This in-between-time is a time for a “significant pause” – a pause that refreshes!
The Spirit is always a gift freely given, but also ‘waited upon’ – constantly sought anew in prayer. This Spirit is the powerful, tangible presence of the Risen Christ who strengthens us to work for the good of all. The Spirit is not given to answer our every manipulative request. The Spirit is the gratuitous, unmerited gift of God’s love and action in our lives. In order to welcome this Spirit and be ready to respond, we are called to prayer and to self-sacrificing discipleship. (M Birmingham, W& W Workbook for Year A, p. 330)
1st Reading: Acts 1: 12-14
Jesus was “taken up to heaven”. . . What is ‘heaven’ to you?
The eleven, so important to Luke’s gospel, are named, as is Mary the mother of Jesus. This is an indication of the parallel between the Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary at the conception of Jesus, and the Spirit’s overshadowing her and the other disciples at the birth of the Church. There is great significance in the coming together of Jesus’ followers, not only as individuals but also as one body. (Foundations in Faith, p. 101) What experiences of gathering together with family and friends during times of confusion or anticipation have you had? Why was it important to be together…what was the result of your coming together?
Prayer is a part of all of our readings today. Since the twelve play such a key role as witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and the subsequent gospel proclamation, Luke sees it as essential that they be at full complement before the coming of the Spirit. Mary, Jesus’ mother is the living personification of faith, the “brothers” of Jesus and the women (who were probably at the crucifixion) are all gathered together to pray (R. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 357). Margaret Guenther says, “…there is no such thing as a private Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is a family affair: it is lived in the midst of relationships with God and those around us,” (The Practice of Prayer, p. 10). What does prayer do for you?
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 4: 13-16
In Kittel’s Theological Dictionary, it states: Greek, doxa (glory) – Hebrew, kabod, have these connotations: honor, splendor, divine radiance, something of great importance, that which reveals God’s very nature. It is God’s self-manifestation; it is what shows forth God’s impressiveness, importance, splendor! How is this connected to the “sufferings of Christ” and our sufferings? This reading is a warning about coming hardship and trials. As Christ was triumphant in the face of the horror of the cross, so we must trust that any of our trials and sufferings are transitory and are as nothing compared to the goodness and glory of God’s love for us. Any ‘dying’ that we must do is to be seen as an opportunity to share more fully in the paschal mystery of eternal life – a gift we have now and for ever more. (Living Liturgy, Year A, 2004 & M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Wbk. For Yr. A, p. 329)
Rob Bell, in his podcast series on Alternative Wisdom:
- Pre-conventional Wisdom: unaware that there’s a way things are usually done, against the rules
- Conventional Wisdom: the rules, how things are done
- Post-conventional Wisdom: mindful bending or application of the rules, resisting or moving beyond rules because of reasons
You have to learn conventional wisdom before you can get to post-conventional. It’s the wisdom after wisdom. This is what Peter is talking about. Jesus showed us that he suffered because of evil in the world. If we want to be like Jesus, then we might have to as well. But it is all for good. Knowing that can bring us peace and glorifies God. It is a deep knowing that abides with us now. It is the other side of knowing…does that make sense? How can you incorporate that in your life?
The Gospel: John 17: 1-11
What does it mean that Jesus “revealed God’s name”? Kittel states: “It is a common belief of antiquity that the name is not just a label, but part of the personality of the one who bears it . . .the name carries will and power. The “name conjures up the person” carrying a real sense of presence and power. (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged, 694)
Another time to ponder Ronald Rolheiser’s discussion of the Paschal Mystery in The Holy Longing, chapter 7:
The Paschal Mystery is a cycle for rebirth; this is what Jesus taught and lived.
There are two kinds of death:
Terminal death — a death that ends life and ends possibilities.
Paschal death – a death that while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life.
There are two kinds of life:
Resuscitated life – when one is restored to a former life and health.
Resurrected life – this is an entirely new way of life. Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life and one within which he would not have to die again.
