THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – A – June 11, 2017

A reading from the Book of Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 13:11-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 3:16-18

Forgive me if it sounds presumptuous.  After all, who am I to quibble?  Still, sometimes I find myself wishing that the compilers of the Lectionary readings had not edited down the texts, but rather had left them in tact.  Gems seem to be left out for the sake of brevity.  Today’s first reading is a case in point.

What a magnificent moment in which we are privileged to witness.  God descends in a cloud and stands with Moses on Mount Sinai.  A courtship dance ensues as God reveals himself to Moses, proclaiming his name, Lord (Yahweh), to Moses.  The scene is reminiscent of their first encounter at the Burning Bush.  That was when Moses asked the Presence for a name to be given should Pharaoh ask Moses who had sent him.  Tell Pharaoh I AM sent you.

In the Hebrew tradition, to know the name is to know the essence of the being.  Remember in the Garden, God brought all the animals before Adam to see what name Adam would give them.  That is how wise the Earthling was, to know the essence of all the creatures.  I AM, translated Yahweh, becomes a name so holy that the Hebrews will not pronounce it.  They will use Adonai instead.

Now, coming out of a cloud and dancing before Moses, God gives his own commentary on the meaning of Yahweh.  The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.  While merciful and gracious are similar qualities, note that merciful is related to the Hebrew word for womb.  God’s love for humans resembles a mother’s love for her child.  It is the continuation of that line that I wish the Lectionary editors had left in.  The Lord continues his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgives wickedness and crime and sin.  I have to admit that I don’t mind that the final phrase of the text is omitted – yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their father’s wickedness.  Somehow I think that is hyperbole rushing out of the emotion of the moment.  God’s dominant attitude toward creatures is forgiveness.  What remains after wickedness, crime and sin have been forgiven anyway?

We celebrate the Feast of the most Holy Trinity this weekend.  To some, it might seem a strange feast since every Sunday, and everything we do as believers centers in our shared life in the Trinity.  Be that as it may, the readings this Sunday give us an opportunity to focus on the Mystery and remember.

What ought we to hear?  First, we ought to hear that this faith of ours is a result of God’s reaching out and embracing us.  God pleads with us to let God be our God so that we can be God’s people.  This did not happen because of anything we did or did not do.  This is not something that we earn.  This is grace, pure and simple.  That is important for us to remember lest we get swelled headed because we believe.  Paul took care of that temptation once and for all when, in another text, he challenged Christians to remember that no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the Spirit empowers everything we do and everything we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  If you believe that Jesus is Lord it is because the Spirit breathed that belief into you.

In our Baptism we are given a new life, having died to the old one, and we are given a new identity – a union with Jesus that results in our being the beloved of God, sharing in God’s life.  Never tire of thinking about that.  Ponder the mystery and wonder.  Remember what John said?  Beloved, we are God’s children now.  What we shall become remains to be seen.  All this now and Heaven still to come!  Or, has it already begun?

Our celebration of this feast reminds us of some particular implications of our belief.  All of them are relational.  Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that if we believe in God as Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, then it follows that God calls us to enter and live in that community of Love we call God.  Love binds the community of the faithful together.  Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace…Greet one another with a holy kiss.  In a nutshell Paul tells us what should be the evidence that we are the Church.  We are a people on a journey together.  We are united in the one God and united with one another.  When we gather for Eucharist, we stand in awe at the Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Bread and the Wine.  We ought not to forget another presence: the Assembly is the Body of Christ, here gathered to celebrate the Eucharist.  Again, Paul, in another passage, again to the Corinthians, reminds us that the body, though many in parts, is one body.   Division in the community we call Church is a scandal that denies that unity.  Shunning individuals, even sinners, in the community is a scandal.  Unless the proclamation that goes out from us gathered in worship is, All are welcome here, we are not living the reality.  This faith life is not something we hoard.  It is something we live to share.

Do you remember Eleanor of Aquitaine’s famous line in The Lion in Winter?  Prone on the floor following a violent argument with her husband, Eleanor looks at the audience and declares: Every family has its ups and downs.  Ups and downs not withstanding, the family remains.  If we believe that we are journeying together on The Way, then we must support and encourage each other along the way.  There is no judging worthiness.  No one can deny another’s worthiness to come to the Table.  The example lived in this love is the call to conversion should we need to mend our lives and ways.  It is the person who determines the rightness of approaching the Table.  Contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s title, You Can’t Go Home Again, return and reconciliation are always possibilities and causes for great rejoicing.

So again, in the end, it is about love.  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  That is what Jesus proclaims this Sunday in the Gospel.  Everyone.  Notice.  We must not be stingy with God’s grace that washes over us in the same abundance, as does Christ’s blood in which we are redeemed.

If we recognize that and experience the profound sense of awe and gratitude that ought to result, then the Eucharist we celebrate as the source and summit of all we do as believers ought to empower us to live our Baptismal Priesthood in such a way that it translates into lives of loving service, loving each other as Christ has loved us.  That is what the Greeting of Peace, or the Kiss of Peace, as it was first called, is meant to express before we enter into the Communion Procession.

