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ASCENSION OF THE LORD – C – June 02, 2019

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:17-23
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 24:46-53

Dear Friends in Christ,

What have these past several weeks been about?  We have been celebrating Easter almost as long as the time we were in the season of Lent.  Lent was a time focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, intended to open us to the great mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising.  Reflect with me on that holy night when we gathered in the darkness that threatened to envelop us.  We struck a flint and the spark ignited the fire that symbolically consumed all that was old; all those things we feared, that at one time we might have clung onto.  The new fire brought forth light, life, and hope.  

Do you remember how we sat in the darkness in the presence of the Easter Candle, the great sign that Christ is alive, and we listened to the history of our salvation, to the history of God’s acting in human history.  The apex of that activity was the sending of God’s Son to call us out of darkness and into the light that is life in him.  

Those readings took time, time we needed to reflect, to remember, and to be encouraged.  There were so many contrary signs, after all, that we were well aware of, that might have threatened to get in the way of our hearing.  Do you remember that, as the readings were complained, the light read and flickered throughout the whole Assembly and Worship Space?  When the last reading from Hebrew Scripture had been proclaimed, we rose to sing Alleluia and rejoiced that Death has been conquered in Christ’s rising.  The incense billowed from the thurible and wafted by the energy in the Assembly rose to the heights and surrounded us with its lingering scent.  The Light embraced us.

In that new Light we celebrated Sacraments.  Those who had journeyed with us through Lent as the Elect followed the Easter Candle as they processed to the font.  The Litany of the Saints accompanied them, as did we among whom they had come to know what it would mean to be a disciple.  We rejoiced as, one by one, they entered the Waters to die to sin that is part of the human condition, and to rise to newness of life that is life in Christ.  Then we made our way to the font to wash there and be renewed in our own Baptism, so to continue on the Way.

The Neophytes, in their white baptismal robes, and we gathered around the Table, the Altar that is the principal sign of Christ’s presence in the Worship Space.  For the first time in their experience, the Neophytes were not sent out from the Assembly after the Liturgy of the Word, to ponder what they had heard.  They were invited to stay for the Feast.  We took bread, said the blessing, and broke the bread.  We rejoiced as Jesus said to us: Take this all of you and eat it.  This is my Body that is given up for you.  Take this all of you and drink (from the cup).  This is the cup of my blood…that will be shed for you and for all so that sins might be forgiven.  And then the Risen One said to us: Now, you do this in my memory.

Christ tells us that when we celebrate Eucharist, not only is the whole Mystery present, but we also are transformed to be the presence of the Risen One in everything we say and do.  And the work that we have to do will not be finished until Christ comes again in glory.

Forgive me.  That is a lot of information to summarize as a reflection that challenged us to let the Easter event happen.  That is what we have been doing through this 50-day celebration of Easter.  The Liturgy of the Word not only reminded us of everything that he taught us while he was still with us, but also reminded us of the experiences of our ancestors in faith during those days of the Church’s infancy, as those first baptized lived the mystery and announced it – even to Gentiles.  Those people went forth from those early celebrations of Eucharist to be servants of the Word and invite all to enter in and be part of the Body of Christ, to know forgiveness, and to live in hope.

Have you noticed that Easter didn’t make the troubles of our times go away?  The wars, the malice, the elitism, sexism, racism, the violence in the streets and in the homes continue.  People still do terrible things to each other.  The Earth trembles.  Storms do damage and kill people.  We want to cry out and plead for relief and understanding.  That does not happen.  We live in doubt as much as we do in faith.  But our Liturgy of the Word reminded us throughout these days that, from the first announcing, there was also persecution.  But also, did you notice that, rather than stifling the message, persecution seemed to cause the numbers of those who listened and believed to flourish?

That is a mystery, isn’t it?  The times of most rapid growth for the church usually coincide with times of persecution.  Could that have something to do with the Cross, the clear sign that through death comes life?

So, we come to the celebration of the Lord’s Ascension.  Notice the first words we hear as the reading from the Acts of the Apostles begins: In my first book, Theophilus….  There is some debate about who Theophilus was.  Was he a member of the gentry, a wealthy person to whom Luke wrote?  Perhaps.  The name means, one who loves God.  So, more think that Luke wrote to all those who love God and seek a deeper relationship with God that comes through Jesus.  I like that and choose to believe that.