Jesus gives us a pattern in which with his help we, too, can experience this Paschal Mystery – throughout our lives – in many little deaths and risings – until someday we enter into the ultimate experience of this mystery – which is really God’s love for us – calling us always to fully experience his eternal love and life.
- Good Friday . . . “the loss of life – real death”
- Easter Sunday . . . “the reception of new life”
- The Forty Days . . . “a time for readjustment to the new and for grieving the old”
- Ascension . . . “letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to cling”
- Pentecost . . .”the reception of new spirit for the new life that one is already living”
In more common language of our day this means:
- “Name your deaths”
- “Claim your births”
- “Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality”
- “Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing”
- “Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living”
1st Reading: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Just before this passage Luke tells us in Acts, that Stephen was stoned and that a severe persecution broke out upon the church in Jerusalem. Persecution did to the church what wind does to seed; it scattered it, and it did produce a greater harvest. As this church was scattered like a farmer’s seed, it carried with it the goodness of God’s Word and Love to be sown in every welcoming heart. Here we see Philip, a devout Jewish Christian, offering the Samaritans (previously seen as deviant, tainted, unclean enemies) this Good News of God’s love and truth. His words of love were matched by works of love, and so healing and joy abounded. Evil was overcome, and abundant life was begun. (Celebration, May 1999)
When true faith and authentic Christianity is lived, joy is generated. Luke is stressing that this out-reach was also authentically a part of the Jerusalem church. This calling of Peter and John to come to Samaria just confirms the right and goodness of this missionary movement. It is not correct to see this as an early separation of baptism and confirmation. Such a separation was not known in the early church. In fact, Luke even has the Holy Spirit come upon believers before baptism as in the case of Cornelius and his household (10:44-48). Also, in Acts 2:38 Luke clearly states that the Spirit is received by those who are baptized. (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
What is it to be “of one accord”? The unity and clarity of thought that is described in this reading is palatable. Remember this when we get to our next reading…
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3: 15-18
It wasn’t and isn’t easy to be Christian; not only do we have to overcome our own prejudices and blind-spots (with the help of Spirit) – but we can be threatened at times by persecution, or at least by misunderstanding and criticism. The community for which this letter was written was being increasingly threatened. On the local level they were despised as evildoers and challengers to sacredly-held codes and values (2:12). Believers were defamed (3:16) vilified (4:4), and insulted (4:14). Christians were seen as lacking in patriotism; when they refused to participate in the feasts of Roman gods and the cult of the emperor, they were seen as traitors. Yet, they were to give back good for any evil; they were to live Jesus’ law of love – ‘in season and out of season’. Their words of love needed to be lived even in the midst of hatred and confusion. The newly baptized are being warned that they have not been promised a ‘rose garden’. Like Jesus, when crosses come, they must pick them up with love and carry on. So must we. (Celebration, May, 2002, & Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Hans Kung, a great theologian and scholar, who has been both applauded by many and silenced by his own church, despite his struggles gives testimony to the Spirit of Jesus that is alive in him. He says: “Why do I remain committed? I know what I can hold on to because I believe in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who is alive today, who is the Spirit of God himself, who is the Holy Spirit. This living Spirit enables me and countless others to be truly human; not only to live but also to die – because in everything, both positive and negative, in all happiness and unhappiness, we are sustained by God.” To have this awareness – to believe this Good News – is to have salvation: fullness of life. (Celebration, May, 2002)
This quote by Hans Kung points to the “of one accord” from our 1st reading and nods in this 2nd reading (“sanctify” from Latin, to make holy and “conscience clear”). These words illustrate a point that being closer to God and inviting Spirit to work in our lives involves intention and openness. Richard Rohr in The Naked Now says, “The mind wants a job and loves to process things. The key to stopping this game is, quite simply, peace, silence, or stillness…stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them…when this happens to you, you are now a living paradox: at one and the same time utterly connected to everybody else in a compassionate and caring way, and absolutely free to be your own self.” Do you hear it?
Remember the word flesh, “sarx”, is the whole person as s/he lives wounded, broken and attention-seeking (little self that is insecure and trapped). Spirit, “Pneuma”, is the whole person when knowing and trusting God (the true, big self that responds to God’s love). We are living into our baptism as we live more in Spirit!
