Archive for April, 2020|Monthly archive page

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 26, 2020

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33
A reading from the first Letter of St. Peter 1:17-21
A reading from he holy Gospel according to Luke 24:13-35

Dear Friends in Christ,

Have you ever noticed that the beginnings of faith often have to do with giving up suppositions about Jesus?  Along the way you have to let go of so much and deal with disappointment.  In the beginning you might have thought you believed, only to have an epiphany, as it were, that told you that you had no idea.  Or, better, that your preconceptions centered on such a limited portion of the truth and often involved misconceptions.  We are dealing with Mystery, after all.  Why should that be a surprise?

If I have a favorite Gospel passage, it is today’s.  I pray with it at least weekly.  Each time I find something new at which to marvel.  I turn to the passage in times of desolation.  I rest in it in times of great elation.  I have come to accept that to be a believer means to journey with Jesus on the way.  Pause for a moment.  Reflect.  When and where did your faith life begin?

The two people on their way to Emmaus are introduced to us as disciples.  That designation means that they had made their decision to follow, that is, to be with Jesus.  They are different from those others designated as crowds that milled around Jesus, listening to him, observing him in action, but remained uncommitted.  We are given a hint about what the two thought about Jesus, that he was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.  They had been impressed by the power of his preaching and thrilled by how his preaching translated into action.  They may have concluded that there had never been another as wonderful as Jesus who could give them reason to hope during their time of domination by Roman rule.   Jesus seemed to fit so many of the qualities that they expected to see exhibited in one who would redeem Israel, that is, set Israel free from their oppressors.

What had gone wrong?  The two are conversing and debating about their Jesus experience.  Some things he said and did had fit their preconceptions of the Messiah.  The poor did have the Good News preached to them.  It had been thrilling to see multitudes rapt in attention to his every word.  Some wanted just to touch his clothes.  There had been reports of miracles.  But being condemned and crucified like a common criminal were not concepts associated with the Messiah.

When you began to believe, what did you imagine Jesus would do for you?  There are not a few today who extol a Jesus who will bring wealth and power to those who turn their lives over to him.  Did such thoughts draw you to Jesus in the beginning?

The Stranger who joins the two on their way to Emmaus invites them to go deeper into their disappointments.  He gives them an opportunity to acknowledge their grief even as he invites them to let go of their assumptions and enter the new Way.  Do not miss the important information.  Their eyes were prevented from recognizing (Jesus).  It happens in Luke’s and John’s Gospels that disciples do not recognize the resurrected One in their first encounters with him.  What really is happening is that these disciples are coming to see him for the first time with insights that alter all their previous experiences of him.  Invariably there is much they have to let go of.  Isn’t it curious that the two say they have heard the astounding news reported by some of the women in the group?  The empty tomb.  Angels announcing he is alive.  Amazing news, yes; but it is not enough to convince them.

Hang on now.  There is an abrupt transition.  The Stranger does not mince words.  How foolish you are.  How slow of heart to believe!  The Stranger tells them they have missed the whole point of the mission and the message.  The Jesus moment was one of God’s entering into the human experience, inviting people to live a new life.  It was as if God were saying again, in the words found in Hebrew Scripture, Let me be your God and you will be my people.  Let us live in a union that you could never have dreamed of or imagined, if only you will not be embarrassed by this different kind of Messiah, different from your expectations, and will walk with the Christ in faith.  Here is the shocking transition that, if accepted, alters forever the meaning and role of suffering in life.

The common belief regarding suffering for some, even to this day, is that it is a punishment for sin, either one’s own sins or those of one’s ancestors.  The horror of crucifixion paled in comparison to the obvious meaning that God was punishing Jesus on the cross through the hands of those who crowned him with thorns and drove in nails.  How foolish you are.  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?

