Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – C


Acts 5:12-16

Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-18

John 20:19-31

This Sunday used to be called Low Sunday. The origin of the title is uncertain.  The cynic will say that the name for the Second Sunday of Easter came from the pastor’s observance of the marked difference in attendance at Mass between last Sunday and this.  The difference in the collection might also have justified the term.  Then again, it might have seemed a logical designation for the Sunday that marked the octave day of Easter and the lowering of the mood evidenced by the assembly.  Elation can be sustained for only so long.

There is another reason for calling the day Low Sunday that makes sense and that is because of an important action that for centuries happened on this Second Sunday of Easter.  Remember that the neophytes were baptized in the course of the Great Vigil and they were clothed in white robes when they came out of the Font.  The robes were outward signs that the newly baptized had put on Christ, been clothed in Christ, if you will.  Remember their enthusiasm and palpable joy in the afterglow with the oil of Confirmation still glistening on their foreheads.  Well, it’s a week later.  They have lived their newly professed faith in the trenches, so to speak.  They may have experienced unexpected difficulties, even temptations that they had thought would never be part of their lives again.  And they may have already come to the conclusion that their conversion process isn’t finished yet.  They have more to die to in order to live more fully in the Christ in whom they were baptized.

On this Sunday the neophytes brought back their white robes and returned them to the community.  As long as they wore them they could be easily discerned in the midst of the assembly.  Without them, they become faces in the assembly, no less a part of the Body of Christ.  It is not that there is a supposition that their faith is already waning.  But their emotions might be calming as they take up the task of imitating Christ and walking in his footsteps.  And they realize that they have only begun.

We’ll stick with The Second Sunday of Easter. That is important for us to recognize because the Church is saying that Easter is a feast that lasts for forty days, for six Sundays.  We continue to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord who is our hope and our salvation.

During the Sundays of Easter, the first reading will be from the Book of Acts.  This Sunday we hear about the remarkable first days of the infant Church.  The apostles are the primary witnesses to the Risen Christ and through them many wonderful signs happen.  Remember that through Jesus’ dying and rising a newly re-ordered creation dawns.  Miracles are signs of that re-ordering as sin, suffering, and death lose their hold on human kind.  The apostles preach Christ and many begin to believe.  The apostles are recognized to have powers through Christ and people bring their sick and those possessed by evil spirits to them.  All of the sick are cured and the possessed are delivered of their tormentors.  Peter has primacy among the apostles and is highly esteemed by the throngs of believers.  These place their sick in the roadway with the hope that when Peter passes by his shadow will fall on them and they will be healed.  Miracles abound.  No one is left behind.

What is being described is a sudden spring after a long, dark winter of discontent.  Is the description accurate in that all were healed?  Perhaps.  On the other hand it is possible that Luke from his vantage point of forty or fifty years down the road is painting an idealized portrait of those first days to encourage Christians who are experiencing sufferings because of their faith in Christ.  What Luke remembers in his time is akin to our memories of those first days following the Second Vatican Council.  That initial period of renewal was a glorious time that revitalized the faithful and introduced new ways of looking at the Church, new ways of celebrating the Liturgy, and a new season of hope.  Did it all go smoothly?  Were there no dissenters?  Did all welcome the vernacular?  What do you think from this perspective 45 years later?  What do you remember?  Still, and despite the dissension, those were glorious days, days of second spring.  And we believe they will come to fruition.

The reading from the Book of Revelation gives us another perspective.  John writes from his exile on the island of Patmos.  He says it is a time of distress not only for him but also for those reading his message.  In other words, the Church is already experiencing persecution – just as it was when Luke was writing.  Christians were being killed because of their faith and their way of life that challenged the practices of many among whom they lived.  In the midst of all that suffering it would be natural to conclude that they had been abandoned by God.  Where was Christ in all this?

John’s vision reassures.  As a result of the fact that he proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus, on a Sunday he was caught up in a mystic moment and encountered one like the son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest. This is Jesus the eternal priest.  This is Christ the king.  In the moment John’s actions are similar to those of Moses in his encounter with God in the burning bush.  John falls on his face in a swoon before the vision.  But the Son of Man touches him and tells John who he is: I am the alpha and the omega (the first and the last), the one who lives.  Once I was dead, but now I live forever.  I hold the keys to death and the netherworld. John’s vision is meant to inspire and renew the spirit of those who are suffering so terribly.  Christ has conquered everything that threatens them.  He is the victor.  His reign will be forever.  Even if they die for Christ, they will live with Christ forever in his kingdom.  Why else would those thrown to the lions and those tied to the stake, and those bowing their heads on the chopping block, clutch and kiss the crosses they carried as a reminder of their faith?