The Gospel: John 14: 15-21
Recall Deacon Ron’s homily on Spirit as our spiritual GPS. We must only believe and trust in Spirit to show us the way, or re-calculate when we stray!
From Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 128:
When does God dwell among us? The gospel says it is when we love, keep Jesus’ word, and believe. Rather than three different tasks, these are really three descriptions of the same action – giving of one’s self – a self-sacrifice that leads to life. And, what does God bring when God dwells among us? God brings us Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to enlighten us, to empower us, to put our troubled, fearful hearts at work and at peace. What does this mean to you?
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:
The word, “Advocate,” is sometimes translated “paraclete,” “counselor” or “comforter” – the Greek word basically means “advocate,” a legal term that is for the “one who stands by the side of a defendant.” From its use in the gospel it seems that it has three functions or activities.
1) It is the continued presence of Jesus on earth after his life/death/resurrection
2) It is a truth-telling Spirit (14:17; 16:13) assuring us that Jesus is not a shameful failure, but the beloved of God.
3) It reminds them of things that Jesus said (14:26) and reveals things Jesus was unable to convey (16: 12-14).
In other words, this Advocate represents divine presence and guidance. It is all we need!
Some thoughts from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium:
“Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” (p. 3)
“Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (p. 4)
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (p. 4 quoting, Pope Benedict XVI)
“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.” (p. 8)
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.
Jesus 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)
= THE WAY (the way beyond dead ends): the God we find in Jesus is a faithful God of new beginnings
= THE TRUTH: that which is real, that which will set us free (Jn 8:32)
=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:
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 “cut 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 really was-what his significance was (W&W, Birmingham, p. 300). Who is Jesus to you? Right now?
Reflect on this Arthurian tale:
In one of his quests Percival enters the castle of the Fisher King who has been wounded in the groin in a hunting accident, representing a loss of his generative powers. His wound will not heal and as a result, his kingdom becomes a wasteland. There is drought, crops will not grow, pestilence and disease are everywhere, all of which is symbolic of a disease of the soul. The wasteland comes about when one acts not out of authenticity, but out of the power of one’s position. Joseph Campbell calls this wasteland the inauthentic life, a state of being which is barren of the truth of who you are. In ancient cultures, the vitality of the kingdom was dependant on the vitality of the king. Percival, who had always acted spontaneously out of his own nature, for the first time remembers that a knight is not supposed to speak to a king until spoken to first, and even though he is moved to do so, does not ask, “What ails you?” the words that would have healed the king. He is escorted from the castle and when he turns to look back, it is gone. He says, “Alas, what is God? Were He great, He would not have heaped undeserved disgrace on us both. I was in his service, expecting His grace. But I now renounce Him and His service. If He hates me, I shall bear that. Good friend, when your own time comes for battle, let a woman be your shield, (CM, 452). You are not supposed to get a second chance. Percival realizes his mistake and spends many years searching for the castle, during which time he falls in love. Now in this new kind of relationship to a woman, Percival again finds the castle, asks of the Fisher King, “What ails you?” and thus heals the king and restores the land. When Parzival asks ‘what ails you?’ he has experienced the other in himself. The reality is that compassion is in humanity, and is our prime expression.
What cuts to Percival’s heart? What results from his conversion? His own change of heart affects the whole kingdom. Note the parallels in this story to the scripture passage. Jesus is our heart of compassion within us.
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?
“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)
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. How does this speak to your spirituality?
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 Alchemist by 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.”
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-23
This really takes place after Pentecost in ‘Luke’s story’. This is an example of typical early Christian preaching. There are 4 parts to the early ‘kerygma’ or ‘creed’:
1. Jesus was a man sent by God.
2. Jesus was a man empowered by God to overcome evil.
3. Jesus was a man who was betrayed, who suffered and died.
4. Jesus was then raised and vindicated by God.
This ‘sermon’ is given here by Peter, now transformed by the Spirit of Risen Christ. Peter who slept in the garden and then denied Jesus in fear now proclaims the same Jesus with joy and power. Here is the power of Jesus’ Resurrection! Peter challenges all of us to be so transformed.