Ponder that for a moment.  Unfortunately, we hear texts over and over again.  Gospels are proclaimed.  We hear opening words, recognize them, know the rest of the story, and muse off about something else until the proclamation is over.  I remember once looking out at the Assembly while reading the gospel that spoke of Jesus calming the wind and the waves and being shocked by a man yawning.  What is so shocking?  In a simple turn of phrase, suffering, far from being a punishment for sin, becomes a means of entering into glory.  A suffering Messiah is the Christ.

What about disciples?  What comes to them if they follow Jesus?  The challenge is that Jesus must be all in all for them, that is, for us.  I wonder if the two disciples remembered that Jesus had warned that, if they would be his disciples, they would have to take up the cross every day and follow him.  Had they been present for the encounter between Jesus and the rich person who wanted salvation?  That person had followed all the commandments from youth.  What more had to be done?  Go sell what you have and give to the poor.  Then come and follow me.  That person went away sad because that was asking too much.

The two disciples had to let go of their assumptions and preconceptions.  It is not an exaggeration to say they had to go back to square one.  They had to read the Scriptures in a new light.  They had to see that discipleship was not for self-aggrandizement but for imitating Jesus in love.  There was so much that had to die if they were to live.  And there was the cross at the center of it all.

It is curious, isn’t it, that with all the insights that the Stranger made available to them, they still did not recognize him.  The recognition of the truth burning in their hearts did not remove the veil from their eyes.  That happened at the Table, but not in the way that we might expect, but in how Christ’s abiding presence would be achieved.  The Bread is broken.  It is in the action of the Eucharist that they recognize the Risen One.  And as soon as they do, it is as if they are sent back to their community to tell the story and share the faith.

So it must be for us.  The Word lives in the proclamation.  And as we are nourished at the table of the Word and our hearts burn with the recognition of the truth, we must move to the other Table and do Eucharist.  It is there we will recognize the Risen One and know his presence.  But it never stops there.  Celebrating Eucharist and sharing in that meal mean that we must be sent to tell the Good News in word and action, loving others as we are loved.

And the Kingdom dawns.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus 

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 19, 2020

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
A reading from the first Letter of Peter 1:3-9
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-31

He sat in the silent church, silent except for the sound of the water trickling down from the raised bowl into the Baptismal Font below.  The stained-glass windows in the western clerestory shimmered as the setting sun’s blue and red rays danced on the east wall and flickered like candle flames in too strong a breeze.  The last of the worshipers had left moments before.  The man seemed unwilling to let go of the moment, reluctant to step out of the mystery into the approaching night.

I watched him for a few moments and felt irritation rise.  I wanted to lock the doors and get on with my evening.  I flicked the switches that extinguished the majority of the interior lights.  Surely that would be a signal the man would recognize as an indication that he should be on his way.  I walked to the narthex and noisily closed the doors and turned the key in their locks to secure them.  Turning to start my way back up the aisle, I gazed over the font.  My jaw clenched as I noted that the man continued to sit stolidly in place.  He gave no evidence that he intended to respond to the audible signals I so clearly had given.

The sound of each step I took on my way back down the aisle echoed through the nave.  When I reached the pew in which he was sitting, I stopped and turned toward him.  His gaze was fixed on the Easter Candle that stood adjacent to the ambo.  Tears glistened on his cheeks.  I sat a few feet away from him and watched.  His breathing was calm.  His arms rested in his lap.  Then he was looking at me, his eyes wide and unblinking.

“Is there anything I can do for you?“ I asked.

Was there a hint of a smile as he turned his attention back to the Candle?  “I was here a week ago for the Vigil and heard you proclaim Christ to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  You lit the Candle from the Easter fire and then entered this dark church to proclaim Christ our Light! I joined the others with Thanks be to God! I think I meant it.  I want desperately to believe it.  It was thrilling to watch as one by one the candles we held received light and flickered a moment before the light was passed on to a neighbor.  I remember the darkness of the night yielding as one by one the candles burned brighter.

“We all sat in the candles’ light and listened to the story from the beginning.  The words rushed over us.  Genesis.  Exodus.  Isaiah.  On and on in hypnotic cadence the words washed over the Assembly.  I wondered, do I believe this?  I want to, the way I did a year ago when I entered the baptismal waters back home.  I want to.  But I don’t feel anything.”