Is there anyone you have left out of or excluded from the circle for a while, anyone with whom you are content not to be speaking?  Is there anyone you deem unworthy of approaching the Table?  Live what you celebrate this weekend and reach out.  Who knows, perhaps there is someone who feels estranged from you who will feel the need to reach out and welcome you home again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

FEAST OF PENTECOST – A – June 04, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 12:3b-7. 12-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

Much of what passes for religious art offends me.  A type of piety is depicted that is impossible to identify with.  The saints appear dower, epicene and effeminate.  Untouchable and ethereal, in no way are they part of the world I inhabit.  Insipid comes to mind.  I don’t mean to be irreverent.  Excuse me if my remarks seem disrespectful.  In no way am I an iconoclast.  Religious art ought to be so much more and ought to depict the struggle of those on The Way so that their courageous character might emerge and inspire.  Vivid in my memory is a wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother that I had the privilege to stand before and ponder.  The woman stood, head uncovered, staff in hand.  She faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments.  She stood undaunted.  Valiant comes to mind.

A church near by teems with art pieces that do nothing for me.  I want to encounter representations of people whose humanity I share.  Granted, the statues represent those already in glory.  But the depictions should encourage enabling the viewer to imagine them as they were in this world, to see their fragility, to see examples of those who came to understand with Paul the transforming power of the Spirit.  No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.  That same Spirit fortified the saints who came to know with Paul that they could do all things in (Christ) who strengthens me.  Jesus Christ is the only explanation for the success of those who walked in the trenches and engaged in the struggle.

What occasions these thoughts on this day of Pentecost is a stained-glass window representing this feast that I viewed practically every day through my growing-up years.  Think of the description in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles:  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were…and there appeared tongues of fire.  In the window the placid group in perfectly pleated and flowing robes seemed all too tranquil, free of agitation and disturbance, unlike what would be the reaction of anyone caught in such a storm.  Shouldn’t their clothes be ruffled by the wind?  Wouldn’t fright register on a face or two?  Wouldn’t at least one hold his/her hands to the ears against the noise?  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine sitting calmly while fire descended and danced over me.  An event like this hadn’t happened before.  The group did not know what all of this meant or how they would be transformed by it.  Where is their terror as the world turns upside down for them and they come to realize that they will never be the same again?

A respected theologian remarked that she is surprised that safety equipment isn’t distributed to people as they come into the church for worship.  They must have no idea of what they could be in for.  Her question: What if it were to happen this time?  What if the assembled were to see clearly what happens in Baptism?  How could the Assembly watch calmly as one of the beloved descends into the pool of abundant water that is both womb and tomb?  Wouldn’t they tremble as the earth quakes and the heavens open and all creation pays heed to the Voice calling the one by name and declaring him/her, newly reborn in Christ, to be My Beloved One?  That’s what the Voice said of Jesus in the Jordan.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and life jackets if the Word washed over us and, broken open, entered and transformed us?  Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands are raised over us and the elements on the altar, if when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into Christ’s body and blood.  The Church is the Body of Christ, or so we proclaim.   But what about our having to be broken and distributed to be Christ’s loving presence in the world?  This action that is Eucharist demands all this of those who take and eat.

We celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, the birthday of the Church. Shouldn’t we experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth?  I wish our icons and our Liturgical celebrations confronted us, shook us to the core, and called us to that new life Christ’s dying and rising began.  That is not likely to happen if we are lulled by romantic piety.  It seems impossible to identify with those who walked this way before us if they are so stoic.  Our art and our rituals should make us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding without our yielding and being empowered by the Spirit.  Then we could stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us.  Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering on the first Pentecost, we threw open the doors and, filled with Christ’s love and animated by the Spirit, we rushed into the public square and spoke heart to heart to those we met there.

In the present climate, what if we believed with Paul that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone?

Would the hatred and division that spews in the political rhetoric resonate if we believed that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons (or any other designation of human kind) and we were all given to drink of on Spirit?

To heal those divisions and lift up the orphans, aliens, and downtrodden, we might have to pour out our lives in service and embrace them as sisters and brothers in the one family of God.  But isn’t that what this feast is all about?

Sincerely,

Didymus

ASCENSION OF THE LORD – May 28, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
A reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:17-23
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 28:16-20

There are two misconceptions regarding the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.  One is taken up, up, and away.  The other is the assumption that the event we celebrate is one of a completion, an event that is over and to be recalled in our celebrations of faith.  Both ideas serve to distance us from what we are supposed to experience and come to believe in this holy day. 

We have grown used to thinking of Heaven as being a place way up there, perhaps among the stars, but definitely out of reach.  There are thrones in Heaven from which God looks down on us from the ethereal regions.  It is definitely other there.  Jesus proclaimed another reality revealed in his Incarnation.  Two realms, the Divine and human, are joined forever when the Word becomes Flesh.  Today’s Gospel concludes with Jesus announcing his abiding presence among us.  Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.  His with you does not mean a presence from afar.  With you means an intimacy that we only rarely come close to imagining.  Where Jesus is, so too are the Father and the Spirit.  Where God is, Heaven is.  If we focus on the remoteness of Heaven and, therefore of God, it is transcendence upon which we focus.  That serves to keep God and all things holy at a distance.  And adoration is our primary response in faith.

The image of Jesus ascending and the clouds closing in to cut him off from our view is poetic and not part of This Sunday’s pericope from Matthew.  Basilica ceilings have glorious replicas that fill us with wonder and awe.  Well they should. There are two dimensions to this faith-life to which we are called.  Jesus beyond the clouds points to the God of transcendence.  Jesus, speaking of being with us, points to immanence.  My felt need is to focus on the latter.  Again, it has to do with the wonder of intimacy that inspires me.  The image of the clouds shielding the resurrected Jesus from our sight is important.  His presence will no longer be a physical one.  Luke made that quite clear in the account of the experience of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  Jesus showed them that fellow journeyers might not recognize their Companion, even if their hearts burn in the presence.  Jesus showed them that his presence would be sacramental, one to be recognized in the Breaking of the Bread.

Our celebration of Sunday Eucharist always renews the Emmaus experience.  The sharing of the Meal makes possible an intimacy with God and the whole Body of Christ that is represented by that group of celebrators who stand with us around the Table.  Together we share the One Bread and the One Cup.  The image that John uses at the beginning of his Gospel is important.  The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.  Jesus is among us as one who serves, revealing a God who wants to serve.  This is not a god who wants to be served.

In John’s Gospel the icon is there.  Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  He does not lie back and wait for the disciples to wash his.  It is about service, about living in relationship, and about living the love we have learned through example.  As I have done to you so ought you do for one another.  The transformation of the World began.

We do not find God primarily in church.  We do not find Jesus primarily there either.  We celebrate there the Presence we found elsewhere.  In the church of splendor many of the seekers do not feel the presence.  That is precisely why the Bishop of Rome urges reform and the putting off of splendor and the becoming of a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  In too many ages the Church has exemplified splendor and the Transcendent God giving the poor something to hope for at least in Heaven.  Pope Francis washes feet, kissing them as he dries them.  If the Church becomes poorer those seekers will find and experience that for which they search.

Many saints journaled about their experience of recognizing Jesus in the most unlikely subjects.  Strange how often those subjects are poor or imprisoned, lepers or outcasts.  The downtrodden seem to be the clearest transmitters of the reality.  Francis kissed the leper.  Bernard cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar.  Catherine of Sienna and Theresa of Avila had their encounters, too.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that when she ministered to the dying destitute she ministered to Christ in his passion.  The lesson is clear.  At least it will become so if we are willing to deal with the implications.  Then the clouds will part for us and we will be empowered to see that Heaven begins in the here and now.  Our God is immanent.

Which brings me to the second observation.  The Ascension of the Lord is not a once-and-for-all action completed over 2000 years ago for us to celebrate these many centuries later.  Jesus ascends in an action that transcends time and is therefore timeless.  That is true of all that Jesus does.  His dying and rising are ongoing.  So, too, are his resurrection and ascension.  In our sacramental celebrations we enter into them.  Jesus doesn’t suffer all over again and then die on our altars.  The whole Mystery is celebrated there.  Our Communion is with the whole Mystery and meant to be lived.

The challenge for us as individuals and as Church remains the same as it has been from the very beginning.  First, we must recognize the wonderful thing that happens to us in Baptism when we are given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of (Jesus Christ).  This knowledge of Jesus Christ is one of union with Jesus Christ.  Remember what Jesus said to Philip who asked Jesus to show them the Father?  Philip, those who see me see the Father.  The challenge for the baptized is to recognize that they are the Body of Christ and, with a couple of word changes, Christ’s words ought to come forth from their lips to all they meet.  Is there any greater challenge than to see as your task to live so that all those who see you see Jesus?  It is almost as great as the challenge to see Jesus in those little ones in need of service.

If the faithful, the Body of Christ in the world today, obeyed the commandment to love one another as I have loved you, the world would be transformed in the experience of the reign of God.  As long as it takes, Jesus will continue his ascension.  The task will not be completed until time has run its course and all things are caught up in Mystery.

This is not likely to happen while you are on your knees.  This unfolding will happen when you are in the trenches, so to speak, doing the work, identifying with those to whom you minister, experiencing their poverty, supporting their waning hope, reminding them that they are God’s beloved.  And we haven’t even talked about the need for this love to be universal.  The challenge is to recognize that all people are related as sisters and brothers in this one God who creates all and loves all who are created in god’s image and likeness.

Perhaps we will talk more about this on another day.

Sincerely,

Didymus