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.”
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 14, 22-23
Peter does in this passage what Jesus did in the gospel. He uses Scripture to shed light on God’s saving plan that has been unfolding in their midst. The speech is trying to motivate the hearers to repentance and conversion. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 294-296)
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’:
- Jesus was a man sent by God.
- Jesus was a man empowered by God to overcome evil.
- Jesus was a man who was betrayed, who suffered and died.
- 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 )
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 . . . “
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)
The early church had to express and reflect on their encounter with the Risen Jesus. Certainly for all of us, too, life is a journey, full of joy and newness, grief and doubt. Like all people on a journey, these early followers were living a time of transition: they needed to learn to live the Paschal Mystery – the mystery of new life through death. After Jesus’ death, he did not get his ‘old life’ back. His resurrection was about receiving a new life – a richer life that was never going to end again in death. This is our salvation, too. With Jesus, we journey from the tragedy of Jesus’ death and absence in the empty tomb to his presence in and with them in a powerful, new way. (R. Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, 142-150)
Notice how Jesus’ use of scripture helps them to understand and see the present reality in a new way. Jesus points out to them the sacred pattern of a prophet. God’s purpose and plan must be realized – made real and apparent – in an unruly world. By not annihilating such a world – nor robbing it of its power of decision and action – God’s prophets and servants are faced with the suffering that such a world causes. Since the world does not easily submit to God’s Word and plan, Jesus had to follow the pattern of all great prophets: work against evil and injustice; then be willing to face hardship, even rejection and death. Jesus helped these two followers to remember the past effectively — with help from the scriptures, Jesus helped them to bring the truth to the present and apply it to the future. This is what Jesus offers us at each Eucharist. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 294-296)
From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, pp. 30-41, 60-66:
Yes, we must mourn our losses… To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness… Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing… But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet very surprising voice… “Blessed are those who mourn… there is a blessing hidden in our grief… in the midst of our tears, a gift is hidden… the question is whether our losses lead to resentment or to gratitude… The great mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist… is precisely that through mourning our losses we come to know life as a gift. The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately linked with its fragility and mortality… I still remember… “It is only the broken soil that can receive the water and make the seed grow and bear fruit.” We must take the brokenness of our lives and place it under the blessing of God’s love. We need to lift our little stories up into God’s great story… the great temptation of our lives is to deny our chosen-ness, our belovedness, and so to be trapped in the worries of our daily lives. We not only need to see the manure that covers the soil, but the fruits on the trees that sprung from it.
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)
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 )
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 . . .
Let us pray (Psalm 16 The Message Version):
1-2 Keep me safe, O God,
I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!”
Without you, nothing makes sense.
3 And these God-chosen lives all around—
what splendid friends they make!
4 Don’t just go shopping for a god.
Gods are not for sale.
I swear I’ll never treat god-names
5-6 My choice is you, God, first and only.
And now I find I’m your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
And then you made me your heir!
7-8 The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake
is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I’ll stick with God;
I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go.
9-10 I’m happy from the inside out,
and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell—
that’s not my destination!
11 Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way.
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 2: 42-47
This is the first of 3 summaries that Luke has in Acts. Ancient Greek writers used the word, Acts, to refer to the feats of great persons: the Acts of Hercules, the Acts of Hannibal, the Acts of Alexander, etc. 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.
The Resurrection of Jesus was and is a community-evoking, community-forming event! Before the experience of the Risen Lord, these people had little impact on the world. They lived small ordinary lives. But after the resurrection, they had become a community – persons who were interrelated, interdependent, and mutually supportive. Alone, they had been almost ineffective, but together they became “a formidable presence” for good – “alone they seemed powerless, but together, united in their presence of the risen, living Christ, they began to change the way human beings look at life, at death, at God, at one another. This reading shows us the four foundations on which such a community can be built: 1) The teaching of the apostles: faith formation – bringing the implications and applications of the Gospel into the ever changing present circumstances of real life. 2) The communal life: caring for and about each other; it was a community that began to be formed “from every nation under heaven.” Despite their diversity, they gathered in fellowship. 3) The breaking of the bread: being nourished by Jesus’ presence in ritual and in word. 4) Prayers: an individual and communal living-out of a love relationship with God. (Celebration, April 2005)
2nd Reading – 1 Peter 1: 3-9
The author of this letter was probably a disciple of Peter, the apostle, or even an associate of Paul’s. The theology is very similar to Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It might have been written between 70 – 90 AD. It is written in very cultivated Greek, and it uses the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. There was intense, widespread persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). This emperor demanded that he be adored as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. Unlike Nero’s attack on the church in the middle 60’s, Domitian caused Christians to suffer as far away as Smyrna and Pergamum. These Christians also suffered much local hostility from their own neighbors who defamed them and regarded them as ‘evil-doers.’ (Celebration, April 1999 and 2002)
Our new life in Christ is seen in the midst of these troubles as a precious “inheritance” – “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” – bringing us through death to a “new birth to a living hope.” Ironically, we often ‘inherit’ things through a death – but even more significantly we inherit things usually within the context of a family: “those who are birthed anew through the experience of Jesus’ resurrection belong together as a family… both in the present and in the future.” (Celebrations, April 1999, 2005)
As much as we would like it otherwise, ‘feeling good,’ ‘feeling fulfilled,’ can have little to do with true goodness and ethics. What really tests our goodness is not whether we tell the truth when it is easy or profitable, but whether we tell the truth when it is difficult, daring, even dangerous . . . Being faithful when it is easy and rewarded is one thing; being faithful when it is difficult and unappreciated is another. Faith in the Risen One is there for the good times — but it is even more vital for the times of fear, confusion, grief, and pain. Faith is not the absence of pain or sorrow; it is bearing pain and sorrow in faith – trusting that these evils will not have the final word. God’s word of love will. Such faith does not take away wounds, but it can transform them. (John Kavanaugh, “The Word Embodied” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
The Gospel – John 20: 19-31
What meaning do you find in this reading? the locked doors…the meaning of ‘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
What can we learn from Thomas?
1st, we see the importance of community – we can miss a lot if we separate ourselves from community. When sorrow overwhelms us, it is then that we need to see that we can “seek the heart and mind of Christ” in other believers.
2nd, Thomas was honest – and even bold. When he had doubts and questions he did not deny his doubts “by pretending that they didn’t exist.” He took them directly to Jesus. (Celebration, April 2005, and Quest, Spring 2005)