this dream, I weep with emotion just as I did that day on the analyst’s couch.
I’ve never fallen into an ecstasy but I know the Spirit was working on me when, on a pilgrimage, I cried for seven days while never experiencing a moment of sadness – only awe and gentle healing. I never saw anything. I never heard anything. I just felt the most gentle embrace of Love.
I’ve never heard God call out my name, but I can identify little whisperings and even nudges. The day I sat on the hill of the Areopagus in Athens looking across at the Pantheon, I was gifted a word of wisdom. I was twenty-four at the time. I had never seen anything so breathtakingly beautiful. The word came as I read St. Paul’s address to the members of the Areopagus. “Men of Athens…the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands.” I looked again at the beauty of that still magnificent temple. Little did I know at the time that I would be handed the task of restoring and maintaining a church building for twenty-one years of my life! That moment in Athens was a caution. I’ve thought back to that moment often. The Spirit was alerting me. There was to be more to my life than rebuilding and repairing. I was not to think of the church as a building. The Church was living people – good, bad, pleasant and unpleasant. The Church was the People of God ministering to me as I would minister to them.
This leads me to the third element of the day – the Feast of the Visitation. When Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she took a bet on God. She believed she could say yes to the unknown because she trusted God’s goodness and love. Her “yes” didn’t separate her from the world around her. It did just the opposite. It energized her to reach out in loving care to others. As soon as the angel departed, she immediately left her home to support Elizabeth for the remainder of her pregnancy.
I was very aware of the grace Mary received with her “yes” the day I was ordained. I had no idea of what the future might hold for me but I committed myself to say yes to whatever I would be asked to do. My yes brought blessings, challenges and sometimes suffering. But I can ditto Edith Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien.” I don’t regret a thing. Everything I’ve experienced had a purpose, either for me personally, or for the greater good. I’m thankful for my life and the ministry I’ve experienced.
I’ve brought up these simple but, to me, important Spirit moments to encourage you to reflect on your own history. What were some of your pivotal, Pentecost moments? The Pentecost event continues to unfold in each of our lives. As people of faith, it’s important to discern the Spirit’s activities because it strengthens us, and gives us the courage we need to live our personal mission. There’s a Pentecost waiting for us every day. Don’t be surprised by the loud sound from the sky, or the mighty wind, the fire of Divine love or a prayer prayed without words. We began as a Pentecost people. We will continue as a Pentecost people until “Christ is all in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
If there has ever been a time that we needed to hear an encouraging word it’s today. Well, this last Sunday of Easter is shouting out the word GLORY! through three wonderful scripture passages that I encourage you to read after you’ve read my reflection. Let’s be attentive to these words of encouragement.
The first scripture, from the Acts of the Apostles, is so simple that its message can be easily overlooked. It’s the conclusion of the account of the ascension. Jesus called the disciples together and instructed them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He then ascended to the Father. The disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem where they “devoted themselves to prayer.” The passage ends by naming the people who were gathered there: the eleven apostles, “together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
This image of the gathering in the upper room represents the Church in prayer, that day and throughout time. The community in Jerusalem was frightened, and at a loss for what to do next. Their patient waiting in prayer was their preparation for the coming glory. In a way, they were doing what we’re doing right now, and it formed them into a true community.
It’s ironic that in this time of quarantine and social distancing we’re closer, perhaps, then we’ve ever been. Concerned for each other’s welfare, we keep each other in mind. We reach out to assist each other with food or an encouraging phone call. It’s interesting how distancing is bringing us together on a deeper level. This spiritual connecting is, perhaps, the most powerful prayer we’ve ever raised. It’s the prayer leading us to glory. It’s the same prayer that prepared the early community for its mission.
The second scripture, taken from Peter’s letter, adds an unexpected twist to our reflection on glory. It speaks of suffering. Yet, the word “glory” is used three times in this tiny, three sentence passage. What does suffering have to do with glory? Here’s what Peter writes.