In this context I think of the Ugandan martyrs, 23 young men who suffered the excruciating agony of slowly being burned to death because they believed in Jesus.  How else could you explain the fact that not one of them cried out in his agony or cursed the one who inflicted the horrendous suffering on him?  Instead, each of them sang hymns and voiced with confidence that they were going to be with Jesus.  What other explanation is there for their courage than the grace of the Alpha and the Omega, the one in whom they believed?

So we come to the reading from John’s Gospel.  We are with the disciples in the locked upper room on Easter Sunday night, the place where they had eaten the Passover meal with Jesus.  They are in terror, afraid that they will suffer the same fate Jesus did.  But the locked doors cannot keep Jesus from them.  In a moment he is in their midst and he breathes on them, wishing them Peace.  Remember the moment in Genesis when God breathes into the clay and Adam begins?  That is exactly what is happening here.  Jesus wishes them peace and breathes on the disciples.  They receive the Spirit becoming a new creation and now have the confident assurance that nothing will separate them from the love of God.  That’s what peace means.  And with that gift they receive the power to continue Jesus’ work of forgiving the sins of those who will receive forgiveness.

A week later the disciples are back in the upper room.  It is curious that the doors are still locked since Jesus had gifted the disciples with the Spirit the week before.    Thomas, called Didymus (the name means twin), who wasn’t with them the week before, having heard that the others have seen the Lord, tells them he will not believe unless he touches the wounds.  Thomas is often called the Doubter.  Actually, he is the one who always asks questions for clarification so that he can understand.  Here, he is saying that what he has heard is too good to be true.  He loves the Jesus.

Jesus appears and invites Thomas to touch him if that is what it will take to convince him that Jesus is truly risen.  The gospel does not say that Thomas touches the wounds.  But what follows is the greatest declaration of faith about Jesus in the Gospels.  Thomas is the one who addresses Jesus as his Lord and his God.  Thomas has been transformed by the encounter and enlightened by the Spirit he has received.  He is a believer.

Thomas is called Didymus, the twin, because so often he takes our part and asks our questions.  Here he makes our profession of faith and the result is a blessing for us.  Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. We proclaim Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, the Son of God, the Risen One.  Why?  Because we are blessed.  Grace has made it possible for us to believe.  Grace seized the Neophytes and brought them to the Font last week where they proclaimed their faith and joined the rest of the baptized as disciples.  A new generation of believers continues the story, proclaiming Jesus as Lord until he comes again in glory.

This new generation will continue the tradition begun by the first generation of believers.  They will gather on Sundays, the Lord’s Day, to celebrate Eucharist and know that Christ is in their midst.  They will eat the Lord’s Body and Drink his Blood to be strengthened so that in good times they will live their faith and witness to others inviting them to believe.  In bad times, even in times of persecution, they will recognize they are sharing in the Lord’s passion.  And should those sufferings bring them to death’s door, they will know that they will not be defeated because Christ has conquered death.  And if they die they know they will live with Christ forever.  After all, they have been blessed with Christ’s peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus

EASTER SUNDAY – APRIL 4, 2010

Last night, something marvelous happened.  The Church assembled in darkness.  Members came together in various stages of faith development.  Some were renewed and invigorated because of the 40 days they had journeyed in the desert with Jesus as they fasted, prayed, and found new ways to share of themselves with their brothers and sisters.  Some came burdened, still reeling with the effects of bad news on the world front, or disillusioned by broken relationships and infidelities, or struggling with failing health – all unable to find the renewal they thought they desired.  And then there were those called The Elect who had made their way through the Lenten season among us with their hearts set on reaching the Font, there to die to all that was and rise newly born in Christ.  We might not have realized that they were strengthened on their way by our witnessing to the faith and praying with and for them.

As those assembled watched, a spark was struck and wood began to burn turning into a holocaust of the old order.  The wood crackled and sparks circled up and into the night.  The old order was passing away before their eyes.  Then an ember from the fire served to light the Easter Candle and the procession of the assembled followed the Candle into the still night-enshrouded worship space as the presider proclaimed: Christ, our light. That flickering candle scattered the darkness and those gathered experienced a renewal of faith, a strengthening of hope, and an infusion of God’s love poured out on them in the Lord’s rising.

We tend to be an impatient people.  We’re used to sound bites and quick cuts in movies that do not demand long spans of attention.  But last night we sat in the darkness and heard the history of our salvation, God’s calling us out of the darkness of sin, suffering, and death, into God’s wonderful light that comes to us in Christ who has died for us and is now risen to bring us forgiveness and beyond into eternal life and light.  It took time to listen.  It took time to ponder the Word and its effect in our lives.  It took time to pray in response to each scripture passage proclaimed.  It took silence for us to feel that gentle stirring that told us we believe, or at least that we want to believe if only we understood.

We called upon our ancestors in the faith, singing the Litany of the Saints, as we processed to the Font with the Elect.  These new ones heard the names of their patrons invoked and they with us pled with the saints to pray with and for us as these new to the faith entered the waters of Baptism.  Some of us remembered our own time.  Others whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for the ones who carried them to the Font in their infancy and started them on the path of faith.  When the last of the Elect had been baptized and had gone off to be clothed in the baptismal garment that would symbolize their having put on Christ, we, baptized last year or many years ago renewed our baptismal promises that proclaimed our desire to continue on the Way.

The Elect, now Neophytes, i.e., newly baptized and confirmed, joined us for the first time at the Table to celebrate Eucharist with us.  Bells rang.  The organ sang.  Alleluia was heard for the first time since Ash Wednesday.  And as one body we recognized the Risen One in our midst, in the Bread and Wine, in the Word proclaimed, and in the presider and the assembled as the Body of Christ.  We recognized the Risen One.  Easter happened.

I remember several years ago an irate woman came up to me after the first mass of Easter Sunday.  She told me she had barely been able to sit through the rest of mass she was so angry because we had read the wrong gospel.  I asked her what she meant since I had a clear memory of the gospel that had been proclaimed.  There was no body, she said, just an empty tomb. And before I could say anything in reply, she stormed off.

She was right, of course, there was no body.  In the gospel, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple each confronted an empty tomb.  Mary had gone to the tomb to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial.  Finding the stone rolled back from the entry and the tomb empty, she fled in anguish to tell Peter and the other disciples what she had discovered.  Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb to see for themselves.  The younger disciple out ran the older Peter and looked in to see the discarded burial cloths but waited for Peter before entering the tomb.  Peter arrived, entered, took in the scene and noted that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face had been rolled up and put aside separately from the other burial cloths.  Then the beloved disciple entered and, the gospel tells us, he believed.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the three disciples represent the various conditions of faith of those of us assembled.  Mary is distraught with grief, perhaps burdened with grim images of Jesus in his agony on the cross.  She loves Jesus but is not yet able to make the leap of faith and believe that death has not conquered Jesus forever.  Peter is the seasoned disciple, among the first to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.  He is burdened, too.  After all, he denied three times with increasing vehemence that he knew Jesus.  Sin, and our inability to accept forgiveness get in the way of our faith.  Peter remembered what Jesus had said about having to go to Jerusalem and there to suffer and die and on the third day rise again.  But even the empty tomb couldn’t bring him to interpret the discarded swaddling clothes of death as a sign that Jesus was alive.  Faith is there, but it is a struggling faith.

The beloved disciple represents those new to the faith. He is one who late in Jesus’ ministry had come to believe in him – like the neophytes among us this Easter.  He is the one who looks into the tomb, sees the signs, interprets them and believes.  That faith will need to be formed and developed, will need to survive struggles and overcome periods of difficulty that challenge his faith, and yet in this defining moment, the gospel tells us he believes.  New believers are sometimes the most enthusiastic believers, the most excited about their faith.  New faith can also be shallow.  But fidelity lived along the way will deepen and strengthen.  And one day, they will look back from a different vantage point and wonder if they believed at all when they began to believe, so vivid and profound is their faith from their seasoned perspective.  Love is like that, too.

We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.  That means we are called to live in Mystery, enveloped by the love of God that comes to us through the risen Jesus in whom we have been baptized.  But sometimes I think we live with a mistaken notion of what Resurrection means.  At the end of The Passion of the Christ, a very physical, restored to life Jesus walks out of the tomb.  That is resuscitation, not resurrection.  Seeing a physical Jesus would not require faith.  The old movie, The Gospel According to Matthew does a better job of depicting the resurrection experience.  If you haven’t seen it, do.  You won’t soon forget it.

Remember what we do each Sunday and why it is important that we do what we do.  We gather with the burdens of the week gone by to listen to the Word and be nourished by it.  We gather to celebrate Eucharist, to give thanks to God in the dying and rising of Jesus.  And we break Bread and share a Cup.  The three disciples on the road to Emmaus journeyed with a Stranger who reinterpreted the Scriptures for them, gave new meaning to texts with which they were long familiar.  But it wasn’t until they gathered with him at table and he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them that they recognized the Risen One as he vanished from their sight.  That is what we do each Sunday because we need to do that.  Those two disciples ran back to Jerusalem after their Eucharist to tell the other disciples what had happened on the road and how they recognized him in the breaking of the Bread.

And that’s what we must do, too.  Having recognized the Christ in our midst, strengthened by the encounter and the meal we share, we must go out to proclaim by the lives we live that cannot be otherwise explained except that Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Happy Easter!

Sincerely,

Didymus