Today we’re going reflect on the feast of the Body of the Body and Blood of Christ through the prism of Covenant. The Jewish scriptures note a number of covenants – legal agreements between God and the people. The three most important were with Abraham, Noah and Moses.
God called to Abraham asking him to leave his home and his people. He promised him that he would be the father of a great people who would be as numerous as the sand of the seashore. The covenant was ratified in the context of a sacred sacrifice. Abraham slaughtered a number of animals as God had directed him. He then cut them in two and separated the parts placing them a few feet from each other. God put Abraham into a trance and then appeared as a column of fire. Walking between the sacrificial animals God consumed them in the fire. This ratified the covenant between God and Abraham. Abraham and his children would be faithful to God and, in turn, God would make Abraham a great nation. The sign of this covenant was circumcision.
After the great flood God made a covenant between himself and creation. Leaving the ark, Noah slaughtered a number of animals and burned the carcasses as a sacrificial offering pleasing to God. God promised that he would never again destroy the world by a flood re-establishing his relationship with creation. He made the rainbow the sign of this covenant.
During the great theophany at Mount Sinai God entered into a covenant with the Jewish people. He renewed the covenant he made with Abraham and gave them the law that they were to follow. Moses built an altar and gathered the people before it. He slaughtered a number of bulls and drained their blood into basins. To ratify the covenant Moses poured some of the blood onto the altar. The remaining blood he sprinkled over the people. This was a sacred covenant between God and the Jewish people – it was ratified in the blood of a sacrifice. Having a sense of the sacredness of these blood covenants we can move to a deeper understanding of the account of the Last Supper that we’ve read in today’s Gospel.
The passage begins with these words: “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?’” This Passover will be Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. In a matter of hours, he will be sacrificed on the cross. There, he will be the priest offering the sacrifice, like Abraham, Noah and Moses, and the sacrificial victim. His blood will ratify the covenant. At this meal Jesus will establish the everlasting sign of this covenant. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘Take it. This is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.’”
In this meal, this Eucharist, Jesus offered the bread of his body. They accepted it. They ate it. He offered the wine of his blood. They drank it. In this Eucharist they entered into the most sacred ever imagined. It was sealed in the blood of Christ.
Today, the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we take our place at the table of the Last Supper with him. Today, we stand at the foot of the cross. We see him poured out in sacrifice. Today, we remember his words, “Do this in memory of me,” and re-affirm the terms of this most sacred covenant. We eat his body, broken. We drink his blood, shed. We sing out, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the death of the Lord.” In each Eucharist we accept to follow his new law, to love one another as he loved us. We seal this covenant in the blood of the Lamb.
DEUTERONOMY 4:32-34, 39-40 ROMANS 8:14-17 MATTHEW 28:16-20
The three readings follow each other in an interesting sequence this week as we celebrate Trinity Sunday. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses, in his final address to the people, reminds them of their special relationship with God by pointing out the tremendous ways God manifested himself to them. God, almighty and all-powerful, was their protector. He showed his might by sending ten plagues upon the Egyptians and then guiding them out of Egypt. He recalls the theophany at Mount Sinai when God descended on the mountain in fire and thunder and lightning, gave them the Law and sealed the covenant that claimed them as his chosen people.
In the second reading, taken from the letter to the Romans, Paul moves away from the image of God as the almighty and all-powerful. He stresses that through Christ each of us has been adopted by God, and so we’re elevated as children of God. The Spirit, present in us, continually gives witness to this adoption.
As God’s children we now have confidence to address God as Abba, father – daddy – papa. In the gospel passage the resurrected Jesus commissions the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and Holy Spirit.” Now, everyone is special, and everyone is chosen to enter this intimate relationship with God.
God revealed himself most clearly and definitively in the person of Jesus who, in his life and preaching, brought to light the very essence of God – love. That love is extended to us through the Spirit who’s always with us and in us, drawing us into a profound and intimate relationship with God.
Through Christ, the Word of God made flesh, we’re drawn into the life of the Trinity – the life of love. This is what we celebrate today.
We have arrived at Pentecost – the exclamation point that ends our seven -week celebration of Easter. During those weeks, many scripture passages were given to us for our prayerful contemplation.
We listened to the account of the two disciples who came to recognize Jesus when he broke bread with them. We witnessed Thomas abandon his disbelief to acknowledge Jesus as his personal Lord and God. We heard Jesus promise us that he would be our shepherd never failing to care for us. He revealed his profound connection with us when he told us that he was the vine and we were the branches. He went on to call us his friends and special confidants. He consecrated us and commissioned us to continue the work he began. Finally, he promised to send us the Spirit of truth.
In preparation for the Spirit’s anointing today I invite you to, first and foremost, open your hearts and minds to the peace Jesus offers us. He greets us with the same greeting he extended to the apostles, Shalom. It’s the peace that rests in the heart of God – the peace that banishes fear – the peace that gives power to our witness. It’s the peace that opens our ears to the meaning of the scriptures.
fire that would purify the world. This is the lamp put on the lamp stand to bring light to all in the house.
“And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Recreated, purified, their hearts opened to the word of God, the Spirit destroyed the barriers preventing them from witnessing to the resurrected Lord.
Loving Father, gathered in your name we implore you drive all our fears from us.
Pour your holy peace into our hearts. Purify us and speak your name to us from the eternal fire of your love.
Loosen our tongues that we might speak only your word that we might witness to, and be one with, your Word made flesh that our word may heal as his healed that our word may speak your truth as his did.
May we bring your fire to the earth.
May we be salt for the earth and light for the world.
ACTS 1:15-17, 20A-26. 1 JOHN 4:11-16 JOHN 17:11A-19
We’ve come to the last Sunday of Easter, concluding the great Week of Weeks. The gospel message couldn’t be more appropriate or more powerful as we anticipate the feast of Pentecost. The passage is taken from the prayer Jesus lifted up for his disciples at the Last Supper. They’re the last words he spoke to them before his arrest. This is what he prayed: “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.”
In a few hours Jesus would give witness to Pilate. He boldly declared, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” Jesus not only testified to the truth, he was the truth, the very Word of God made flesh. He stood in confrontation to the world that hates the truth the religious leadership that condemned him and the politicians that executed him. From the judgment seat of the cross he would judge them. And from the altar of the cross he would sacrifice himself to redeemed them.
Jesus continued his prayer. “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.” Jesus’ prayer reached far beyond the supper table. He was praying for you and me. He was consecrating us in the truth, just as he consecrated those first disciples.
Consecrated by that sacred anointing, he sent us out. We’re to carry Christ, the way, the truth, and the life into the world that has lost its way, that doesn’t know truth, that’s barely alive. We’re the mustard seed Jesus planted. We’re the yeast he folded into a bowl of flour. The mustard seed will become a tree where the birds will find a place to roost. The yeast will coax the flour to become the bread of life. Dying to ourselves we’ll show the way; we’ll reveal the truth; we’ll celebrate a new life.
Ending the prayer, he said: “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” With him in us, God’s love will conquer the world slowly transforming it into the kingdom of heaven.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the vine, and we are your branches. Consecrate us in the truth that the world might drink of the new wine of your kingdom. Amen
There’s a very special message in the Gospel reading today. At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples who were at table with him, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from the Father.”
It sounds very strange to us to hear Jesus referring to his disciples as slaves. But those who heard him would have asked themselves why isn’t he calling us slaves any longer?
The word for slave is doulos. Moses, Joshua and David were given the title, doulos of God. In his letter to Titus, St. Paul refers to himself as the doulos of God. This was a title of great honor. Mary, in the gospel of Luke, tells the angel Gabriel that she’s the doula of the Lord. She’s no common handmaid, as the word doula is usually translated – she’s the slave of God, just as Moses was the slave of God God’s own possession, devoted exclusively to him.
Jesus goes on to say that he now calls his disciples friends. This word, too, has a historical background. Abraham was called the friend of God, a term that came from the royal court of eastern kings. The friends of the emperor had access to the king at any time. They were his most trusted confidants even before his generals and statesmen.
Jesus is telling his disciples that they’ve been called to serve God with the intensity and devotion of Moses and Mary but not at the status of a slave who simply takes orders. Jesus is making them his partners – his personal confidants -his friends. They’re privileged members of God’s inner circle.
He then sends them all on a mission. I “have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” And what’s the fruit that they’re to bear? He tells them very clearly, “This I command you: love one another.”