“Rejoice to the extent that you share in the suffering of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” This statement doesn’t focus solely on the cross. By not referring to the suffering of Jesus, but instead, the suffering of Christ, Peter is focusing our attention on the Christ who is past, present and future, and who carries the wounds of the crucifixion on his glorified body. His wounds connect with our wounds, and our wounds connect us with his resurrected glory. So much so, that Peter can write: “If you are insulted in the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Concluding his message, Peter writes: “Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” In a very real way, this reading is meant to encourage us in our struggle and suffering today. The wounded, resurrected Christ is walking with us through this trial. In fact, he’s wrapping us in his cloak of glory.
These thoughts of prayer and suffering bring us to the gospel passage. It’s taken from Jesus’ beautiful prayer at the Last Supper. In this short passage he uses the word “glory” five times!
Drawing near to his passion, he prays to his Father: “Give glory to your Son, so that your Son may glorify you.”
He goes on to pray that the Father “might give eternal life to all those the Father has given him”. His use of the word “eternal” has nothing to do with time – it’s a quality. Eternal life is the very life of the Eternal One – the life the Son shares with the Father.
Jesus continues. “I revealed your name to those you gave me out of this world.” Knowing someone’s name means to possess that person – to become one with that person. Later in the prayer he clearly says, “I pray that they may all be one, Father. May they be in us just as you are in me and I am in you.”
In his prayer at the Last Supper Jesus revealed the true meaning of glory – entering the Divine Light. We would be wrong to think of this as a reward after we die. This glory is offered to us every moment of our lives.
We’re in a time of global trial and suffering. You might ask why God did this to us. That’s an understandable question. But ultimately, who can know the mind of God. Let’s take this moment as an opportunity to reflect on Christ’s promise of glory – the union of all creation with wounded, resurrected Christ. If we link our suffering to his we’ll begin to see the light of glory.
Look all around you. Have you ever seen so many people caring for each other – risking their lives for each other – feeding each other supporting each other. God is a community of three persons. This pandemic is bringing us together in a way we’ve never imagined. We’re forming little, neighborhood communities – national communities and, yes, a global community. We’re learning to work together to heal and renew the world God gave us. Together, let’s take one step at a time always keeping in mind Christ’s promise of glory. “May they all be one, as we Father are one.”
Ironically, the Feast of the Ascension is the day we begin our decent back down to earth. For forty days we’ve been contemplating the meaning of resurrection, just as the disciples had been doing. The account in the Act of the Apostles tells us that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” He was imparting his final teachings to them while preparing them for life after his departure. Now, at the very moment of Jesus’ ascension, while the disciples were looking up into the sky, “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’”
The two men dressed in white are the two men who, in Luke’s gospel, spoke to the women who came to the tomb on the day of the resurrection. They asked a similar question of the women at the tomb as they later asked the disciples on the day of the ascension. “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?”
The two men in white are asking the women, and the disciples, to start thinking in a new way. Jesus has been raised from the dead and returned to the Father – he is Christ. They recognize Jesus, however, he’s different. He has a subtle body; he slips in and out of time and space. Doors don’t keep him out, but he’s not a spirit. He eats with them. In John’s gospel the resurrected Christ even makes breakfast for the apostles!
The questions of the two men dressed in white are an invitation to us to stop thinking in the old way when we believed that heaven was separated from earth. Think of the Easter Vigil service when we proclaim, “Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever…Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God.”
We so often listen to these words with our old ears – they only hear messages of doom and gloom – of an angry God demanding reparation for our mistakes. The message of resurrection is that heaven and earth are wedded! Christ himself manifests this in his body, a body that’s not bound by time and space, and yet carries his wounds. When Thomas put his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side he experienced the Christ event, immediately crying out, “My Lord and my God.” In Jesus Christ – heaven is united to earth. In Christ we are made whole and carry God within us.