His tears continued to flow.

“Feeling and believing aren’t the same thing,” I said, “any more than seeing and believing are.”  His right hand flicked across his cheek, whisking tears away.  “I can see that you are upset.  Is it about this lack of feeling you have; or is there something more?”

“I love the Easter Candle.  When I was being prepared for Baptism, I was told that the Candle is the great symbol of the Lord’s resurrection.  When I was being baptized, I kept my eyes fixed on it.  What an awesome night that was.  The Candle had figured in every step along the course of the service.  It was the first thing I saw when I emerged from the water gasping.  Three times the water poured over me.”

I thought that there must be something more that he wants to talk about.  His body language spoke of someone who had just heard of the death of a loved one.  My need to urge him on his way had subsided.  I was content to wait and listen.  Rather than stare at him, my gaze focused on the Candle.  It was simply decorated this year with the cross and five red spikes and a wrap of marbled wax.  Light of Christ.  Thanks be to God.

“I’m dying,” he said.  “A few months from now I will find out for myself whether there is anything more than silence.  I feel like darkness is enveloping me.  I keep hearing the doctor’s words.  He was sorry to tell me that the headaches I had been enduring are the result of an inoperable tumor in my brain.”  He turned toward me to see how his news registered on my face.  There was a pause, long, but not awkward.  “Thank you for not saying something trite.  Thank you for not saying that you understand.  It is amazing how many people say they understand my pain.”

My heart pounded in my chest as I searched for something to say.  I knew that silence was not enough.  I reached over and took his hand.  “I can pray,” I said.  “I can try to support you with my prayers.”

I don’t have anyone near by, any family.  They are in the Midwest.  I’m not married or even engaged.  But you have to die alone anyway, I guess.  I hate darkness.  I love light.”

His tears had stopped.  He turned toward me and tightened his hold of my hand.  “If I could only see something that would convince me.  I’m a Didymus whose name means twin.  Like him, if I could touch the wounds, even feel his breath, I know I could believe then.”

“You do believe.  You are here.  You celebrated Eucharist tonight with this Assembly.  You were transformed more completely with them into the Body of Christ.  The union in the Body of Christ is closer than family.  The bond is love – Christ’s love for you.  Your love for Christ and for one another.”  I remember feeling that I was struggling, grasping for words, praying that something I would say would touch him.

“Am I loved?  Does Christ love me?  Did God send this thing that is killing me to punish me for my sins?  Maybe if my faith was stronger, this wouldn’t have happened to me.”

“Hear me,” I said.  “God does not send you this terrible cancer.  But God does rush in to support you with love during your illness.  You walk with this illness the way Jesus carried his cross.  To the crowds and to the entire world it looked like defeat.  Jesus proclaimed God’s faithfulness and love.  He experienced darkness.  He leapt into the void, believing that the Father would catch him in an embrace and raise him up.

“That’s what God will do with you.  The Father loves you with the same love he has for Jesus.  In fact, God might not be able to tell the two of you apart.  Remember that white robe you put on after your Baptism?  Remember what it symbolized?  You have put on Christ.”

“Do you mean that?  Is that true for me?  Can I believe that?”

“I will tell you more.  Hear me again.  If you want it, when the time comes, I will be with you.  You will feel my hand holding yours.  You will hear my voice.  I will remind you that God loves you and that Jesus waits to take you home.”

Puffs of smoke seemed to cling to his casket before ascending  as I incensed his body at the funeral’s conclusion.  The pall enshrouding the casket reminded those gathered that at his Baptism he was clothed in Christ.  The mourners stood in testimony to the truth that he had lived in Christ, died with Christ, and now lived in Christ forever.

The Candle went before us as we made our way down the aisle and out into the summer’s sun.

