What do your palms look like now? They were green, fresh and supple when we waved them on Palm Sunday. We go through Holy Week and the triumph of Easter. Now we look at our palms and they are dry, yellow and brittle. I tend to stick mine behind a picture in my dining room and largely forget about them. As a matter of fact, I have 2 or 3 years worth back there now. I look at them and think – I really should stick them in the fireplace and burn them. But then I don’t.
It’s hard to look at the dry, yellow and brittle when we are in the joy of the Easter season. The disciples are literally on fire with Spirit humming in their veins. They are healing people left and right. This Sunday, we will hear people believe they only need Peter’s shadow to pass over them to heal. This is the good news at long last!
But where were they on Good Friday? They waved their palms a couple weeks ago and they have spiritual fervor now when healing and joy is in the air. But when things got tough, nothing. Zilch. Na-da. Well, at least for many of them.
The palms go stale when they are cut off from their life source. Their roots are no longer nourished by soil and water. Their leaves don’t process the light of the sun anymore. They are lifeless.
Maybe keeping the palms behind the picture is a reminder. When we cut off from our life source, we go stale too. It is easy to be with God and follow God when things are good. But when times are hard, that is when we must still stretch out our roots towards the living water. We must raise our gaze to the sun (son). We must hang on and hang in. Be nourished. Maybe instead of turning dry and brittle, we will stay fresh and supple in the light of God’s mercy and grace.
1st Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
This reading from second Isaiah announces the end of the Babylonian exile and the return of the Israelites to their homeland. Those out in the desert are being called back (Faley, Footprints on the Mountain, p. 21). God makes it very clear that he wants every obstacle between God and God’s people to be taken away so that nothing keeps us apart. God wants to be fully in relationship with us. God wants to be with us in our journey, as hard as it may be. The path is paved with love. Richard Rohr says…
2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
In Jesus we get to see God’s power and mercy in action in our history at close range. And we need God close, because salvation that is far away can be hard to believe in. We suffer the ache of the particular, being born with this nose, these parents, this ethnicity and address, and no other. We’ve got to make do with certain talents and limitations. We’re stuck with the present generation, and can never return to the past nor fast-forward to the age to come. Hunkered down in time and place can be a terrible poverty when it comes to opportunity. And Jesus reveals to us that God is willing to share our poverty in order to save us from it. No other proof would do but to be here. What are some of the particulars of your life that are especially difficult? How does the revelation of Jesus speak to those? (Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2004)
Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
We might wonder why it was necessary for Jesus to receive baptism. We know that John certainly considered himself unworthy to perform the act, but Jesus insisted that he be baptized along with the rest of the people on the banks of the Jordan River. Through this baptism Jesus was able to link his ministry with John’s proclamation. Jesus is no longer just the carpenter’s son in Nazareth (The Word into Life, cycle C, p.22)
This is a moment of Trinity. Jesus being baptized with the Holy Spirit descending and the Father speaking His words of love…all come together to transform this moment of baptism as sacred.
What kind of human experience was this in which Jesus hears a voice from heaven speaking to him? Scholars note that it is an experience in an altered state of consciousness or an experience of alternate reality. On average, 90% of the world’s cultures regularly have such experiences and find them useful and meaningful in their cultural context (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, cycle C, p. 20).
It is interesting to note that right after this section of Luke is a genealogy of Jesus. Right after the Father proclaims that Jesus is His Son, this genealogy cites one “son of” after another until it ends as Jesus being identified as son of Adam, son of God (Pilch, 20).
But all of this speaks to the heart. “God looking into the dripping face of Jesus and seeing the whole big picture of creation and life and heavenly hosts and the throne of heaven. God looking at Jesus and seeing it all – glory and honor and power and might. God watching as Jesus came up from his knees and seeing justice and kindness and compassion breaking forth like the dawn. God seeing in Jesus the very plan of salvation radiant in its entire splendor. God wrapping the soaking wet Jesus in the warmth of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the magnificence of God’s own mercy is shining back at that moment, glistening in the water of baptism,” (Hungry, and You Fed Me, Rev. Dr. David A. Davis, p. 45). What speaks to you?
“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” We say these words right at the beginning of Mass as an act of penance. They prepare us for what we are about to receive, Christ himself. Such a simple response for something so big.
You would think with all the human, sinful stuff we do all week, we would need to do a lot more to receive such a gift. How can this be enough? When I think about it, God really doesn’t ask that much of us to receive God’s self. God doesn’t ask anything. It is our free choice. We only need to be open to it. It is like a jumping in. You know that feeling of jumping in the water and being completely immersed? We just have to jump into God’s mercy, and God’s mercy is right there…where it always is. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”
I am fascinated with mercy lately. How freely it is offered and how difficult it is for us to receive, even from each other. We all want mercy: Everything is going to be alright. You are completely wonderful just as you are. It’s OK. And God freely gives it. From Scripture, we see God giving it when people aren’t even sorry for their wrongs. Paul tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8). Yet, we hold onto our wrongs, so fearful, like a child waiting for her father to come home after misbehaving with mom. How free to love and mercy would we be if we only opened to it, jumped into it?
A few years ago, I was in a car accident that totaled our car. It was completely my fault. I was lost, let myself get flustered and went through an intersection. I quickly pulled over and got the kids out of the car to be sure everyone was safe (We were.). When I got us to the sidewalk, I said, “We’re OK, I can’t believe it, we’re OK.” A man walked by us and replied, “Of course you are! You have a loving God!” I was dumbfounded. Or maybe still in shock? I just caused an accident, put my kids at risk, and God loves me anyway? How can that be possible? But he was right. And it’s true. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” I only had to jump into the mercy.
The mercy of God’s lake is wide and deep enough for all of us. Won’t you jump in?