John, the author of this gospel teaches, in his first letter, that “God is love.” Jesus is taking his disciples – all his disciples, not just those at the Last Supper – into the intimacy of God’s friendship. To do so, he asks us to follow his commandment with the commitment and devotion of a slave, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
What a tremendous revelation! What a tremendous invitation! As slaves, we joyfully bear the burden of love. As friends, we draw the power of love by touching the very heart of God.
A Brief Reflection for the Feast of the Ascension
I want to call your attention to a sentence in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We’re told that Jesus’ last message to his disciples was that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could give witness to him “to the ends of the earth.” He was then lifted up and returned to the Father. They were still watching him ascend when “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.” They then spoke these words:
“MEN OF GALILEE, WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE LOOKING AT THE SKY?”
What’s the message of these two men dressed in white garments? It’s simple. Get your heads out of the clouds! Come back down to earth! You’ve just been given a commission to witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth. There’s serious work to do! Get going!
The Gospel passage reinforces their words with the words of Jesus. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature!”
What do you hear today? What are you going to do about it? Where do you go from here?
ACTS 9:26-31 1 JOHN 3:18-24 JOHN 15:1-8
As a preacher and teacher Jesus was quite down to earth. He took simple, common, everyday occurrences and used them to make a point that could be easily understood and retained. Today we’re reflecting on an image he used to illustrate our connection with him and the Father. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch from me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
In Jesus’ day vines were everywhere. They were grown on trellises on the side of homes. They were on balconies and rooftops. They were cultivated in vineyards. The people were very knowledgeable about the care and maintenance of the vine.
As Jesus spoke about the vine and the branches the people would also have been thinking of the many scriptures that referred to Israel as the vine. Psalm 80, praising God for taking care of Israel, says, “You brought a vine out of Egypt.” Isaiah said, “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” But the psalms and the prophets also used the image of the vine to describe the corruption of Israel. Jeremiah and Isaiah condemned Israel for becoming a “wild vine,” unpruned, and bearing little fruit.
In this teaching Jesus presents himself as the TRUE vine. He’s not like Israel, the vine gone wild; he submits to the Father who continually prunes and nurtures the vine. He’s reminding his listeners that they’re the branches; they bear the fruit. He’s reassuring them that as long as they stay connected to him, the vine, the Father will care for them like a gardener. With his care, they’ll bear abundant fruit. But he cautions that “anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”
This a spiritual life-cycle that Jesus is describing in this image of the vine and the branches. John the Baptist articulated this same spiritual truth when he proclaimed, “He must increase – I must decrease.” Jesus is intimately connected with the Father, the source of all life. In the same way, when we’re connected to Jesus, the Father will nurture and strengthen us. The divine life will flow through us and we’ll bear fruit of the kingdom.
ACTS 4:8-12 1 JOHN 3:1-2 JOHN 10:11-18
For three weeks the Sunday gospels have been focusing on accounts of the resurrection. This week and next week they direct our thinking to the Church’s relationship with the risen Lord. This week we’re given the image of Jesus as our shepherd. He tells us, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What’s he telling us?
Let’s start with the first word of the title. Jesus tells us that he’s THE good shepherd. He’s presenting himself as a model for all shepherds. He then gives an example of a bad shepherd. “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.” The shepherd must be bold and brave in the face of danger. As Jesus goes on to explain; the good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep.
Jesus calls himself “GOOD.” The Greek word he uses for “good” carries with it the quality of humble nobility. Here’s an example of a “good” doctor who was more than proficient in his craft. I grew up in a small, railroad apartment where physical quarantine was almost impossible. When my sister came down with measles, our family doctor asked my parents if I could join him and his family at their home in the Rockaways to keep me isolated until she was over her illness. He was a “good” doctor. He cared for my sister, me and my parents all at the same time. He gladly went the extra mile. Jesus is saying he’s the GOOD shepherd – he’s willing to go the extra mile for each and every one of his sheep.
We’re unfamiliar with shepherds. So, we have to ask what shepherds do? The first thing shepherds do is to guide the sheep, day after day, to places where they can graze. They must also keep watch over them, being careful to never let a sheep go astray from the flock.
The flock was in most danger during the night. In Jesus’ day, scattered throughout the pastures, there were walled-in communal pens. At night, shepherds gathered their flocks in the safety of these pens. This also afforded an opportunity for the shepherds, whose lives were isolated and lonely, an opportunity to have some social contact with their fellow shepherds. But the interesting thing about these communal pens was that they didn’t have doors. They just had an opening. The shepherd himself was the door. He would sleep in the open doorway. If a wolf or another wild animal tried to attack the sheep, it would have to walk over the shepherd. That’s why Jesus adds, “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus is holding himself up as THE model for anyone in a leadership position. Priests and ministers are called shepherds. Do they go the extra mile? Do they feed their sheep? Are they willing to lay down their lives for the sheep? Mothers and fathers are shepherds. Teachers are shepherds. Political leaders are shepherds. How do we fare when we compare ourselves to THE GOOD SHEPHERD? To what extent do our lives give good example to young people in the process of becoming shepherds themselves?
Every one of us has something deeply serious to think about today.
ACTS 3:13-15,17-18 1 JOHN 2:1-5A LUKE 24:35-48
On Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene reported to the disciples, who were “mourning and weeping,” that she had seen the risen Lord. But they didn’t believe her. Later that night, two disciples excitedly reported to the group that they had met Jesus along the road as they were fleeing the city. They said that he instructed them and ate with them. The group didn’t believe them either. But while they were still relating the event, Jesus “stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
He immediately asked the group two questions. “Why are you troubled?” and “Why do questions arise in your hearts?”
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t wait for the disciples to answer his questions. Instead, he calls their attention to the wounds in his hands and side. He invites them to touch him – to feel his warm flesh. By doing this he brings them into his reality. Yes, he suffered a horrible death, and his body still retains the marks of the nails. And no, he’s not a ghost. He’s flesh and blood. He even asks them for something to eat.
scriptures that related to him. He then gave them a commission: “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.”
For our reflection today let’s put ourselves into this story. Let’s listen to Jesus asking us those same questions of us. What about Jesus troubles my heart? What questions do I have about him? After a prayerful reflection, ask a final question of yourself. How will I witness to him?
open my mind
to the meaning
of the scriptures
that I may know you.
Open my heart
that I might love you,
my friend, my teacher,
my risen Lord.
ACTS 4:32-35 1 JOHN 5:1-6 JOHN 20:19-31
Easter Sunday’s account of the resurrection related that, very early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene discovered that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Running back to the place where the disciples were in hiding, she told them of her discovery. Immediately, Peter and John left the group and returned with her to the garden tomb. We were told that Peter didn’t know what to make of it, but that John had looked into the tomb “and believed.” The two men returned to their place of hiding leaving Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb.
This Sunday’s gospel takes us to the disciples’ place of hiding. It’s evening. The doors are locked. The disciples are very fearful. Will the Sanhedrin dispatch temple guards to arrest them as they did Jesus? Two of them have already abandoned the group and fled the city. We’ll read their story next Sunday. The others are still contemplating their next move.
Jesus suddenly appears to them. He greets them with the familiar “shalom,” and immediately shows them his hands and his side. The marks of his crucifixion are still there even though he seems robust and healthy. Again, he reinforces his
wish of peace for them extending the greeting of “shalom” for a second time. They can’t be fearful if they’re going to be able to grasp what he’s about to ask them to do. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
His greeting of “shalom” is meant to heal them of their fear. Normally “shalom” would be accompanied with a kiss on both cheeks, but today Jesus comes up to each one and breathes on them. He’s repeating what was done long ago. “And the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” They’re to be new people, brave, free from fear, filled with the breath of the Spirit.
He commissioned them to liberate men and women from their slavery to the world and its sin – to clothe themselves with Christ – to be Christ in the world. Their mission is our mission. Easter isn’t just a commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. It’s the day of renewal for every one of us who have been baptized into Christ, who carry the joyful burden of love and healing of Christ. Easter is the day each of us hears him say, “As the Father has sent me, so I send You.”
ACTS 10:34A, 37-43 COLOSSIANS 3:1-4 JOHN 20:1-9
The Easter gospel invites us, as a community, to travel back in time to a garden that’s just a short distance outside the walls of Jerusalem. We’re standing in the predawn darkness, but we can see that there’s a tomb there. It’s cool and very quiet. Jerusalem is just beginning to wake up. It’s Sunday and the work week will soon begin.