But we need assistance to begin thinking in the new way – the way of resurrection. We need the Spirit’s assistance to claim the Christ in us – to do what Christ did – to love the way God loves. So, we turn our eyes to Pentecost. Stop looking among the dead for one who is alive. Stop looking to the sky to see where Jesus went. Christ is alive and present to us. Christ didn’t go anywhere. He’s in heaven and on earth. He’s is you and in me. In the Christ in us, heaven is wedded to earth.
“I will not leave you orphans.” These are Jesus’ words to me today. They’re so reassuring to hear. Residing in New York City during this terrible pandemic, I see Jesus’ promise coming through loud and strong every day.
Living across the street from Lenox Hill Hospital, I see the make-shift morgue on the street outside. Every day it reminds me of the sacrificial love of the doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, aids, janitors, and the food service staff who work with the infected every day.
When I hand my groceries to the cashier, I see Jesus’ sacrificial love in action. When I take a train or bus I thank God for these wonderful people endangering their lives every day to keep me moving along. When I get a Fresh Direct delivery, I pray for the wonderful soul who’s making sure I’m fed. When I receive the mail or order a pizza, I hear Jesus’ promise: “I will not leave you orphans.”
I try not to forget the farmers who make sure I get the food I need. I try not to forget the factory workers who make the things I need to function day to day. I grieve for the men and women who died at the Tyson Food plant in Iowa, the unseen and unappreciated heroes. They poured out their lives for me.
I want the economy to come back strong again. But whose economy will it be? These unsung heroes are the poorest paid people in the nation. Their economy hasn’t been changed at all it has only gotten more dangerous to drive the bus or deliver the pizza.
These men and women are maintaining the foundation of my society while I, safe and privileged, wait for everything “to get back to normal.” When that day comes these heroes will remain unappreciated and economically fragile.
As unjust and cruel as our world is, I look to these little people, misused and unappreciated, for inspiration. Whether they know it or not, they’re following Jesus’ commandment because they’re pouring themselves out in love every day. Every day, they whisper to me the great promise: “I will not leave you orphans.”
Father most loving,
thank you for giving me
an opportunity to reassess my commitment
as a disciple of Jesus.
I have for so long forgotten
your “little people.”
May they forgive me,
and may you forgive me.
I was consumed by my desire
for safety and comfort and status.
I’ve forgotten that only love matters –
love that manifests itself in sacrifice.
Thank you for your promise today,
“I will not leave you orphans.”
Acts 6:1-7 1 Peter 2:4-9 John 14:1-12
We’ve just passed the midpoint between Easter and Pentecost, and so we begin to turn our focus from the meaning of the resurrection to the role of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. But before we turn our gaze toward Pentecost let’s review the message of the last four weeks.
On Easter Sunday we pondered the empty tomb through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Peter looked into the tomb and was confused because it was obvious to him that the body had not been stolen by enemies because the burial cloths were neatly folded and placed at either end of the burial slab. What happened to Jesus? John looked into the tomb after Peter. The gospel tells us that when he looked in “he saw and believed.” What did he believe? Mary Magdalene was so taken up by her personal grief that she didn’t recognize Jesus who had appeared to her outside the tomb. He had to called her name to wake her up to the new reality of his resurrection. Why did Mary need to have her name called before she recognized Jesus? These individual reactions serve as an invitation to each of us to explore our own faith response to the resurrection.
The gospel of the second Sunday of Easter brought us to the upper room on Easter Sunday where the disciples were in hiding. Jesus appeared to them, showed them his wounds, and then breathed his Spirit into each of them. Overjoyed, they reported the event to Thomas who wasn’t there when Jesus had appeared. Thomas refused to believe them. The following Sunday they were all together, including Thomas. Jesus again appeared. He asked Thomas to touch his hands and his side. He was real. He was alive. Thomas responded with a profound profession of faith, “My Lord, and my God!” This is an important lesson for us. The account is warning us not to abandon our connection the faith Community because it’s in that context that we’ll come to see him.
The third Sunday of Easter reinforced the lesson from the previous week. The Gospel gave the account of two disciples fleeing Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection. They had heard that some people claimed to have seen Jesus, but the claim wasn’t enough to keep them in the city. They were too afraid. They decided to seek safety in Emmaus, a town outside Jerusalem. A stranger met up with them as they walked along. It was Jesus. But like Mary Magdalene, they didn’t recognize him. In the course of the journey he explained all the prophecies about the Messiah to them. They later said that as they conversed, something in them began to respond to him at a very deep level. It peaked when they sat down to eat with him. When he broke the bread and blessed it, they recognized him. Jesus then disappeared. Only the bread that he broke remained with them. They immediately returned to Jerusalem. They told the group of disciples that “He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” Two weeks in a row we have been reminded of the importance of the Sunday gathering – the Eucharistic assembly. Thomas met the risen Lord at the Sunday gathering. The two disciples sat down for the Sunday meal and recognized him when he broke the break. The scriptures are clear. We will meet him in our communal celebration of the Eucharist.
The fourth Sunday shifted our view from the resurrection to the cross. In the first reading, we listened to Peter’s Pentecost speech when he told the crowd to look at the cross to discover how to “follow in his footsteps.” In the Gospel of that day, Jesus declared that he is the good shepherd. He invited us to follow him so that we could “have life and have it more abundantly.”
The scriptures for this Sunday teach us that by forgiving those who “do not know what they are doing,” by mourning with those crying “my God why have you abandoned me,” by promising the hopeless that, “today you will be with me in paradise,” we mount the cross with him. At that moment the glory of the resurrection will begin to shine within us and on the world around us.
This week, the fifth week of Easter, we witness Jesus beginning to prepare his disciples, and that means us, for his return to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He began with words of encouragement. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He’s speaking to the disciples who are seated around him, but he’s reaching out – way past them. Recall what he said to Thomas the Sunday after the resurrection. “Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” This teaching is meant for us – you and me. So….
Let’s put our minds in the right place before we go on with this teaching. When we read about the resurrection we might sometimes think – I wish I could have been with those disciples, so that I could have seen him. I wish I could have eaten with him. I wish I could have spoken with him. We have to be careful. That voice speaking inside us is an old voice. It’s the voice from the past, from the pre-resurrection days. It comes from that old part of us that needed to be redeemed. In the New Testament, we hear that voice in those who need to see signs before they believe. Again, remember Thomas, the spokesperson for the old voice. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Isn’t all his doubt coming from that old part of him? We’re in a new time, the time of the Spirit. So, let’s begin to listen to this teaching in a new way.
Jesus begins by telling us, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” If you’re saying to yourself, “This is so encouraging. Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven – after I die!” you’re speaking to yourself with the old voice. That’s not what Jesus is saying at all! Jesus’ teachings are always about the NOW. They don’t look back to the past. They don’t look into the future.
Jesus is describing the time of the Spirit. He’s teaching the disciples about a new NOW. Speaking of his departure he tells them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus isn’t returning to the Father alone. He’s bringing us with him. In fact, he’s bringing all of creation with him, every thing and person from the very first moment of the Big Bang.
If we truly believe this, the conclusion of his teaching will have a profound influence on our lives as Christians. “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
We have so much to think about as we begin to refocus our sights on the presence of the Spirit in us. Jesus continues with this teaching in next Sunday’s Gospel passage. But for now, I suggest that you return to this week’s passage in prayerful meditation. Silence the old voice within you. Listen to the new voice as you revisit the passage. Make sure you allow Jesus to teach you directly. Don’t think about the past or the future. Place yourself in the NOW and remember: “Blessed (how happy) are those who have not seen and have believed.”