We hear a capsulated version of Jesus’ public life and ministry, of his passion, death and resurrection – and the apparitions that convinced the disciples that death had not conquered Christ, but had been conquered by him.  It feels like a summation, that we are experiencing the conclusion of it all.  Wouldn’t it be grand if we were all about to be caught up in mystery as the world experiences restoration and submits to God’s reign?  Alas, the Lord say, that is not what is happening.  Instead, The Risen One turns the ministry over to the disciples as he goes away.  In other words, there is work to be done and the disciples have been chosen to do it.

Two things to take away from the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.  First, change the way you think about Ascension.  Granted, the imagery that we hear speaks of Jesus rising above the disciples and finally being hidden from them by the clouds.  That fits in with the popularly accepted imagery of Heaven being way up there,  beyond the clouds where God sits and angels and saints adore.  What if heaven is right here?  What if the angels and saints surround us and are in our midst?  What if Jesus’ ascension is really about Jesus disappearing from our sight and residing in us?  We are, after all, the Body of Christ, his visibility to the contemporary world through our deeds of love.

Second, make no mistake.  Hear the Lord as we are told that God’s reign will come about.  The Risen One doesn’t tell us how or when.  We have been chosen to be facilitators of that transition.  Just as we are tempted to yield to the gargantuan task and protest our inability do what is asked of us, we hear that when Christ returns to the Father’s right hand, Christ will send the Spirit upon us.  The newly baptized were anointed with Holy Chrism.  The Spirit rushed upon them, empowering they to believe.  The Spirit empowers us to  be proclaimers of the Good News of Salvation.  As long as we live in the Spirit and the Spirit lives in us, everything will be just fine – as long as we spend ourselves seeking to do what Jesus did.  The world will recognize Christ’s abiding presence in his Body, the Church, as long as the Eucharist is at the center of our faith-lives and the fruits of the Eucharist are experienced through the Church’s manifest concern for the poor.

The Spirit will remind us and convince us of what Jesus taught us while he was still with us – that we are the beloved of God.  When we were baptized we put on Christ, were identified with Christ, and clothed in Christ.  God loves us with the same love God has for Christ.  Is’t that an awesome thought?  What do we have to fear?  Christ has conquered everything we would otherwise fear.  Christ’s victory is our own.

A few brief( Promise) final notes for today.  It is natural for us to look at the events in Christ’s life as past and completed events.  But everything Christ did, Christ does.  The actions of Christ are ongoing and timeless.  We renew Christ’s dying and rising in the Eucharist.  We enter into the one dying and rising.  Christ’s intercession through those mysteries continues until time has run its course and eternity begins.  The same is true of Christ’s Ascension.  Christ is ascending to God until all of us , caught up in the ascension are with Christ in glory.  Then God reigns.

We conclude with a caution.  Did you notice how, at the end of the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, after Jesus had ascended and gone out of their sight, did you notice how the disciples remained where they were and stared into the sky?  Two men in white garments (angels? Perhaps.  But they could be two of the baptized who are clothed in white) stood beside them.  Their question: why are you standing there looking at the sky?  There is work to be done.  They and we must get on with it.  God must be praised.  The poor must be served.  We are called to live in hope and to help others to believe that Christ will come again even as we saw him going away.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus 

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SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – May 26, 2019

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 22-29
A reading from the Book of Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:23-29

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Sometimes in the night, when I am anxious, I wonder if I believe.  I toss and turn and feel emotion churning in the very pit of my stomach.  It seems to me in those times that nothing works out as it should for someone who walks on The Way with the Lord.  At least I pray that is what I am doing.  

When someone I love dies, I grieve and wonder if I will ever know consolation.  I stare at the yawning grave as the casket is lowered, my vision blurred by tears.  Should someone I love betray me, my grief is the same as at a time of death.  How could a friend do such a thing to a friend?  Shouldn’t friendship be forever, rooted in Christ as it is?

If my health should fail, what would I do then, since I have only known Good health?  I have tended friends in their illness and kept vigil with the dying.  But how will I deal with these realities in my own life?  Do I believe?  Why am I anxious?

There could not have been a more angst-ridden atmosphere than that in the Upper Room on the night of the Last Supper.  That is where we are again on this Sixth Sunday of Easter.  Jesus teaches to the end.  His students, the disciples, struggle to take in the message.  Jesus is the potter.  Can they allow themselves to be the clay?  The Lord is molding them, preparing them for a reality that they cannot imagine – life without Jesus’ visible presence.  Knowing them to their cores, even as Jesus speaks, he understands that the lesson is beyond them.  It will take the Advocate, the Spirit, to empower them, to enable them to hear, accept and believe.

