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Posted by on May 28, 2023

Like Wind and Fire – The Holy Spirit Comes

Like Wind and Fire – The Holy Spirit Comes

Images we often see of the Holy Spirit show a dove, wings outstretched and preparing to settle gently. The descriptions of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan tell us that the Spirit hovered over or rested on him like a dove. All very gentle and peaceful. Yet the coming of the Spirit upended his life completely. He left his life as a village carpenter and went from the Jordan into the desert to pray. He emerged from the desert as a teacher, healer, prophet, Messiah.

Fifty days after the Resurrection, the Spirit came again. (Acts 2:1-11) This time, it wasn’t a quiet, gently-settling-like-a-dove event, though how gently a dove settles as it lands is another question. There was a sound “like a strong driving wind” and “tongues of fire” that rested on each of Jesus’ followers who were still gathered together in Jerusalem, praying. The disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues” that were heard and understood by visitors from all over the world. And of what were they speaking in these tongues, these languages? “The mighty acts of God.”

It’s quite a contrast.

Winds, fire, earthquakes, floods, and other natural events that are destructive have consistently been interpreted by peoples around the world as having been caused by divine beings. We see again and again the myths/stories of gods sending fires, thunderbolts, mighty winds, and other terrifying forces when they are angry with each other or the people who worship them. This includes stories we see in the Bible as well. Our ancestors in faith also used stories to explain the powerful and mysterious movements of nature and of human experience. As we have grown in understanding of the forces of nature, the rules of physics, the workings of human psychology, and more, we have developed other ways of explaining what we experience. However, the power of nature when it is raging still brings us to silence.

Over the past few years, we have seen up close and personal the power of fire and the power of wind here on the Central Coast of California. When the fires consumed the forests on the hills and mountains of our region a few years ago, the skies were blackened all day and the sun shining through was the color of a blood orange. Blessedly, the fog returned before too many days and cleaned the air, but it was an enduring experience. Folks who don’t live beside the ocean don’t get such a blessing as fog when they are going through this kind of fire experience. It lasts a lot longer.

When the ocean stormed and the cliffs collapsed into the sea last winter, we saw the power of water. When the winds howled and trees fell over or went “surfing” down hillsides, we saw the power of wind and flood. The landscape was changed. We were also changed. Now when I hear an electric bus climbing up a hill during the night in a big city, I find myself waking and wondering if it’s the wind blowing again and if everyone is OK.

The coming of God into the world is a powerful thing. From the beginning of creation, when our creation story says a mighty wind swept over the waters before there was even light, God has acted with power. (Gn 1:1-3) One of the words used in the original language to describe the movement of the Spirit over the waters in creation conveys the image of a bird flapping its wings and beating its feet against the water to take off in flight or of a bird flying so close to the water that the water itself is stirred up. A word of God brings light to a world that waits in darkness for the divine breath/power to awaken all of creation.

The coming of the God, the Spirit, awakens change. Sometimes God’s presence is revealed quietly, as when Elijah encountered God on the mountainside, not in wind or fire but in a quiet breeze. (1Kgs 19:9-13) Sometimes it’s like a mighty wind and tongues of fire as at Pentecost. But whether through a quiet breeze or a mighty wind, God’s coming into our lives brings powerful change.

The disciples were empowered to tell of all they had seen after the Spirit came upon them. They spoke in tongues, they began to heal people, they preached fearlessly, and eventually, they took the message of God’s love and presence out into the ancient world. It has come to us through the ages.

Did it all end then? Did the Spirit never do anything more for the community? Would God be like a clock-maker who set all going and then simply sat back to watch it work? Not by a long shot.

God has continued to be present in the world. This is the time of the Holy Spirit, a time of action and witness. We continue to receive the Spirit’s gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel/Knowing right from wrong, Fortitude/Courage, Knowledge, Piety/Reverence, Fear/Awe of the wonder of God. These gifts are given to help us, to give us the power to speak of what we have seen and experienced of God’s love and care for us and our world.

We each receive specific callings as well. Some are to preach. Others are to teach. Some are to care for God’s little ones. Others are to lead in service. Many gifts, many works. All, as St. Paul reminds us, are part of the Body of Christ here today. (1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13) We all share of the same Spirit, breathed out long ago (Jn 20:19-23) and upon each member of the community even today.