In the distance we see a woman making her way down the hill to the garden. She goes directly to the tomb and sees that it’s open. The quiet is broken by her sudden cry. As she looks into the tomb her cry becomes a heartwrenching wail. She turns, runs back up the hill and disappears through the city gates. We listen as her cries gradually fade. We turn our gaze back to the empty tomb just as the pink rays of dawn appear along the horizon.
We can see a bit more now. There are some burial clothes neatly folded and resting on the shelf where a body would have been placed. The cloth used to wrap the face was rolled up and not with the others.
Again, there’s movement at the city gate. The same woman is returning. She has two men with her. They’re running, the woman is first followed by a young man. The other man lags behind them.
The young man and the woman arrive first. The woman is still crying. The young man stands beside her. They stand outside the tomb watching the other man, who’s elderly, hurry toward them. He goes directly to the tomb and looks in. For a long moment he studies the shadowy tomb. The moment he moves away the young man looks in. He looks for only a moment. He turns around. His face caches the morning light. He’s smiling yet there are tears running down his cheeks. No one says a word.
The two men leave the tomb in silence. The woman, still weeping, remains. The scene ends here.
There’s so much more to this account, but the Church only gives us this one scene to think about today. Who are these people? What are we to make of this scene?
This is the beginning of the story of the resurrection of Jesus in John’s gospel. The woman is Mary Magdalene. Jesus cleansed her of seven demons. She became his fervent disciple and even supported him during his mission. Loyal to the end, she stood at the foot of the cross keeping vigil as he died. The young man is the apostle John. It’s his account of the event that we’re reading today. Simon Peter is the older man who was given the title “rock” by Jesus.
Mary loved Jesus deeply. She came to the tomb blinded by her tears and overwhelmed by her sorrow. The young man, John, looked into the tomb and believed that Jesus had transcended; Jesus was the Christ. The elderly Peter, was puzzled by the empty tomb. He returned to Jerusalem wondering what had happened there.
Through this short gospel passage the Church is focusing the attention of her children on the empty tomb. These three people represent us – all of us looking into the tomb. We respond in different ways.
Mary looked into the tomb and saw only darkness. She was blinded by her personal loss. Mary was stuck in time. She knew Jesus and she loved him but now he was gone and she was in deepest mourning. Unlike John who “saw and believed” Mary was blinded by her sorrow. She wasn’t yet ready to see the transcendent Jesus, the Christ.
John, the mystic, looked into the tomb and realized that Jesus wasn’t dead. The burial clothes were neatly folded. The stone was casually rolled away. It was obvious that death had no power over him. Jesus had stepped out of the constriction of time
and space. He had conquered the cruelty of the world. He was the universal Christ. He would be present until the end of time.
Peter left the tomb wondering “what rising from the dead meant.” He knew Jesus was no longer in the tomb. No one stole his body; the condition of the tomb gave no evidence of that. If he had risen from the dead where was he now?
Mary, John and Peter represent all of us. Some of us, like Mary, are good, dedicated people. We love deeply. We aspire to follow Jesus and his teachings but, somehow, we can’t see beyond the cruelty of the world and we can’t overcome our fear of death.
Some of us, like Peter, are slow to understand. Believing is a long and difficult process. It involves not only our minds but our hearts.
John represents the Church, those believers who, from the day they looked into the empty tomb, have proclaimed Jesus Lord, resurrected and with us, feeding us with his very life at the Eucharistic table. John represents the Church who throughout the centuries “sees and believes.”
This account of the resurrection will continue. In the next scene Jesus will speak Mary’s name. She’ll see him, recognize him and fall at his feet to worship him. She’ll come to be remembered as the first witness to the resurrection. In another scene, Jesus will ask Peter three times if he loves him. Each yes will heal his heart. Healed, he’ll join the resurrected Christ in shepherding the Christian community until the day he himself will be crucified.
The empty tomb is a challenge to our faith. It forces us to ask what “rising from the dead means.” Each of us is Mary. Each of us is Peter. We listen to hear him call our names. We assure him that we love him. We unite with the Church at the empty tomb. In chorus we whisper, “My Lord and my God.”