Were these the lessons the Lord tried to teach me in those early days?  I remember how I longed for Baptism, that wonderful moment that would transform reality just as I was transformed.  I would be called by name.  I would be identified with Christ.

As I came out of the waters, I wanted what St. Paul said to be true for me.  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  I doubt I thought about dying being gain.  After all, I was young then, and naive.  Then, I couldn’t imagine sickness or suffering.  How could there be betrayal.  Life in Christ would shield me from all such dire realities that others experienced.  That is what I thought then.

Waling with Christ in the brightness of the wonder that is Christ would banish the shadows where terror lurked.  Walking with Christ in the new life of Baptism would be like living in the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.  Now.

 

Jesus is the gentle teacher.  He knew that I loved him then.  As does any lover, I saw our relationship being my life and my support, lived in an Eden of bliss, forever young.  Jesus said it was about love.  The Father would love me because I love Jesus and wanted to live in union with him.  I would be drawn into Mystery, the community of life the is God, having the likeness in which I was created, perfected. Christ would shield me and hold me out of harm’s way.

That was then.  So one ago.  Untested.  Untried.  Now there are sleepless nights.  Now there is tossing and turning.  I have cried in the night and wondered, forgetting that Jesus was betrayed by a kiss.  He wept at a friend’s death.  He cried out in terror as the darkness enveloped him and he felt abandoned by the One who had sent him.  So many signs  So much I missed.

A man chided me once.  Or was it pity I heard in his voice?  He laughed at my faith, even as he said it would be nice to believe in Jesus.  But for him, that was out of the question.  Why?  Because, he said, the Messiah should bring about the Messianic Kingdom of peace, justice, and light.  If that had followed from Jesus, he would be a believer.  But look at the world.  Look at the suffering.  Look at ever age after Christ, and we see as much famine, war, disease, and death as before.

We believe that Kingdom began in the Resurrection?  When all those who come to Christ in faith, the Spirit forms a new community that is Church.  Isn’t that the Messianic Kingdom?  When that community assembles around the Table and renews the Lord’s dying and rising in the action of Eucharist, when the Bread is broken, and the Cup shared, isn’t that the Messianic Kingdom realized?

The action doesn’t end there – ever.  There is always a sending to be what the Eucharist empowers – the presence of Christ to a wounded world.

In my sleepless nights, what am I forgetting?  As I toss and turn, and want to cry out, I wonder if I will survive.  Should I survive, what then?  Do these signs of failure, betrayal, and death forebode a void that will envelop me in final defeat?

I hear the Lord speak now with firm gentleness.  Peace. I give you peace!  Do not let your heart be troubled.  Believing is not easy and has little to do with feeling.  If I believe, I must trust in the Lord’s word.  This peace has little do do with the absence of war and hostility.  Certainly that absence will one day be part of abiding peace.  This peace should not be destroyed by betrayal.  Certainly reconciliation will be a part of the peace the Lord will give.

I must remember that the peace Jesus gives is not given in the way the world gives, and to remember what that peace is.  All who have accepted Christ’s peace must continually be reminded that nothing will separate us from the love of God that comes to us through Christ Jesus.  

That doesn’t mean we will not know  suffering.  That does not mean we will not encounter death.  That does not mean we  will not know betrayal.  But in the end, when all else fails, we will know that the love of God is forever.

The Lord spoke in these terms the night before he died to bolster the courage of the disciples as they watched him die.  The Lord says this now to the newly baptized so that they will not be discouraged should they experience trial as they begin to journey with the Lord on the Way.  The Lord says this to me and others like me, who are seasoned travelers, who may know success, but may taste failure as well.  Even in the darkest night, God is there and we are loved with the same love God has for Christ.

That is the truth by which we live.  That is what the Lord wants us to remember and believe.  Come, Advocate.  Come, Holy Spirit and help my unbelief.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – C – May 19, 2019

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 14:21-27
A reading from the Book of Revelation 21:1-5a
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 13:31-33a, 34a, 

Dear Friends in Christ,

We have been celebration Easter now almost as long as we took to make our Lenten journey.  What is supposed to be happening to us in this time of rejoicing?  It is safe to say that in this time we are getting used to the idea that Jesus Christ is risen.  Death was not the victor.  Jesus triumphed over sin, suffering and death.  But we must be careful.  There is a temptation to see Easter as a conclusion.  Lent is over.  The Passion and Death narrative have been told.  We have heard the story that spells out defeat perfectly.  The world looked on and saw Jesus broken.  The disciples went away sad, caught up in Jesus’ defeat.  They had thought that Jesus was the one who would set Israel free.