We celebrate today. We look forward to seeing where the Spirit will take us in this coming year. A holy year is coming soon – 2025 will be here before we know it. The Synod process is continuing. Our leaders are listening to what members of the community have shared of their hopes and dreams for the church and its future direction in service. We continue to gather together at Eucharist to give thanks for all the gifts we have received and to be strengthened to continue in service to the world.

Power has come upon us. Quietly or dramatically, lives are changed and hope renewed.

“Come Holy Spirit, come!” Renew the face of the Earth!

Readings for the Feast of Pentecost

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Posted by on May 21, 2023

Transition Times – Ascension

Transition Times – Ascension

A consistent rule in life and time is the reality that things change. Transitions invariably occur. People are born. People grow up. People die. Even mountains, valleys, continents, planets, and solar systems change over time.

As humans, we typically use words to describe the variety of stages in which each part of creation is found at any given moment. The development of awareness of self and other is a huge part of growth for infants. When the first smiles come, when the first smile at the baby in the mirror appears, when awareness of strangers pops up, when the first “Mama” or “Dada” is voiced – all are moments of joy for parents and family to witness. Each milestone is a transition on the way to full sharing in the human experience. Each of us has passed through these transitions and more. We rejoice in witnessing and celebrating them.

For Jesus and the disciples, transitions were also characteristic events in life. Jesus went a step farther in the transitions of his life. He rose from death to new life. And he came back to bring the news to his friends… Death is not the end of life. Death is a transition. The Son has returned to the Father. His sisters and brothers will share in this transition too, returning to the Father.

But did the story end there? The Savior has come, died, risen, and appears among us once in a while and that is the end of the story? No, not by a long shot. God had other plans.

Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection were just the beginning. Now it was time to share this Good News of reconciliation between humanity and Creator. Time to let even more people know how loved they are and how gifted they are to share in God’s life (a.k.a. grace). God had not yet finished the project. And God needed/wanted more folks to share in it.

This is what we celebrate with the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus has come, shared the Good News with his friends, died, and risen. He has met with them again and explained more of what has happened. They are beginning to get a sense of the wonder and reality of it. But they are still afraid to say much about it. Who would ever believe it? They know what happens to prophets.

Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus met his friends again on a mountain top – the traditional place of encounter with God. He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Spirit who would come from the Father. They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (To be baptized means to be plunged into something and emerge transformed.) Through this baptism, they would receive power to become witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then branching out to Judea and Samaria and ultimately “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:1-11)

A transition. No longer silent, fearful witnesses. Now they are to become bold witnesses, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation who know God personally. The eyes of their hearts will be enlightened and hope based on being part of those called to new life will fill their lives. They will share what they have seen. (Eph 1:17-23)

But on this day, Jesus had been taken from their sight. Two men dressed in white appeared and reassured them that he would return in the same way one day. That’s all they knew.

They returned to Jerusalem as instructed, to wait for his return. Down through the centuries even to our days, Jesus has not yet returned in glory on the clouds in judgement over all the earth. (God’s time is very different than human time.)  Nevertheless, in Jerusalem those many years ago, something very important was about to happen. The Holy Spirit was coming. It was time to wait and pray. Whenever the Spirit comes upon humans, amazing things happen. But the disciples didn’t know that yet.

This week we wait with them. We pray for the coming of the Spirit in our lives and times as well.

Sometimes folks have been told that the Spirit doesn’t come upon people today in the same way. “Don’t expect anything special to happen in your life with God today.” But that is not actually true. The Spirit is still active. The Spirit still guides the Church, the People of God. The Spirit still is teaching us better ways to love and serve each other as faithful children of God, sisters and brothers of the Lord. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. Transition times are here once more. Wondrous things are afoot!

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle A

Image is from the Rabbula Gospels, a Syriac manuscript completed in 586 at Monastery of St. John of Zagba.

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Posted by on May 14, 2023

Good News Travels Far

Good News Travels Far

We have become accustomed in our contemporary world to the fact that events great and small around the world are quickly reported in our news sources. A lot of what we hear is about unfortunate events, but we hear about some of the happy ones too. Coronations and elections are broadcast around the world for anyone to see. The aftermath of earthquakes, floods, wars, and shootings are also seen by millions. News travels far and fast.

In the months after Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, events also moved quickly. Large numbers of people were baptized and entered the community of Followers of the Way. They weren’t yet called Christians. That came later. The community’s life was centered in Jerusalem and included people who were native to Palestine and those who came from Greece and other areas. All were living as one big community. They worshipped in the Temple, and broke bread in their homes.