HAPPY EASTER

My dear Friends in Christ,

It is springtime in the desert.  The night air is fragrant with the scent of orange and cactus blossoms.  I sat on my patio and watched the Easter moon cast its glow.  The surroundings shimmered.  A mourning dove perched on the wall near me and summoned its partner from out there somewhere.  Strange how all the elements come together to remind us of Mystery.

We are a people of faith.  Our challenge is to live in Mystery and say boldly to the world that there is more than what the senses can behold.  There is something more important than what is tangible; more important than youth, or beauty, or wealth, or power.  In the face of this COVID-19 pandemic we are dared to trust that the coronavirus will not triumph, nor will war, nor hatred, nor prejudice, nor any of the powers that threaten humankind bringing us to our knees in near despair.  There is something that can be experienced only when all else has failed and the powers of darkness have done their worst.  Never forget that Jesus in the last moments of his dying was enveloped by darkness.  He felt abandoned as he cried out to Abba, Father, and asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The Lenten journey is that kind of walk, a time of being alone with Jesus.  We were invited to enter into the darkness and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year, on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear the gospel of the Temptations in the Desert.  Look at them closely and you will understand that they sum up all the temptations we can suffer in life.  What dazzles and distracts might make us wonder if God ought to have primacy of place in our lives.  Gold, position, power, these might make us wonder if God will triumph.  Through the din, will we hear God’s plea, “Let me be your God.  You will be my people.”  Jesus did.

Easter, in the northern hemisphere at least, comes in springtime.  Winter has done its worst.  Or has it, this year?  There have been ample signs of the power of darkness.  Horror stories of war, famine, the pandemic, exploitation of the weak and the poor, global horrors have all been there in the nightly news.  Perhaps some have felt estrangement from a loved one.  Some as caregivers have watched a loved one, a spouse or a parent or a child, gradually disappear into dementia.  Some might have kept the lonely vigil by a deathbed and watched and wondered how life would ever be endurable without the loved one.  Others might know the most bitter blow of betrayal by someone loved and trusted – that is at the heart of Christ’s Passion.  “Do you betray me with a kiss?”  Some might feel shattered by all those things that tempt us to think of tragedy – the ultimate defeat.

The passage in all of Scripture that is dearest to my heart is the Emmaus story.  Two travelers’ faith has been shattered by their having witnessed Jesus’ destruction on the cross.  “We had thought he was the one who would set Israel free.”  The mysterious Stranger invited them to revisit what they had experienced.  This time view it through the prism of faith: “Did not the Son of Man have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory?”  After they had pressed the Stranger to stay with them, he, in Eucharistic language, took the bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  When he vanished from their sight, they remembered that they recognized him in the Breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord.  They remembered that their hearts were burning as they walked with him On The Way as he invited them to share in the new perspective.  And they returned to Jerusalem to tell other disciples that they had sen the Lord.

Remember the Emmaus story.  Notice that the Lord did not revise recent history for the two.  He did not take away the horror of the passion and death.  It had happened.  But the Good Friday they had witnessed was not about defeat, but victory.  Easter dares us to trust the story and believe in the Mystery.  Maybe Easter can only hold sway in our lives when we have been brought to our lowest point, when our strength has been depleted, when everything else has failed us, and we are still alive.  The cross is still the cross and it is horrible.  But in the light of Easter,  it is also a sign of hope and promised victory.  “Behold, I make all things new!”

May every blessing of Easter be yours.  May your faith be strengthened.  May your hope be renewed.  May your love be the reason you dare to be Christ’s presence for others until he comes again.  May your hearts burn within you as you continue to journey with the Stranger on the way.

This year for the first time in my life, and in yours, the Assembly will not be able to gather to celebrate Easter together.  But it is still Easter.  The Lord is risen.  He is alive.  The Mystery remains.  And next year we may be able to celebrate the Liturgy of Easter and recognize him in the breaking of the Bread and the sharing of the Cup.  Some day.  It will happen.

A favorite quote from a favorite saint, Thomas More, seems apt by way of conclusion.  “Pray for me as I will for thee, that we meet merrily in heaven!”

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus