ACTS 2:1-11 | 1 CORINTHIANS 12:3B-7, 12-13 | JOHN 20:19-23
It was fifty days after Passover. It was the Feast of Shavuot, the celebration commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was a day to eat festive pastries, to decorate homes and synagogues with flowers and to bring all the children to synagogue to witness the reading of the ten commandments. It was a day to contemplate Israel’s binding contract with God, the Law.
But it wasn’t so festive for the disciples of Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They were in hiding even though they had seen Jesus many times since his death. He spoke with them and instructed them about his life and mission. Some of them saw him ascend to the Father, but even though he promised to send the Spirit to them, they were frightened. They felt empty and, frankly, abandoned.
It happened suddenly. It was a loud sound of wind howling through the room, but they felt nothing. Then there was fire, small flames that looked like tongues that moved around the room attaching themselves to the disciples. And as the tongues touched them, they began to speak languages that weren’t their own. The Spirit Jesus had promised was embracing them. They were filled with courage, each one boldly giving witness to the Jesus event and proclaiming the message about the Kingdom of God.
People on the street heard the commotion – the wind and the cacophony of voices. A large crowd formed. What in the world was going on? How could it be that everyone, the people from Turkey and Iraq, Egypt and Libya, Iran and India, Greece and Rome who were visiting Jerusalem, heard the disciples’ message simultaneously in their own language and dialect?
Luke was reporting this Pentecost event fifty years or so after the fact. He was thinking of that day, but also of the on-going Pentecost he was witnessing. By the year 85 AD when Luke was writing, there were Christian communities throughout the Roman empire in areas we call Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The Roman persecutions had begun twenty years before, but the communities were still growing, and the gospel was still being preached. The fire of Pentecost remained with the disciples. People of every language were hearing about Jesus, and accepting him as Messiah and Lord. The Kingdom of God was near.
Today, you and I are reflecting on the same Pentecost event that the early disciples experienced; and, like Luke, we’re simultaneously looking around the world of today. We see people still reaching out to the tongues of fire; they’re proclaiming the Gospel and people are listening – in China, North Korea, India, throughout Africa and the Middle East. In so many of these places the persecutions continue, but the message is still proclaimed.
We recall St. Paul, recently released from prison, writing to his co-worker Timothy: “This is the gospel I preach even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word cannot be chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they, too, may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
It’s Pentecost. We’re celebrating the giving of the new Law, the Law of the heart that Jesus proclaimed on the Mount. We’re celebrating our anointing with the Spirit. The Kingdom of God is indeed near; it dwells in our hearts. It empowers us to dedicate our lives to the preaching of the Gospel. It empowers us to be the “light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.”
Acts: 1:12-14 | 11 Peter 4:13-15 | John 17:1-11
It’s the seventh, and final, week of Easter and the end of the fifty-day period known as Mystagogia – the time to celebrate and contemplate our immersion into the mystery of Christ. This week’s Gospel brings us back to the Last Supper to conclude our Easter reflection.
Jesus had just told his disciples that he would be returning to the Father while assuring them that he would not abandon them. In a short time, the Holy Spirit would anoint them with power from heaven so that they could carry on his mission.
Then, in deep communion with the Father, he spoke aloud a prayer. “Give glory to your Son, so that your Son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him.”
We should listen very closely to what Jesus is saying because he’s teaching us about the inner life of God and our connection to it. When Jesus speaks of Eternal life, he isn’t speaking about life without end; he’s speaking about a quality of life. Eternal life is the very life of the Eternal One. He promised inclusion in God’s inner life to anyone who believed in him. Remember his powerful proclamation. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Belief in Jesus as the anointed one sent by the Father is the way to Eternal life.
In his Last Supper prayer, Jesus revealed the profound nature of his mission: “I revealed your name to those whom you gave to me out of the world.” Knowing a name means knowing a person inside and out. Revealing God’s name to us means that the Eternal One is part of us, and we’re part of the Eternal One. Knowing the Eternal One is to know Eternal Life.
We’ve discovered, through Jesus, that God is love – love poured out – love received – love poured out in return. This last Sunday of our Easter Mystagogia reminds us that, because we know Jesus, we know God’s name. Our pilgrimage to Eternal life has begun. Take some time today to ponder this incredible revelation.
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
I praise you.
I bless you.
I glorify you.
I thank you for writing my name on your heart.
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 8:5-8, 14-17; | 1 PETER 3:15-18; | JOHN 14:15-21
The night before he died, Jesus opened his heart to his disciples. He spoke of his love for them, and assured them that he would not leave them orphans, a strange term to use. To understand why Jesus chose this image we have to gaze into our own hearts. There’s a powerful message in his choice of that word.
The film “Lion” tells the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy who was separated from his brother. It was nighttime. His brother told him to stay in the safety of a desolate train stop while he went to search for work. Of course, time moved very slowly for the child, so he began to explore the station. He wandered into an empty train only to find that its doors locked automatically behind him. Suddenly, the empty train began to move, and for the three days, without food or water, he was trapped. The train took him 2,500 miles away from his home. Watching Saroo calling for his brother over and over again when he was finally able to leave the train, is heartbreaking.
Watching the film, I imagined myself being five years old, having no idea where I was, and having no sense of reference. There was nowhere to turn to for help; everyone was a stranger. A panic choked me as I watched the poor child. The words of the mournful spiritual sounded in my head. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.”
When Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them orphans, he was not only trying to reassure them of his continual presence, he was introducing a new way of life to them. But before they could grasp his teaching they would have to experience the loss, the powerlessness, and the emptiness of an orphan. In twenty-four hours he would be dead. His body would be ripped apart by a merciless scourging and crucifixion.
Like little Saroo, the disciples experienced a heart wrenching loss. They lost not only their master and teacher, they lost the life-giving spark of hope that he had ignited in their hearts. The “soul loss” may be a good way to define their experience – the loss of inner light.
At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, and through them us, that he would not abandon them like orphans. He would send them “another Advocate to be with them always.” This “Advocate” would heal their soul loss. He would not only restore their sense of “me,” he would open for them the door to a new life, an expanded and liberated life.
The Last Supper was also Jesus’ First Supper. From this time on the disciples will never again gather as abandoned orphans, because it was at this meal that he gifted them with the Eucharist. From this moment on Jesus will be present with them not only as the Lord of the supper, but also as their friend who lays down his life for them. From now on, during each Eucharist they will know, without any doubt, that he will never break the bond of friendship with them. At each Eucharist, he will lay down his life for them and offer himself as the Lamb of God.
We haven’t been left as orphans. We’ve been found, redeemed and invited to dwell in the mansions the Father has prepared for us.
ASCENSION May 18, 2023
“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing looking at the sky?’”
This account of the Ascension calls us back to our Jewish roots, the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In Jewish mysticism the blowing of the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah recalls the faith of Abraham. You remember the story; we read it at the Easter Vigil. To test his faith God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God stopped him. God rewarded Abraham’s faith by promising that he would become the father of a great nation. Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He took it and sacrificed it in place of his son. The blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, is meant to remind God of Abraham’s faith and his special, intimate relationship with the Jewish people. Its sound assures the Jewish people of God’s love, mercy and compassion as they ready themselves to confess their sins on Yom Kippur ten days later.
Tradition named the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur “The Days of Awe.” These are the ten days when Jews are in profound and intimate conversation with God, like Abraham was on Mount Moriah. Sukkot, celebrated five days after Yom Kippur concludes the Days of Awe by bringing the community back down to
earth; they eat outdoors with their feet planted on the ground. They’ve been in heaven. Sukkot calls them back to earth, purified and renewed.
Beginning with our mystical Liturgies of Holy Week, and continuing for fifty days after Easter, we’ve been remembering, and entering into, Christ’s Paschal Mystery his life, death and resurrection. We’ve baptized new members into his mystery, and have renewed our own immersion into Christ. The message of the two men dressed in white garments call the Christian community back down to earth. We’ve been in heaven long enough. It’s time to get to work, to plant our feet firmly on the ground. We have a mission to take up. We have to give sight to the blind, to cure the crippled, to cleanse the lepers, to open the ears of the deaf, to raise up the dead, and to preach the Good News to the poor. We have to wash each other’s feet. We have to break the bread of our lives for one another.
Don’t be afraid. Pentecost is a few days away. We’ll be anointed from above.
Prayer Come Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, ignite the fire of your love within us. Use us to renew the face of the earth.
ACTS 6:1-7 | 1 PETER 2:4-9 | JOHN 14:1-12
The gospel today is taken from John’s account of the Last Supper. If we were to read the entire passage, we’d realize that this meal is one long emotional roller coaster. It begins: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” Whatever he does and says at this last meal is of the upmost importance. It’s his LAST chance to get his disciples to understand who he is, and why he came. So, he washes the disciples’ feet instructing them to do the same for one another. He announces to the group that one of them will betray him. He gives them a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” He concludes by predicting Peter’s denial!
After all that, Jesus looks at these fragile men gathered around the table and says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” What a statement! In a few hours their world is going to implode. Judas will sell Jesus to the religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus will be arrested, and finally executed by crucifixion. These men, his closest disciples, will abandon him. Peter will deny that he ever knew him.
Trying to calm his disciples hearts, Jesus continues to teach them. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself; where I am going you know the way.” Then Thomas, the disciple who will not believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he touches the nail marks, asks the most important question of the evening. “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way.”
These disciples had followed him for three years. They’d given up everything for him, home, family, occupations. They felt that none of this was in vain because they believed Jesus was the Messiah. They didn’t know how,
but they were sure that he was going to overthrow the Roman occupation. He was going to set up a glorious Jewish kingdom, even more powerful than that of David and Solomon, and they would rule with him. They felt they had a glorious future ahead of them.
The answer Jesus gives to Thomas is the most important teaching any of them would ever hear. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
Jesus’ teaching seemed like riddle to the disciples at the time. They knew Jesus. They traveled with him. They camped with him. They ate with him. They witnessed the great catch of fish. They saw him walk on the water. They listened to him when he delivered the sermon on the mount. They saw him heal. They saw him raise Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from the dead. These events were spectacular miracles. They saw miracles but failed to understand the meaning behind them.
“If you know me, then, you will also know my Father.” That was his message to the disciples the night of the Last Supper. That’s his message to us, today. Our hearts need to burn within us when we see him in the scriptures. Our hearts need to be touched by the miracles he performs. We need to truly recognize him when he gives us the bread to break and share. When we truly recognize him, our hearts will beat in sync with his, and with the Father’s. We mustn’t forget this most intimate and important teaching, and use it as the map to the Father’s heart. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”