As the community grew, a few people were selected as deacons to attend to the mundane details of managing such a large and diverse community. The most famous of them was probably Stephen, who was the first to die as a martyr. A fierce persecution of the community began shortly afterwards and many folks moved out of Jerusalem.

One of the deacons, Philip, went to Samaria. He told everyone he met about Jesus and the Resurrection. He performed miracles as he went through the countryside, healing many and teaching. Many people asked for baptism and joined the community of believers. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard of Philip’s work and of the conversion of the people in Samaria, Peter and John went to join him. They prayed over the new believers and asked that the Holy Spirit be poured out over them too. They laid hands on them as they prayed, and the Spirit came upon them. (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17)

In this description of the conversion of the Samaritans, we see the historic roots of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Baptism is typically the entry point into the life of the Christian community. But there was and is more to Christian initiation. The Holy Spirit comes in a special way to Christians, bringing gifts that strengthen their faith and help them bear fruit as followers and companions of Jesus. When the apostles and their successors, our bishops, lay hands on the baptized and anoint them with Chrism (the holy oil), the Spirit flows into their lives in a special and deeply powerful way. Philip, the deacon, baptized. Peter and John, the apostles, confirmed the newly baptized. All shared in the breaking of the bread, a prayer that has characterized the Christian community from the very beginning. Together these three practices, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, bring Christians into their new life and sustain their faith in their daily activities.

Jesus had promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans when he returned to the Father. Rather, he would ask the Father to send another one, another Advocate, to remain with the community and its members forever. This Advocate would be the Spirit of truth, unrecognized by the world at large, but remaining always with believers; guiding and strengthening them in their journey of faith. (Jn 14:15-21)

It is the Spirit who continues to guide us today. The Spirit helps us live in hope, with gentleness and reverence, doing good things for others and caring for our world and those with whom we share it. The Spirit gives us strength to carry on when we face opposition or disbelief and helps us to bring about positive change in our world. In choosing the path of goodness, we live our witness to our life in Christ. (1 Pt 3:15-18) When that witness is challenged but remains faithful, powerful change is planted in soil that hungers for goodness. As time passes, the fruit of the Spirit, the holy breath of God, blossoms into the world.

Are we there yet? Has heaven come to Earth yet? No. Not yet. But is it coming? Yes. Slowly but surely, the Good News of our Lord travels into our worlds of home, work, and play.

We are still in Easter Season. Still learning with the disciples of the gifts that Jesus wants to share with us. In just a couple of weeks we will celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. Until then, let us rejoice in the wonder of the Resurrection and the promise of Jesus not to abandon us or run off to some distant Heaven and forget us.

Jesus is alive and well and present among us. Look around and see him. See the good works that spring from his life in us. Watch as good news touches the lost and those who are forgotten in our world. Celebrate the small victories. Hope for the longer-term ones and do what you can to move forward toward them.

Good News travels far. It has come to us over many centuries and thousands of miles. May we continue to pass it forward through our lives and words.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

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Posted by on May 7, 2023

The Way – Expanding Understandings

The Way – Expanding Understandings

Following Pentecost, large numbers of people joined the community of believers, who spoke of themselves as Followers of the Way. Jesus had told his followers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:1-12) But when it came right down to the day-to-day project of living out the teachings of the master, it was challenging.

When the community began to grow beyond the Jewish faith tradition and include non-Jews from around the known world, it got even more challenging. Who gets the most of the shared resources? If I am responsible for distributing goods, do I make sure my family and friends have enough even if that means some others didn’t get as much as they wanted? Do I favor the folks who have come from another country? Should they get the same share as I do? They didn’t bring as much wealth to the community. Why should they get as much as the folks who were here first?

We hear some of these same questions and have some of the same arguments today. Why should immigrants get extra help? If a child came to the country illegally, why should they get free education and health care? Why should we care if they are sent to do unsafe work by unscrupulous “hosts”? If people don’t have jobs, why should we give them health care or food?

The apostles had to address these issues of justice and fairness in their community too. They were being distracted from the preaching and teaching of the Good News by the need to mediate these disputes. So after talking and praying about it, they decided to select some members of the community to handle the day-to-day administration the communal life and distribution of resources. They selected a group of people to take this role, including Stephen, the first martyr. (Acts 6:1-7)

Although the roles they played are somewhat different from the roles of deacons today, we often speak of these men as the first deacons. They took as their responsibility the care of the community in its daily life. The apostles were the preachers and teachers. The deacons made sure everyone got what they needed to live a good life together. Women also served as deacons in the early community, but they are not named in the reading describing the selection of the first deacons.

Deacons today preach and teach, both in words and deeds. They assist with the celebration of Eucharist, welcoming those gathered and leading the Penitential Rite. They also bring the needs of the broader community to the attention of the Church community. As they prepare the gifts for the sacrifice and raise the cup of the precious blood at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, they bring the needs and hopes and joys of the world to the Father in the sacrifice. They dismiss the community gathered in prayer to go into the world and serve the needs of all those they meet, including the poorest of the poor. They call forth leaders from the community to organize helpers and address those needs.

Just as the early church leaders adjusted their practices to meet the growing and changing needs of the community, we today listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the everyday, ordinary folks we meet. The Spirit calls the Church anew in every age to meet new challenges as we continue to share the good news Jesus brought to all – that God is with us and loves us dearly.

May we remember this as we move through the coming weeks and months. Those we meet along the way speak to us of the hopes and dreams of God for all of us and for the marvelous creation we share. I pray we will be open to hear the Spirit calling us to service.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A

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Posted by on Apr 30, 2023

The Good Shepherd – Here and Now

The Good Shepherd – Here and Now

Shepherd with dog and sheep

It’s Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

I didn’t have a lot of experience with sheep or the role of shepherds when I was growing up. We lived in town and more cattle were raised in our area than sheep. Farmers in the area surrounding us raised wheat and other grains. Some raised grass for seed. There were orchards too. When I was in high school, some folks began planting grape vines as well, realizing that the climate was much like that in areas of Germany famous for fine wines. But we didn’t see a lot of sheep.

My first real introduction to the realities of raising sheep came on a trip to southern Idaho to visit friends there. We drove through a great treeless area with high mountains that looked somewhat like piles of sand that God might have stacked up in a sandbox while playing during the time of creation. As we came down from the pass into the valley, there was a large flock of sheep grazing in the scrub lands there. The shepherd had his wagon and lived in it as he traveled with the sheep and protected them. His dogs were busy monitoring the movements of the flock, so none of the sheep wandered off and all were safe from predators. It was a very solitary life and he seemed very happy in his work.

More recently, a couple members of my family have raised sheep and other ruminants. It takes a lot of time and care to keep them healthy and to harvest and process the wool. It’s fun to visit and feed them, but I’m not planning to get any myself!

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd knows the sheep and is recognized by his or her sheep. Though they don’t realize it, they depend on the shepherd for protection and for knowing where they should go and when. They travel together as a group. The sheep don’t always go in the same direction at the same time. Sometimes they try to wander away, to taste the grass just over there… The shepherd brings them back to the group, so they aren’t lost (or eaten by somebody else).

We are much like the sheep. We don’t always know what we should do or where we should go. We don’t always go in the same direction as the rest of our community, our flock. But we are stronger when we work together and help each other. Our Good Shepherd is there to guide us along the way, with a nudge here and an opportunity there. People come into our lives whom we might never have expected to meet and we learn from their journey through life as we share a time together.

On Good Shepherd Sunday, we traditionally pray for vocations. That used to mean vocations to priesthood or religious life. Today the concept has broadened. Deacons serve our community once again, as they did in the early church. Lay men and women fill various roles within the community. Beyond the bounds of our religious communities, we also recognize that each person has a calling in life. Some will be parents. Some will not. Some will be teachers, healers, students, explorers, engineers, scientists, anthropologists, software developers, and so forth. Each role we are called to live out in our lives is our individual vocation. All are called to serve. And so we pray not only for vocations to service in clerical and religious life, but also for vocations to the many roles we all play in our families and communities. In all of these, we follow our Lord, the Good Shepherd who knows and calls us each by name.

As we move through this week, let’s keep our eyes open to see our shepherd in the day-to-day events of our lives. He’s not always very obviously marching in front of the group of us, but we can be sure he’s there among us, keeping an eye out for danger and guiding us into good pastures with plenty to nourish us.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday

 

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Posted by on Apr 23, 2023

Walking Together on the Road to Emmaus

Walking Together on the Road to Emmaus

The morning after… Most of our lives are passed with relatively few surprises or major transitions happening on any given day. Each day follows the one before it in a predictable way and we don’t spend a lot of time going over it in our minds or talking about it with family and friends. But once in a while, something major happens. There is a transition and nothing is the same. It is the morning after and everything is different.

In Anthropology, we speak of these times as liminal times, from the Latin word for threshold. The term comes from the experience we commonly have of passing through a doorway, over a threshold between two different places. On one side of the door, for example, we experience the warmth of the kitchen and home. On the other side, we are in the stormy weather of winter. Passing through the door is a liminal experience of a very ordinary sort.

Rites of passage, in which an individual moves from one social status (child) to another (adult) for example, were some of the first transitions identified and studied as liminal experiences. They may take place over a period of days. Once the ritual begins, the persons who are transitioning are neither who they were originally, nor who they will be at the end. They are inside the threshold.

Many kinds of transitions today are recognized as liminal, including times of political and social transitions. The days and weeks following the birth of a child or the death of a family member or friend are examples of liminal times. Nothing is quite the same as it was before. Everything gets experienced in a new way and everyday ordinary things no longer feel quite the same.

The time between Jesus’ death and Pentecost were in many ways a time of liminality for his friends as well. Their friend/teacher/master had been executed. They had hoped he was the one who would bring freedom from domination by a foreign power and new hope for the nation. But he had been executed and buried. Now some women were saying he was alive again! How foolish could a person be! They must be hysterical. But still, a few of the men had gone to the tomb to check out the women’s story and they didn’t find his body there either. They didn’t see him, though a woman said she had seen him in the garden. What were they to believe? It couldn’t possibly be true. Best just go home and face the music from family and friends who had said all along that they were fools to go tramping around the country following a “prophet.”

As they walked along, talking about all of this, a stranger joined them. He asked what they were discussing. When they told him, the stranger began to explain the events from the perspective of their own religious history and traditions. So many things began to make sense.

It was getting late and time to stop for the night. The stranger agreed to stop too and they ordered dinner. When the food arrived, the stranger offered the blessing, but in a way that opened their eyes. He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, just as Jesus had done at the Last Supper. In that instant they knew who he was and he vanished from their sight. They recognized him in the breaking of the bread.

They didn’t waste any time. They got up and returned to Jerusalem to tell the others. Upon their arrival, they were greeted with “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon.” (Lk 24:13-35)

Fifty days after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit blew into town, igniting a whole new time in their lives and the world. No longer frightened and hiding away from the authorities, they went out into the world and spoke boldly of what they had seen of God’s actions through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They proclaimed their belief that God had raised Jesus to life again and poured the Holy Spirit forth into his followers and the world. It was a new day, a new world, a new reality for all. (Acts 2:14,22-33)

Did the period of liminality end then? In one respect, yes. The initial phase of it did anyway. The disciples headed out into the world, telling everyone what they had seen and learned of God’s love for humanity. There were many controversies along the way. Much to learn and sort out about living this new way as a community of faith.

We have letters from some of the original leaders and teachers that give us a peek at what was going on in those early days. Some were written by the individuals whose name is on the letter. Others were written by people who learned from the one to whom the letter is attributed. The letters continually remind the community of the great love of God in sending Jesus, like a spotless lamb, to restore the relationship between humanity and the creator.

For a pastoral people whose history included centuries of offering lambs in sacrifice to God and whose very survival and exodus from Egypt involved the sacrifice of a lamb and the placing of its blood on the door frame, the image of Jesus as a lamb offered in sacrifice to restore the relationship with God made perfect sense. We see it again and again in the letters. Peter reminds us all that we are to behave with reverence while we live, remembering that we have been saved from the old behavioral traps and set free to love because of the sacrifice of “the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.” (1 Pet 1:17-21)

Nevertheless, the time of liminality is not yet over and done. The final days have not yet arrived. The community of followers of Jesus continues to share the good news with those among whom they live. Controversies continue to arise. We need to be reminded to speak the truth we hear boldly, and to listen equally deeply to others as they speak of what they have known and experienced. We live and learn. We share our hopes and dreams. We listen to the hopes and dreams of our sisters and brothers around the world. We ask the Holy Spirit to move among us today and in the days to come as well, that we too be energized and empowered to speak of God’s great love to all those we meet and to share it in concrete ways of service.

As we move through our days, we find ourselves meeting the Lord in unexpected times and places. He is present in the stranger who is kind to us when we are in a new town, or the friend who calls with a word of encouragement when times are hard, or the child who smiles at us while we wait in line at the grocery store. He is also in the un-housed person begging for spare change whom we pass on the street or the clerk at the local store who works the late shift and hopes the children at home are all right. We all walk on the road to Emmaus each day. When and where will we meet the Lord? When and how will we share the Lord’s love with our sisters and brothers?