The early Christians turned to their Scriptures, just as we do, to help them understand the happenings in their lives. Here Peter uses Psalm 16, and so it was chosen to be the psalm for this Sunday (our closing prayer). Notice how it is about Jesus – and about us.
It was impossible for Jesus to be held in captivity by death; this is what Peter declares to his listeners. Christ could not be held by death because in his cross he had overcome it. Death – theologically, at least – is our ultimate separation from God the source of life. Jesus was not held by death because of some abstract quality of divinity; it was his complete obedience to the will of God (trusting, listening obedience) that kept him more convinced always of God’s love than the evil and suffering around him. It was not some magic act due to his divine powers. It was this trust and obedience that overcame human alienation and separation from God (what is meant by sin and death). (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu ) Do you experience this in your life? Name what may be holding you down that is not life-giving…raise it up to Jesus and trust that He will be with you in deciding what to do about it.
2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 17-21
The great Easter truth is not that we live newly after death . . .But that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection; not so much that we are to live forever, as that we are to live nobly now because we are to live forever. (Phillip Brooks)
In this passage we have to be careful not to take the language of ‘ransom’ and ‘blood’ too literally. The language is somewhat crude and cultic, but it is meant to speak of the liberation that we as Christians have as we come to understand the meaning and consequence of Jesus’ death. His blood speaks of Jesus’ total surrender and trust to his Father’s will and life. In this trust Jesus found the way through death to eternal life with his Father and our God. There is fear here on this side of the grave. But, like Jesus, let us surround our fears with trust in the God who loves us and has ultimate power over death. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
From Richard Rohr: “We can’t see love, but we can see what happens to someone who is loved – the power and gentleness of those who let themselves be loved by Jesus, endless life, welling up within . . . “
From Carl Sagan: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”
The Gospel – Luke 24: 13 – 35
Each time we gather for Eucharist we experience this Emmaus story. It is a ‘pattern’ for Eucharist and for conversion. We share the story of Jesus. We invite the stranger, invoke a blessing, and share a meal. In this breaking of the bread our eyes are opened; our hearts come alive with a new fire. Here on this side of the grave and eternity, we can know Jesus; we can experience his presence. Our hearts can burn with the insight and encounter that comes to us from our Lord, a reality we can trust. (Celebration, April, 2005)
These two disciples are leaving their faith community. They do not even place much credence in the ‘women’s testimony’ concerning the empty tomb. In fact, it seems that it is this very testimony that motivates them to leave. They are hitting the road, deep in confusion. Yet, Jesus joins them. This story is sort of a metaphor about how God deals with someone who has gone away; perhaps it is also an image of how we are to deal with each other in our unbelief. It is a story of paradoxes – of faith and crisis, of distance and closeness, of seeing and blindness, of light and darkness. Sometimes it is only as we look back – when we ponder and reflect – that we realize that God’s presence and closeness was real. And so, present with him at the table, they finally recognize the gift of the presence that was there all along, walking away, talking away, wondering why, telling their woe, hearing his story once again. Maybe their sense of loss, their longing for hope, was hope. Maybe even their desire to believe was believing — even their longing to love was love. Maybe the God-we-find-in-Jesus can see all the way through to our broken hearts and clouded minds. It happened back then on the road – it can and will happen to us also on our road of life if we but welcome his presence. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://litrugy.slu.edu )
Notice that at the moment of ‘open-eyed’ recognition of Jesus, he vanishes from their sight. Luke’s point is clear: from that time on, the disciples would meet Jesus, know him, be fed and taught by him at every Eucharistic encounter. And in a sense their ‘vision’ is so improved that they find it no problem to journey back to Jerusalem at night – full of joy and energy. (Celebration, April 2005)
From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 95- 97:
For communion with Jesus means becoming like him . . . And Communion creates community. Christ, living in them, brought them together in a new way. The Spirit of the risen Christ, which entered them through the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, not only helped them recognize Christ himself but also each other . . . the God living in us helps us recognize the God in our fellow humans . . . this new body is fashioned by the Spirit of love. It manifests itself in very concrete ways: in forgiveness, reconciliation, mutual support, outreach to people in need,
solidarity with all who suffer . . .
There is a burning of our hearts when we know something is deeply true. Can you recall those moments of burning in your heart?
1ST READING – ACTS 5: 27-32, 40-41
How is this reading pertinent to church and political life today? The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, consisting of 71 members which included elders, high priests, priestly leaders and scribes. They could pass legal judgment in most cases, except capital cases which were reserved for the Romans. They were very powerful. And they refused to feel any responsibility for Jesus’ death. They considered the apostles as renegades from Judaism, and so they exerted their control over them (Birmingham, W&W, p. 279). Yet the apostles stood their ground. They drew their line in the sand, and actually rejoiced that they could suffer for the cause. These are the same apostles that were hiding out in the Gospel last week! What brought them out of their fear?
Mark Powell in Introducing the New Testament describes Acts as a “history of a particular institution or organization composed by that entity’s public relation department,” (p. 197). Everything always seems to work out for the best. Embarrassing incidents, failings, prayers unanswered and people not healed aren’t mentioned, although they must have happened. At times we are like this when someone close to us dies too. But maybe there is a lesson in this. We take our faith so seriously, sometimes seeing the bad more than anything else. What if we focused on the positive? What if we reveled in the good of our church and our relationship with God?
2ND READING – REVELATION 5: 11-14
Revelation is a book to excite the senses. In a sense, to ‘interpret’ this book is to misinterpret it, for often the appeal is to the imagination; it a book to be experienced, not explained (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p, 519).The slain Lamb conjures images of the Jewish Passover, and Jesus represents the sacrificial lamb (Birmingham, W&W, p. 280). Notice how the elders are better listeners in this story than the first reading. They actually fall down and worship…quite a contrast! (The elders are 24, 12 for the tribes of Israel and 12 for the disciples. It is really a way of saying ALL fell down to worship.
Note how John includes every creature in worship. Pope Francis in “Laudato Si” says, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another,” (#42) and “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world,” (#77). How might be worship God within the context of creation?
GOSPEL: John 21:1-19
Night-time was the best for fishing. From W.M. Thomson in The Land and the Book writes, “There are certain kinds of fishing always carried on at night. It is a beautiful sight. With blazing torch, the boat glides over the flashing sea, and the men stand gazing keenly into it until their prey is sighted, when, quick as lightening, they fling their net or fly their spear; and often you see the tired fishermen come sullenly into harbor in the morning, having toiled all night in vain.” It also happens that the men in the boat rely on someone on shore to tell them where to cast. From a distance, a person might see the fish in the clear water better than from straight above. Jesus was acting as guide to his fishermen friends, just as people still do today (Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 2, p. 281).
It was Jewish law that to offer a greeting was a religious act, and for that one must be clothed. That is why Peter first puts on his tunic before going to Jesus (p. 282). Peter is such an example to us! He jumps in with excitement to get to Jesus as soon as possible!
This story is meant to ground the risen Christ. He actually came…not as a vision or spirit but the real deal who pointed out fish, cooked and ate with his friends.
Why 153 fish? One idea from St. Jerome is that there were 153 different kinds of fish, so the catch was all-encompassing. The number symbolizes the fact that some day all people of all nations will be gathered together to Jesus Christ. The net stands for the Church; and there is room in the Church for all people of all nations (p. 284). Like it says in Lumen Gentium from Vatican II: The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God.
Why “more than these”? It could be that Jesus swept his hands around the boat, nets, equipment and catch and meant more than this life Peter had. Or perhaps Jesus meant more than the other disciples, fore-shadowing Peter’s place in the early church (p. 285). Either way, Jesus asks Peter 3 times of his love, giving him a chance at forgiveness and rehabilitation. Of course, Jesus had forgiven him already, but perhaps Peter still clung to the guilt.
Love costs. Peter’s love for Jesus brought him both a task and a cross. Love always involves responsibility and sacrifice. It is the cost of discipleship; it is what ‘picking up our cross’ is all about. The cutting edge of love is not dying for the other but living for the other. It is caring for the other for their own sake, regardless of consequences. (Celebration, April 2001 &2004) How does this group compare with the Sanhedrin in the 1st reading?
Reading #1: Acts of the Apostles 5: 12-16
This book (by the same writer as Luke’s Gospel) is sort of a cultic biography. It is a rather idealized version of the early church – the first people who knew and lived the reality of the Risen Christ. It acts like a norm by which we are to measure our attempts at being church. What do you find important in this reading?
This Second Sunday of Easter has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday. God’s mercy often comes to us through the quiet gift of another person who touches us with love, understanding, hope. — like a nurse who takes unusual care or a friend who really listens – who laughs with us and who likes us despite our ‘faults.’ Like Peter, we can all cast the shadow of God’s love and healing over another person . . . How have you experienced such mercy?
(Exploring the Sunday Readings, April 2004)
In Near Eastern cultures of this time, a shadow was commonly thought of as an extension of the person. It was a time of ‘magical understanding’ rather than scientific. It was even thought that one might harm people by stabbing their shadow. Symbolically, it was often used in Hebrew scripture as a sign of protection – especially God’s protection as in Ps. 17:8: “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Understanding God’s Word, April – June, 2007)
Consider that word: esteemed. What images does it conjure in your mind? “The people esteemed them.” The dictionary has synonyms of
|respect, admire, value, regard, appreciate, prize, treasure, revere.|
Who does this for you? Who esteems you to be who you are and dare to put yourself out there? Imagine if the people did not esteem them?
Reading #2: Revelation 1: 9 – 13, 17-19
Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature. It means unveiling; it tries to reveal the truth through ‘safe’ but powerful images, symbols, colors, numbers, visions and cryptic language. This is potent symbolic literature – it is written to those who had suffered persecution and were looking forward to more in the future. It was to assure them that goodness would never be overcome by evil. It draws the whole Biblical story into its own – a story of a God who journeys with humans to guide, shape and reshape human history. (Celebration, April, 2004)
The seven gold lampstands refers to the seven churches to which this ‘letter’ was written – what do you think of this image for a church? Notice Jesus is standing in the midst of them, with his feet showing and dressed like the lampstands. His first words are not to be afraid. How does this speak to you?
Do you have dreams/visionary insights/imaginary thought that impact your life too?
The Gospel: John 20:19-31
Can you relate to Thomas? When have doubts ever led you to greater faith?
“To believe in the resurrection of Jesus means to undertake
the surprising risk of reckoning with Jesus Christ as a present reality.” (Meinrad Limbeck)
What does that statement mean to you? This gospel reading is a culminating event in John’s gospel — shining forth with insight, symbol, and challenge. The community that gave us John’s gospel was experiencing much persecution, both from the Roman Empire that declared them illegal to the Jewish synagogues that declared them unwelcome.
What meaning do you find in:
the locked doors
‘the fear of the Jews’ (the authorities)
Shalom, “Peace be with you,” Jesus’ greeting
Jesus breathing on them (Genesis 2: 7; Ezekiel 37)
the power of forgiveness
the binding that comes from the lack of forgiveness
the wounds of Jesus
Thomas’ experience of doubt and faith (See John 11: 16)
It seems particularly important to John’s community to have Jesus assure those “who have not seen and have believed.”
Easter reality: Jesus lives; fear not! This is the cornerstone of our faith – joyfully proclaimed, but not easy to live. Fear can be crippling: fear of failure, fear of hurting or being hurt, fear of loss, fear of not knowing love, fear of pain, fear that what I know may not be so . . . Yet, a cowering band of men and women, hiding out from the authorities, suddenly became a powerful and public force for good . . . What made the difference? In the risen Christ they found the end to fear . . . (Celebration, April, 2004)
At the end of this gospel story, John writes that he has told this story so that “you may come to believe . . . and that through this belief you may have life.”