REFLECTION: Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 2:20b-25 John 10:1-10 Luke 24
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 2:20b-25 John 10:1-10 Luke 24
We’re going to focus our reflection on the first two readings of the day. The first is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s part of the account of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit overshadowed the disciples who had been in hiding since the death of Jesus. It was such a noisy event that people outside on the street thought the disciples were carrying on because they were drunk! They were, in a way. They were drunk with the Holy Spirit.
Filled with the Spirit, Peter stepped out of hiding and delivered a powerful address to the crowd. He didn’t mince his words. He stared right into the crowd. “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom your crucified.” Strangely, the crowd wasn’t angered by his words. Instead, they were “cut to the heart,” and asked Peter, “What are we to do, brothers?”
Peter answered them without any hesitation. “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 Holy Spirit…Save yourself from this corrupt generation.”
I’m going to leave this scene from Acts for a moment to continue to the second reading for the day which is taken from Peter’s First letter. In this portion of the letter, Peter expands on what he declared on Pentecost by defining what it means to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
He writes: “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” Interesting. He says that “Christ suffered for you” but he doesn’t say that Christ suffered to appease his angry Father who was offended by our sins. Instead he’s saying that Christ suffered to show us how to suffer – “to follow in his footsteps.” We’re at the heart of Peter’s teaching here! However, we have to think of Jesus and the cross in a new way in order to understand it.
He uses the word, “Christ.” A word we use frequently, often connecting it to Jesus (Christ, the Greek translation for the Hebrew word for Messiah, opr “the anointed one.”) The readings today are inviting us to consider a fuller meaning of this word. I’m going to step away from the scriptures for a moment to listen to what two modern day mystics said about the meaning of “Christ.”
Fr. Teillard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist who died in 1955, reflecting on the Christian teaching that God is love, wrote: “God’s first ‘idea’ was to become manifest – pour out divine, infinite love into finite visible forms.” Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan theologian and spiritualwriter, extended Fr. Teillard de Chardin’s idea in a reflection he gave in 2018. “‘The Big Bang’ is now our scientific name for that idea; and ‘Christ’ is our Christian theological name. Both are about love and beauty exploding outward in all directions.” With their insight in mind, let’s ask ourselves a very important question. Who is Jesus “Christ?”
Jesus is the union of the human and the divine at a particular time and in a particular place – Jesus of Nazareth. “Christ” is the eternal union of matter and spirit – what Fr. Teillard de Chardin referred to as “God’s first idea.” Peter, in his Pentecost address, and in his First Letter, isn’t calling us to be like Jesus. He’s challenging us to be “Christ,” as Jesus was “Christ.”
Let’s start putting all this together. In the Pentecost address Peter asked the people “to repent and be baptized.” Repent is a very bad translation of the word “metanoia.” For English speakers, repent means to stop sinning. Metanioa means to take a new direction in life. To be baptized doesn’t mean to have one’s sins washed away. It means we redirect our lives by immersing ourselves in the “Christ” mystery, the mystery of death and resurrection.This is clearly articulated in the prayer we use to bless the baptismal water. “May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life.”
Peter’s invitation to “repent and be baptized” is a call to redirect our lives toward the “Christ” mystery. He’s teaching us that when we make the commitment to walk the way of “Christ,” we “save ourselves from this corrupt generation.” We see the Divine Love in all people and all things.
The crucified Jesus was tortured, humiliated, abandoned and shamed, and yet he prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” His desperate cry, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” embraces all of suffering creation in the healing arms of Divine Love. “Today, you will be with me in paradise” is an invitation to every person, good and bad alike, to take a new path, to walk away from the horror that “this corrupt generation” inflicts on itself and God’s earth. It calls everyone to begin to walk the road towards resurrection. Peter is teaching us today that when we see the world through the eyes of the crucified “Christ,” we begin to “follow in his footsteps.” We have begun to “put on Christ.” We have begun to attach “Christ” to our name.
