1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Jesus reminds his hearers that not only did he promise the Spirit, but so did his Father. John the Baptist also prophesied regarding the sending of the Spirit. Jesus thus relates the prophetic utterances of 2 prophets: himself and John the Baptist. But this is not a one-time event! It is the active movement of the Spirit in the ongoing life of the church. (Birmingham, W&W, p. 321) How is Spirit active in our church? How is Spirit active in YOU?
Reflect on the experience of the disciples after the death of Jesus. Imagine what it would have been like to have followed Jesus, lived with him, eaten with him, and now he was gone. He is not physically here anymore. How does that make you feel? What are you going to do now?
There is concern in verse 6 over God’s intention for the salvation of Israel. Where was Israel’s place in what God was doing in Christ? There is hope that Christ will deliver Israel, but there is also concern and question. Hope is not dead in spite of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Acts highlights the drama of a people turning away from the messianic fulfillment that was theirs for the taking. However, this rejection is still fraught with the future hope of restoration. All is not lost for Israel (Birmingham, W&W, p. 322).
There is a feeling like the disciples want everything to be fixed FOR them. The ‘men dressed in white garments’ asked why they were looking up. In the movie Evan Almighty, Morgan Freeman who plays God, asks the same question. He says that is our problem: everyone is always looking up. Can you think of times when you looked up, rather than involved yourself in the solution?
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series (p. 90-94):
We see what Paul asks for a Church which he loves and which is doing well:
- A Spirit of Wisdom (Sophia, wisdom of the deep things of God): To be a thinking people. Plato said, “The unexamined life is the life not worth living.” A questioning faith is a healthy one!
- For fuller revelation and fuller knowledge: Our spiritual life is like a muscle. It must be exercised regularly. Just like any friendship, it takes effort.
- New realization of the Christian hope: isn’t this what the disciples are faced with in the Ascension?
- New realization in the power of God: Because of the resurrection, God’s purpose cannot be stopped by any action of men (or women). In a world which looks chaotic, it is well to realize that God is still in control.
We are the body of Christ. There is a legend that the angel Gabriel asks Jesus after the Ascension what will happen if the disciples grow tired and don’t spread the good news. “What if the people who come after them forget? What is away down in the twentieth century people just don’t tell others about you? Haven’t you made any other plans?” And Jesus answered: “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.” To say that the Church is the Body means that Jesus is counting on us.
The Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
From Raymond Brown’s A Risen Christ in Eastertime (p. 34-36):
They doubted. The doubt reminds us that, even after the resurrection, faith is not an automatic response. But Jesus is not repelled by their doubt, for he now comes closer to the disciples to speak. Doubting or not, they have worshipped him, and he responds to them. The mission is entrusted to the Eleven, even though some doubted. We are left to suspect that the word of Jesus solved the doubt, and that by proclaiming to others, their faith was strengthened. Does this resolve your doubts too?
“Make disciples of all nations” The apostles cannot simply wait for the Gentiles to come; they must go out to them. And if in the ministry the chief Jewish followers of Jesus (the Twelve) were called disciples, that privilege and title is to be extended to all nations (and you!).
1ST READING: ACTS 6: 1-7
Hellenists were congregations of Diaspora Jews (those who had lived outside the Holy Land) but returned to Jerusalem. They were more open to new ideas and less rigid in regard to ritual law than their fellow Jews. Because of this, they were despised and persecuted by the non-Christian Jews, and were eventually driven out of Jerusalem. It was providential because it ended up spreading the new faith (Church History, J. Dwyer. P. 25-27).
St. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons. This is one of the primary roles of deacons to bring alms to the widows. The apostles are beginning to organize themselves. The laying on of hands suggests the idea of being called into formal service. The apostles listened to the needs of the people and responded. How do our deacons do this today?
From Celebration, April 2005:
Church is not a monarchy, but a community. Note verse 5:
“The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen” . . . Some conclusions from this text about leadership in the church:
* leadership within the church arises from the community’s need
* leadership arises from ‘below’, not from ‘above’
2ND READING: 1 PETER 2: 4-9
It is likely that this reading is taken from an early homily, perhaps given as instruction for candidates for baptism (W&W, Birmingham, p.308). This reading calls us. How does it call you?
The early Christians did not ‘build’ a church until the 4th century; they met in homes and, at times, catacombs – What can we learn from their idea of church?
“chosen race” – “royal priesthood” – “holy (consecrated) nation”
What does each mean for you? How does each move us from darkness into God’s light? Christians, the living stones, are joined by Christ himself who is the cornerstone – the foundation that supports the living stones. In the Old Testament no one was to approach the rock of Sinai, under penalty of death. Contrast that with Jesus, the cornerstone, who invites his people to come close to him. He has created something new and wonderful. He has gathered his living stones and formed them into a new people, a new religion (W&W, Birminham, p. 308).
From Celebration, April 2005:
At Vatican II, it was reaffirmed that “the Church is all the people of God.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #9) It overturned the pyramid model, stressing the privileges and responsibilities of all baptized believers. Hans Kung says that “Laypersons do not belong to the Church, nor do they have a role in the Church. Rather, through baptism, they are Church.” Vatican II states: “All are endowed with charisms for the upbuilding of the Church and all share in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetical, and royal. Among all the people of Christ, there is a true equality, a genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation and a personal union with Christ and his mission” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #30-33,37)
THE GOSPEL: JOHN 14: 1-12
Remember, these words come before the crucifixion in John’s gospel.
Yet, they are truly a life-giving Easter message.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” – Jesus’ opening words for this Sunday – what meaning do they have for you?
An ancient Chinese saying:
“That birds of worry and care fly above your head,
this you cannot change.
But that they build nests in your hair,
this you can prevent!”
The Greek word, mone, that is used for ‘dwelling places’ means a place of abiding rest, a haven, an inn of security – sometimes it has been translated, ‘mansion’ –What do you think best fits what Jesus is saying here?
Jesus also promises that he is going “to prepare a place for you.” William Barclay explains that this means that Jesus will act as our prodromoi which means a forerunner, a scout . . . it was also used at the time to refer to the small pilot boat sent ahead of great ships to lead them through a “dangerous or difficult harbor.” Jesus tells us that he will go ahead, find a path, and secure our passage from death to life. He just asks us to trust – to “have faith in this.” (Celebration, April 2005)
Jesus = THE WAY – the way beyond dead ends: the God we find in Jesus is a faithful God of new beginnings. In fact, we see in Jesus that when humans try to frustrate and defeat God’s plan, God makes “the cause of frustration itself the point of departure for a new way of grace.” God’s way is a way of love that “will not be halted, deflected, or repelled.” It works to transform.(Ladislaus Boros, The Closeness of God, p. 45-46)
THE TRUTH – that which is real, that which will set us free (Jn
AND THE LIFE – that which nurtures, cares, labors,
grows, creates, loves . . .
From Mary Birmingham:
Only through self-giving love can human beings become their most authentic selves. We were created to love. Jesus shows us what that means. If we live the love that Jesus lived, we will know God, Who Is Love. . . the Christians of John’s community were beginning to feel the sting of religious prejudice. They were expelled from the synagogue. The synagogue has been heart and hearth to them. For Yahweh’s chosen people, it was the place of encounter with God. How would they now encounter God? Jesus encouraged them and us, ‘If you know me, you know God.’” ( Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p..311)
From Celebrations, April, 2002:
“It would be nice to reduce reality to a simple statement. But existence is as untangleable as a snarled fishing line. There is no secret word, no magic potion, no hidden wisdom. If there were, Jesus would surely have found it. We must learn to read the truth between the lies. Jesus is not the Solution; He is the Way. And the best he can give us is some direction along the way.
1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles: 2: 14a, 36-41
Peter’s listeners “were deeply shaken” – literally translated:
“cut, or pierced to the heart.” This is what repentance or conversion is all about. Peter’s message was urgent. Repentance was not understood just as the turning away from a laundry list of sins. For Peter’s crowd it meant a radical reassessment of who Jesus was really was-what his significance was (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300). Who is Jesus to you? Right now?
Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing says that when we love people and “hold him or her in union and forgiveness’ we are holding them to the Body of Christ as we live as part of that ‘body.’ As Jesus loved and forgave, so we by our baptism are empowered to do likewise. “The incredible graciousness. power, and mercy that came into our world in Jesus is still . . . in our world in us, the Body of Christ. What Jesus did we too can do; in fact, that is precisely what we are asked to do.” (p. 89-90)
2nd Reading: I Peter 20 – 25
Remember that Jesus’ wounds became his identification marks after resurrection. As ‘wounded healers’, we can let the Spirit of Jesus help us to bring life out of the good and the bad times of our lives. This letter is written to a people –many of whom were slaves — who were being persecuted for their faith under the Roman Emperor Domitian at the end of the first century. Their endurance in the face of suffering helped the church to survive even to this day. May we trust in this same Spirit when we face difficulties. (Celebration, April 2005). How do you think we are ‘healed’ by the wounds of Christ?
The Hebrew Scripture’s background for this reading is probably Isaiah 53: 4 – 12 – a Suffering Servant song. “By his wounds we are healed . . .” — Jesus and we are bound together by the chafing rope of pain. There is something about suffering that longs to be shared. But with Jesus suffering can become a blessing. What if in Jesus we find a way to trust in that love despite whatever happens? What if we actually believe that in Jesus we are guaranteed a happy-ending? Love can become the oil for the wounds of suffering, and suffering can become the oil for the fire of love. Let us rely on our Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd. (Celebration, April 2005)
“Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart. Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in the world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. For them the word grace has proved a fount of mercy,” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 60).
The Gospel: John 10: 1-10
Three important Hebrew Scripture readings serve as background for this passage:
Ezekiel 34+: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? . . . I am coming against these shepherds . . . I will save my sheep . . . I myself will look after and tend my sheep . . . The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly.
Jeremiah 23+: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter . . . I myself will gather the remnant of my flock . . . and bring them back to their meadow . . . so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none will be missing, says the Lord.
Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” . . .
Some ideas and facts concerning shepherds:
In Palestine sheep were kept mostly for their wool – not for their meat only. The sheep were often with the shepherd for many years; they were called by descriptive ‘pet’ names. A shepherd had to be a vigilant and fearless guide for his sheep. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol.II, p.56)
In this land of winding paths and rock cliffs with thin pastures surrounded by desert and wild animals, an alert and wise shepherd was indispensable to the survival of the sheep. At the end of the day, the shepherd would hold out his rod, close to the ground, having each sheep pass under it as the shepherd would examine it to see if it needed any care. Wounded ones would be ‘cleaned’ and anointed with oil; thirsty ones would be given water. When all had been cared for, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the entrance to the sheepfold. He was the safe ‘gate’ by which the sheep could come and go. In this way, the shepherd became the source of life and goodness [salvation]. The gate did not ‘confine’ the sheep, but provided a “spaciousness of security, peace, and protection.”
In the morning when it was time to take the sheep to pasture, the shepherds would call to their sheep by a special sound or whistle, laugh or strange type of noise or song. Each sheep recognized the voice of their own shepherd. They followed that voice for it meant food, protection, warmth, healing and safety. This sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed shepherd was the source of life and protection, strength and guidance for the sheep. (Celebration, April 1999 & 2005, as well as John Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_cultural.html).
Sheep are naturally very vulnerable animals. If one gets lost, it will fall to the ground and ‘bleat’ loudly until the shepherd finds it. We can learn a lot from sheep!(The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, John Pilch, p.77)
The image of being sheep can make us a bit uncomfortable – it can imply we are just part of a ‘flock’ – sort of stupid and dependent. It seems to imply that we need to be ‘blindly’ obedient. But remember that obedience first means to listen. When we listen to our Shepherd Jesus, we find insight, truth, vision, understanding. He accompanies us through dark valleys and shows where to find life and real safety. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p.131)
William Barclay tells us of an interesting Jewish legend that was used to explain why God chose Moses to be leader of his people. “When Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness, a young sheep ran away. Moses followed it until it reached a ravine, where it found a well to drink from. When Moses got up to it, he said: ‘I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be weary.’ He took the sheep on his shoulders and carried it back. Then God said: “Because you have shown pity in leading back one of a flock belonging to a man, you shall lead my flock Israel.’” It is good to recall that the word pastor comes from a Latin word for shepherd. (Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. II, p.54-55)
In today’s world we encounter many gates. There are gated communities, gates of entry into theaters and sporting events, toll gates. Each gate represents both a dividing line and a means of entry. What does Jesus divide? What does Jesus open up?
In John’s gospel, there is a series of solemn statements that identifies aspects of Jesus’ identity. These are called the “I am” statements, such as “I am . . . the bread of life (6:48); the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), the resurrection and the life (11:25). In this week’s gospel, Jesus asserts, “I am the gate” (10:7, 9). This gate opens up to abundant life . . .
Pray about which image seems most meaningful to you.
(“Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu/4EasterA041308/theword_working.html)
Going through the gate instead of hopping the fence…reminds us that there is no easy way out of our difficult times. We can’t skip steps. We have to go THROUGH, and a pasture will await us there. From Riding the Dragon (R. Wicks, p. 150, quoting The Alchemistby P. Coelho), “Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back,” said the camel driver. “And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about moving forward. The rest is up to Allah, including the danger.”
This picture was taken at our recent Easter Vigil. The paschal candle was lit by the Easter fire outside and brought to each person. The flame represents the presence of the Risen Christ. Each of us receives it so we may all be “enlightened”. And now, the paschal candle remains lit throughout the Easter season as a reminder to us. This picture really strikes me as who we are as church. We all have the light of Christ within us, and together we can light up the world.
But lately, I don’t feel so lit up. Thinking back on the last week for our parish: It. has. been. hard. So much having to live in not knowing and needing to be in the tension of that. I feel like I’m supposed to be OK with it all. I am not OK! Not knowing and having to wait for things out of my control are not easy for me. I don’t want to be OK with it. You know what I do want? Company. I want to hold hand-in-hand with my God and our parish and sit together in the discomfort. Hold vigil. This is what we did on Holy Saturday. We gathered around the flame…the Easter flame…and we are still doing this now. Coming to church and gathering around the flame, like a campfire, is what is comforting and healing right now.
The awesomeness of the Easter Vigil is that we wait, but in hope! Despite any odds and unknowing, Jesus lives! Good news still happens! What causes death (to life, to hope, to love) never has the final answer. Jesus sees us through the cross. We hold vigil knowing there will be light again. We don’t have to have that peaceful, touchy-feely feeling. Spirit comes in our moments of wacky unknowing and keeps us company. We can wait in hope despite the answers. Because we have a God who broke through history and chose to dwell among us, even after death.
So I take it back. I do feel lit up. Because God is with me. Because God is with us. And the flame will never go out.