But the word John uses for belief is not a noun – but a verb! In fact, John never uses the noun faith or belief; he uses the verb 98 times! John is not concerned with an inward system of thoughts, but an active commitment to trust in Jesus and in his word. This is what it means to be a disciple. It is the very reason the Father sent Jesus and why Jesus came: “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15). Jesus’ whole life, ministry, death, and resurrection are oriented to this one outcome. This is why Jesus persisted in the face of conspiracy, rejection, abandonment – and it is why Jesus came that Easter morning to those who were locked in fear – and then again to Thomas. It is also why he continues to come to us offering us his peace. (“Working with the Word”, Zimmerman, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
How many of us are like Thomas? Our faith may be strong, but there are slivers of doubt that creep in now and then. It is an ancient problem and John gives us an honest scene to ponder. Here are the disciples of Jesus hiding behind locked doors — Afraid. They were not expecting the Risen Christ. Locked doors are not a welcoming gesture! But suddenly he is there – offering peace, forgiveness, new life. There are no auras, no blinding lights, no accompanying angels to identify Jesus. Only his wounds. Doesn’t our own faith-life have more wounds than auras or lights or angels? Like the disciples we have seen many wounds. Of course, our culture tries hard to hide wounds and wrinkles and scars. Yet, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we have to share with each other is our woundedness. Only those comfortable with wounds can enter into the wounded places of others. Like Jesus, we carry our wounds with us. One powerful witness to resurrection may be our willingness to embrace these wounds — not out of some maudlin, masochistic, woe-is-me pleasure. Rather, we need to be ‘wounded-healers’ for each other (Henri Nouwen). For “the blessing lies close to the wound” as an African saying proclaims. Here in the ‘sacred wounds’ of one another we may find the presence of the Living One who can and will breath new life into us all. That is how our faith saves us. (Celebration, April 2000)
1st Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26
The line in Acts that comes just before this passage states: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”So what goes on in this upper room is not just a ‘male thing.’ It is a gathering of those who have known and loved Jesus in life and now through death and into the resurrection. It is a community that has grown out of this lived experience of Jesus. (Preaching Resources, 5/28/06) How might our church be like them and “be a witness to his resurrection”?
It is also important to remember that the number twelve was symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the fullness of the ‘people of God.’ So these Twelve had been appointed by Jesus to be a sign of this ‘eschatological community.’ That is why it was important to select another one to replace Judas who had died. These twelve must also be witnesses to the original saving history of both the earthly Jesus and his resurrection. They become this bridge between the earthly Jesus and the mission of the Church as a whole. The circle of the Twelve and the circle of the apostles (those sent out) sort of overlap. For all disciples are apostles – called to be sent out by Jesus to bring the Good News to the needy – and sometimes hostile – world. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
It feels good to be picked out, chosen. Imagine what Matthias may have experienced when he heard the lot fell to him. But we aren’t always picked. Poor Barsabbas. What do you think became of him? Can you think of times when you were like Matthias and Barsabbas? How did it affect your life after?
2nd Reading – 1 John 4: 11-16 and the Gospel – John 17: 11b-19
Let’s look at these readings together for they come out of the same author and community. What do you find important here?
God’s love for us and others compel us to also love one another. This is possible as God abides in those who love. God’s Spirit empowers them — lives in them. This is one of the main themes of the Johannine tradition. It is constantly being repeated. But let not its repetition deaden our ears and hearts to its truth. This mutual indwelling of this God of love is the essence of the saving event we call the Good News of Jesus Christ. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu)
Too often don’t we prefer to ‘earn’ our gifts and grace? Too often don’t we mistrust the ways of love? Freud said that this notion of loving another as we love ourselves is nonsensical and absurd. Anyone who does this will put “himself at a disadvantage.” Often we ourselves fear that if we really love in this way we might become a doormat – or worse. Just take a look at Jesus. “God so loved the world” to give us Jesus – yet the world did and does reject the Word-made-flesh. It happened in the Rome of the Caesars, in the Florence of the Medicis, in the Communism of Russia, in the oppression of military El Salvador – and in our secular culture today. But despite the rejection and threat we as Christians have been entrusted with this Good and Dangerous Word of Love. We are sent into this ‘hostile’ world just as Christ was sent. We share in the same Spirit. (J Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
We see Spirit as work through its fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Take time to consider where you see these fruits in your life. Take comfort in knowing Spirit is gifted to us so that God, and God’s love, remains with us.
We are consecrated with God’s truth. What does that mean to you? How does this relate to Mass? It is not only the bread and wine that are consecrated at the table. We are all made holy through the grace of God. We stand in truth, open to that consecration, knowing that we are being strengthened and nourished…so we can be sent forth into the world.
From Karl Rahner:
“Only the one who can be still and pray; only the one who is patient and does not drown out the frightening silence in which God dwells, and which comes to us, with the racket of everyday life . . . only that one can hear with ease and discretely appreciate something of the eternal life that is already inwardly given to us as the indwelling of God in us.”
Acts 10:25 – 26, 34-35, 44-48
In Acts 10 the author as a third person reported recounts that happened in Peter’s speech to Cornelius (a pious Roman centurion), the Jewish people and the Gentiles. The big questions were: Were Christians bound by the Jewish rules? Should the Gentiles be received without first becoming Jews (i.e. being circumcised)? This was never resolved in Jesus’ lifetime. It makes one consider how many try to resolve issues today in the church using Jesus’ words and deeds. If Jesus did not solve the most fundamental question of the Christian mission, we may well doubt that his recorded words solve most of our subsequent debated problems in the church (Brown, R., A Once-and-Coming Spirit at Pentecost, pgs. 61-62).
God shows no partiality. The root of all the readings this week (and always with the Word!) is love. How often do we feel completely affirmed to the core of our being? Do we ever get to a point where we have arrived in feeling absolutely loved and accepted for who we are? Are we worthy? We have a deep desire to be loved. Carl Jung said, “What we’re about as humans is a constant and consistent movement toward wholeness.” We are wired to be connected with something that is other and beyond. As St. Augustine said, “My soul is restless until it rest in you, O God.” This love that is God is offered to all, with no partiality.
1 John 4:7-10
From Creighton University Online Ministries:
I like to think, and I pray God’s fingerprints are on me and the prints I leave behind are just as noticeably God’s prints. For me, leaving behind a trail of God’s fingerprints is not easy, but God’s prints are readily identifiable. It is God who intrudes and rifles my heart. It is God who sets things right. God dwells among us. God dwells in me. God’s fingerprints are everywhere. Just like fingerprints on a window can only be seen in the light, I also have to stand where the light can shine through me. God’s love-ly fingerprints are smeared and permanently stuck to me. How do you leave your love-ly fingerprints?
We do not earn God’s love, and we do not initiate love and goodness ourselves. Everything comes from God…freely given; we can accept or reject. (At Home with the Word, p. 87) Can you think of times when you have accepted or rejected God’s love in your life? The love in the Trinity is the love that God wants to have with us. It completes the circle. Jesus came to be one with us…completely human. To the point that he calls us His friends. He chooses us. How does that make you feel? This love for one another brings life…IN ABUNDANCE! But what Jesus is telling us isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling…it is a commandment: love one another. Can all of us do that, all the time? “The relationality of the three bonded in the one Love spills over into a relationality with the world, thereby making it possible for human persons to enter into this communion in the one Love, “ (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 60). We are meant to be intertwined with God in God’ Trinity. How do we do that?
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31
Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is. The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation. As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise. We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)
For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.
Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas. The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him. It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown). Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit. Aren’t these related? When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us. When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way. Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25). Do you find this to be true in your life?
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24
Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of ‘salvation’ if they follow the command to love one another. Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another. Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)
Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words. Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness. (Celebration, May 2000)
The Gospel – John 15: 1-8
The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”
is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John. Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?
The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God. One of the ‘glories’ of the temple was a great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)
John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people. Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love: the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love. Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.” Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus. We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Love forgives a multitude of sins. We need to examine where love is lacking in our parishes. M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 387-388
For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)