REFLECTION: Luke 24:13-35
Throughout the Easter Season we reflect on the meaning of the resurrection. Today, the third Sunday of Easter asks us to reflect on a very interesting account of the resurrection. It takes place on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, but it doesn’t take place at the tomb nor does it take place in Jerusalem. Jesus appears to two disciples who are fleeing Jerusalem. They’re walking along the road leading to Emmaus, a village, seven miles outside Jerusalem. They, like many of Jesus’ disciples, are fearful that the religious authorities will soon be seeking to arrest them.
They’re not walking along in silence. They’re engaged in deep and distressful conversation about what had happened to Jesus. He was a great prophet. He proved it in both his teaching, and in the wonderful acts he performed. So many people were hoping that he was the one who would redeem Israel making it an independent nation again. Ironically, their own chief priests had handed him over to the occupying authorities, demanding that he be crucified.
As was common in those days, another traveler walked up to them and joined them. It was always safer to travel in groups. When he asked what they had been discussing, they looked at him as if he were from another planet. Everybody knew what happened over the past few days. It was strange but, even though they were speaking with him, they didn’t recognize him. It was Jesus himself who was walking along with them.
So, they told him about Jesus the Nazarene and explained how he died. They added events that had just taken place. They told him of the report of some women who had gone to the tomb earlier in the day and had seen a vision of angels who announced that Jesus was alive. Others went to the tomb and found it just as the women had described, but the body of Jesus wasn’t there.
Here the account begins to move beyond mere reporting. The traveler took over the conversation with a bombshell of an announcement. “O how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into his glory?” Then, as they continued along the way, he taught them. “Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.”
Let’s take a moment to digest what the account has told us before we move on to its dramatic conclusion. This is an account of the resurrection. It involves two disciples who don’t yet know about, nor understand, the resurrection. Notice, there are two of them traveling together along the way. By noting that there are two, Luke is harkening back to another event in his Gospel: Jesus sending out seventy-two men, two by two, on a missionary excursion. He gives them clear instruction as to their mission. “Whenever you go into a town and are made welcome, eat what is set before you, heal the sick in that town, and say to the people there, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’”
These two people have abandoned the mission – they’re fleeing. They’ve forgotten all they’ve learned from Jesus. They’ve even forgotten their own scriptures – the books of Moses and the Prophets. Jesus reminds them of all they’ve forgotten. As he does so, we’re told at the end of this account, their hearts were burning! Remember that powerful comment Jesus had made: “I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49) Here it is! With their minds opened to the deepest meaning of the scriptures, Jesus, their companion and fellow traveler, set their hearts on fire! But the account isn’t over.
“As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”
These two disciples, enlightened by the scripture and their hearts aflame with the divine fire, are joined at table with this truly marvelous man. He assumes the role of the host. “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” This was what Jesus did with them many times. This is what he did with them the night before he died. They looked at each other. This is Jesus!
In that split-second it takes to catch each other’s eye, he had disappeared. “So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, ‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two recounted what had happened on the way, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
If you think this account is the end of the story, you’re so wrong. This is mystory. This is your story. The early Christians were called “the followers of the way.” We’re still walking along the way those two disciples traveled.
Maybe we’re fleeing because we fear the cross. Maybe we’re confused by the empty tomb. But the account is assuring us that he’s walking with us whether we recognize him or not. He’s with us when we venture into the empty tomb of our hearts. He’s with us when our hearts begin to burn with the divine flame.
But two things are for sure. We’re still discovering him in the scriptures. We’re still breaking the bread. The moment will come when our hearts will burn and we will recognize him, even for a brief moment, in the breaking of bread.
My Dear Parishioners and Friends,
The parish office, our communications hub, is shut down. The office’s source of energy, Angelica Contreras, is at home, keeping herself, and us, safe. I don’t have the incredible facility she has in working with Publisher, the program from hell used by our bulletin company. So – we can’t get a bulletin out to you until she returns. Our cook, Marlon McPhail, is presently in quarantine in his home after a difficult two-week battle in the hospital. We’re so happy that he’s coming along well. We’re glad that Angelica is keeping safe.
However, there is someone who manages our website, Angela Boccia. She posted this reflection for me. Thanks Angela!
REFLECTION: Luke 20:19-29
We’ve just “celebrated” Easter. No one went to church. No one wore fantastical hats and walked up and down Fifth Avenue. Kids didn’t fight over chocolate bunny rabbits. Families didn’t gather for lunch. One of the brothers who lives here at St. Jean’s lamented, “I never in my life thought I’d experience an Easter like this.” So true! Whoever though we’d experience an Easter hiding behind closed doors, walking the streets wearing face masks and shunning the people around us.
Though we can’t gather safely, we do have a gospel passage we can privately ponder this Sunday after Easter – the account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb and Thomas’ disbelief. Strangely, the darkness we’re experiencing as individuals, as a city and as a world community, can assist our understanding of this resurrection passage.
The account from the Gospel of John is given in two parts. Part one takes place in the pre-dawn darkness very early Sunday, the morning of the resurrection. The Passover moon was setting. Mary Magdalene went to the garden tomb where Jesus had been laid to rest and discovered that the tomb was empty.
She ran back to the disciples who were in hiding in Jerusalem. Peter and John immediately ran back to the tomb with her. Peter looked inside and was puzzled. It was obvious that the body of Jesus hadn’t been stolen. All the wrappings that had been used to cover his body were neatly folded up and lying on the shelf where the body had been. What happed to his body? John too looked in, “and believed.” We’re not told what he believed. But there is a by-the-way comment in the account: “They still did not understand the scripture which said that he must rise from death.” Peter andJohn went back to the other disciples leaving Mary at the tomb.
Weeping and alone, Mary bent over to look into the tomb again. What was she thinking? What was she expecting to see? Did she think that she, Peter and John had somehow managed to not see his body?
But the tomb wasn’t empty when she looked in. There were “two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus hand been, one at the head and the other at the feet.” The strangest conversation followed. “Why are you weeping?” She answered them as if what she was seeing was perfectly normal, and their question quite reasonable. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Evidently that was the end of the conversation because Mary stood up and turned away from the tomb. Through her tears she saw a man standing near her. He asked her the same question as the angels. “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener she accused him of taking the body. “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” The most important moment of her entire life then took place. He spoke her name, “Mary.” He spoke it with such tenderness and understanding that it reached into her soul. It touched her heart with light and fire. She was overcome with love. She recognized him! Tears still streaming down her face and her throat tight with emotion she managed to speak one word, “Master.”
She had fallen to her knees and was holding on to him. He told her not to cling to him and gave her a mission. “Go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.” It seems strange that Mary would have immediately left him to return to the disciples. But she did.
Mary related his message. The group spent the entire day thinking about what she said, discussing it with one another. What did John, who had looked into the tomb “and believed,” have to share with the others? What else did Mary share with them?
We shift to part two of the account which takes place at sunset that same Sunday. The disciples are still in hiding. Earlier that morning, when Mary had told them that she had seen Jesus and related his message to them, Thomas wasn’t with the group at that time. A long day of discussion and confused emotions was coming to a close. As the sun was setting fear began to take hold of the group.
Suddenly Jesus was with them. Each one immediately recognized him. He was vibrant and strong…but…wounded. The crucifixion had left its mark on him. His hands and feet were pierced, and his side bore the wound of the soldier’s lance. He immediately greeted them with Shalom. Then he did to them what he had done to Mary; he sent them on a mission. “As the Father sent me so I am sending you.” Then he went up to each of them, breathing his Spirit into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” He vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Late that night Thomas returned to the group. We’re not told where he was or what he was doing. It suffices to know that he was outside where it was dark. As soon as he entered there was mayhem as they all began shouting that they had seen the Lord. Thomas, shocked by their madness, quieted them down by dramatically declaring to them, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands, and can put my fingers into the holes that the nails made in his hands, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe!” An unsettled silence blanketed the room. The scene ends.
The account then brings us to the same room the following Sunday. The entire group was there, including Thomas. Again, Jesus was suddenly standing with them. Again, he greeted the group with a simple “Shalom.” He then turned to Thomas. “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand. Put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” Awestruck, Thomas then made a profession of faith. “My Lord and my God.” With that, John’s account of the resurrection ends.
There are five characters who carry the teaching in this two-part resurrection account: Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, the group of disciples and Thomas. Each one’s experience of Jesus was different, but each one saw Jesus while it was dark. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in the predawn darkness as did Peter and John. Jesus appeared twice to the group in the evening. Thomas left the darkness of the night to join the gathered disciples. What does the darkness have to do with these five?
In the Gospel of John, darkness is that energy which is in constant conflict with the divine energy, symbolized by light. In his prologue to the Gospel he announces this theme so clearly. “All that came to be had life in him, and that light was the light of the human race, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.”
Mary Magdalene fell into the darkness that’s spawned by despair. Jesus was her Rabboni, her Master. She revered him. He had driven seven devils out of her. She loved him. His unjust and gruesome death blinded her. She no longer saw the light.
Peter, carrying the heavy burden of his denials, was lost in the darkness of betrayal. How could he have abandoned him? How could he ever forgive himself?
The disciples were huddled together in the darkness of fear. What was going to happen next? The religious leaders had Jesus crucified. Would they be next?
Thomas was treading water in a dark sea of doubt. Was this whole thing a joke? Jesus’ teachings seemed so liberating. His love and kindness were remarkable. He spoke of a new world, the kingdom of God. He was promised a place in that kingdom. But all his hopes and dreams were shattered now! Jesus was dead.
I left John for last because his place in this group of five is very different. He’s the image of the Church, young and filled with energy. He breaks away from the grip of darkness as soon as he looks into the empty tomb. He sees – he believes! Jesus is the light. Jesus blesses the Church through his words to Thomas. “You believe because you can see me, Thomas. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
For many people, even many Christians, Easter Sunday marks an event.It’s the day Jesus rose from the dead. True, but is that all that Easter is?
Easter is the day the stone is rolled from the tomb. Easter is the day the Church, all 2 billion of us, take another look into the empty tomb. What do we see? What do we feel?
Some of us may stoop down to look in but, just like Mary Magdalene, are blinded by personal despair. We would be happy to see only the dead body of Jesus – but we don’t even see that.
Maybe some of us look in and, like Peter, are seized by the shame of our betrayals, our faults and failings, our sins. We wonder if God will ever forgive us. We wonder if we can ever forgive ourselves.
Perhaps we’re gripped by the fear of death like the disciples in Jerusalem. We’re haunted by the terrible question: is there really life after death?
Or like Thomas, we may wonder how anyone can believe in resurrection.
To “see and believe,” as John did, demands that we confront the darkness around us and within us. As I was writing this sentence a close friend of mine who is originally from Ecuador texted me that his sister had died last night, a victim of the corona virus. Ten days ago, he lost his mother. Three days ago, he lost his brother. The three of them lived in Ecuador. In ten days my friend lost his entire family. He couldn’t be with them. He couldn’t speak to them. He couldn’t tell them he loved them.
Today, this Sunday after Easter, April 19, 2020, we chant in unison, “I never in my life thought I‘d experience an Easter like this.” Yes, Easter isn’t the Easter Parade and chocolate bunny rabbits. Today, Easter is that moment the crucified Lord stretches out his wounded hand to my friend and to everyone weeping in the darkness. Easter is the risen Christ offering shalom to us even as we tremble with fear. Easter is that moment just before the sunrise when we look into the empty tomb and whisper, “My Lord and my God.”