In these days it is easy to get caught up in defeatism.  The signs are all around us.  You know what I mean.  There is no need for me to reiterate here.  Christianity is losing ground, caught in the backwash resulting from the sins of previous generations. We see political alliances between the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of Light.  The children of those who suffered at the hands of those who abused power, those who should have been servants of the poor and the vulnerable, now rise up and say, enough!  No more!  Never again!  Faith in Jesus Christ has been tested and found wanting because those who witnessed to it professionally were themselves found wanting.  There are scars, physical and emotional, that attest to the tyranny.

Churches all around the world fill up to over-flowing for Easter Sunday services.  But what does that mean?  It is a testimony to the fact that somehow faith survives?  Is it people gathering, hoping against hope?  Are they the disciples, seasoned, gasping as they arrive because they are not as sprightly as they used to be, when their faith was young?  Do they peer in to soak up the signs as did those first ones at the entry to the Tomb, hoping their faith will be reignited?  Do they ask themselves how all this is compatible with what is happening in Iraq, this generation’s holy war?  Are they struggling to reconcile the church bells and the alleluias with the plight of those seeking asylum at the United States-Mexico boarder?  Where is the evidence for the triumph being celebrated when those gathered realize that it is often profit that gets in the way of making those medications accessible that could alleviate and even eradicate plagues multitudes of the poor in Africa.  That same lust for money keeps essential medications out of the reach of the poorer members of our country and of the world.

I noticed something today.  You may wonder what took me so long to get this.  It isn’t that I hadn’t read the texts before.  The difference was, this time I heard them.  What I noticed in a new way was that in these last weeks of Easter in John’s Gospel, we are back in the Upper Room, on the night before Jesus died.  Betrayal, that most bitter blow in Jesus’ sufferings, is at hand.  What does the Lord teach?  He is being glorified with the glory he he shares with God, the glory that is his own.  Now.  How?  How should we recognize his glory in what was about to transpire?  We are to hear the Passion Story in light of the triumph.  We are to see the Resurrection of the Lord as part of the whole.  All these actions mingle and commingle to emerge as the source of a new creation in which we are all called to participate.

The One we follow on The Way challenges us to see glory in defeat.  We are called to understand that if we recognize and follow Jesus Christ in resurrection, suffering should not surprise us.  That is the mistake I have made in Easters past.  I thought it was over when the Candle entered the church and scattered the darkness.  Christ, our light.  Thanks be to God!  The strife is over.  The battle done!  Now is the Victor’s triumph won.  That sounds finished.  And if that is my expectation, no wonder I leave myself open to disappointment when I am confronted by signs that the Victory is still a work in progress.

Think of those people who entered the Font during the Easter Vigil.  They emerged, gleaming with oil and dressed in white, signs of their identification with Christ.  Their sins all washed away.  Their new life now is theirs.  Now is the Victor’s trump won!  But what happens when they are confronted with the reality of sin that has survived in their lives, when they have to deal with the fact that the struggle must still go on.  They must press on for their participation in the Victory that lies before them.

If we recognize Jesus in his rising, we must see let the Lord help us to see all reality in a new light.  Sometimes what seems like victory will be a defeat.  What seems like triumph will be a failure.  We must struggle continually to say no to sin, to the temptations subtle and otherwise to lord it over others, to see ourselves as superior to others, to see myself as superior to others, to see myself in any other role than that of a servant  to the rest.

Hear Jesus’ words.  Let them wash over you in the midst of the Assembly listening with you.  As I have loved you, so you should love one another.  It is all about Love.  But this is not a love that takes anything to ourselves.  IT is love that empowers us to empty of self, to pour out self in service.  Sunday after Sunday will be marked by our celebrating Eucharist.  We will break Bread and Share a cup.  And each Sunday we will hear Jesus say, Do this in my memory. 

In the midst of all that seems to spell the defeat of Christianity, those who have peered into the empty tomb and seen the garments of death and the cloth that covered Jesus’ face, lying apart by itself, those who have seen must dare to enter, and seeing, believe.  They and we  must dare to be signs of contradiction.  The triumph is in the Cross.  The Victory is in the dying.  The glory is now.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus