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.