“Were our hearts not burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” May these be our words too, as we watch for and listen to the Lord whom we meet in our daily travels along the way of life.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter

 

 

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2023

That You May Have Life in His Name

That You May Have Life in His Name

The Gospel According to John concludes with the statement that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” The signs that have been included were selected to help others believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and as a result have “life in his name.” There is an Appendix that was added at some point after these final words from the twentieth chapter, but most scholars agree that the Appendix was written by someone else.

John divided his account of the Good News of Jesus’ life into two sections: The Book of Signs and The Book of Glory. The Gospel opens with the famous Prologue, “In the beginning was the Word.” The book of Genesis begins with the same phrase, “In the beginning.”

The Book of Signs starts with Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River and concludes with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Book of Glory begins with the washing of the feet of his disciples and a long teaching on love and trust in God at the Last Supper. It continues through his passion, death, resurrection, and appearances to his friends, including Mary Magdalene in the garden.

The story of Jesus’ appearance to his friends in the locked room on Easter Sunday night and his return visit a week later when Thomas was present as well, are the final stories of the Book of Glory. (Jn 20:19-31) In these two stories, Jesus appears among his friends without warning or notice of any kind. He is simply and suddenly there with them. His first word to them each time is the greeting, “Peace be with you.” This peace is a deeply existential peace. No matter what happens, this peace will remain. It is a peace that is lived. It is a peace that brings healing and forgiveness – a peace that leads to community and life. His words to Thomas sum up nicely Jesus’ love for all those who would never meet him in person but who would become his followers through the centuries: “Blest are they who have not seen and have believed.” The Resurrection peace of Christ extends to each of us as well.

On the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blew into the lives of the disciples in a very special way. They stopped being afraid and hiding from the authorities. Instead, they stepped into the public eye and began to witness boldly to their experience of Jesus’ coming and his resurrection. Many people believed their witness and began to gather together to live as a community. St. Luke describes their lives in the first part of the Acts of the Apostles. They shared what they had, cared for those who had little, gathered to pray at the Temple, broke bread in their homes as Jesus had instructed them to do, and shared their meals together. The community grew rapidly and shared a sense that they had been saved and given new life through the teaching and sacrifice of Jesus. The resurrection changed everything. New life was theirs. (Acts 2:42-47)

As the community grew and spread into other areas, the sense of new birth and a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection became a characteristic of its members. The letter of St. Peter (1 Pt 1:3-9) reminds those who believe in Jesus that an imperishable inheritance is waiting for those who remain faithful. Through their trust and perseverance in loving Christ, they will reach their goal, the “salvation of your souls.” The teachings of those who were witnesses to the actions and teachings of Jesus have led those who were not present to share the same faith with those who were. And all will have “life in his name.”

It has been one week since we began our celebration of the Resurrection. Will Jesus be present in our homes at the end of this day? Where and how will we see him? How will we offer forgiveness to each other for times we have been hurt? How will we seek forgiveness for the times we have hurt others? And as loved and forgiven sisters and brothers of Jesus, where is the Lord sending us? To whom will we bring the good news of God’s love?

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter

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Posted by on Apr 8, 2023

What a beautiful night – Resurrection!

What a beautiful night – Resurrection!

What a beautiful night!

¡La noche de la resurrección!

It is a night that burns brighter than day. The darkness is banished by the light of love. Death is vanquished by the light of joy. Our fears have been taken away. Our crucified Lord is dead no more. The blinding light of the angel and the earthquake rolling away the stone stuns all of us.

En la madrugada las tinieblas moradas se rompen por el terremoto y el relámpago del ángel. Conmovidos, nos asustamos cuanto más al oír la consolación del ángel, “No temas.” Dios llega con su poder y gracia para rescatarnos. No temas.

Yet, the blinding light of the Angel’s voice tells us not to be afraid. We are shaken and our legs are trembling. But is this true? Yes! Our fear gives way to excitement. Go tell the others. You wept for him and anointed his body, torn and broken on the cross. You stayed with him until the end and now you have come to mourn him, but he is not here!

Al amanecer, la resurrección, se evanescen nuestros miedos, nuestras angustias, nuestra tristeza. Hemos visto el sufrimiento de los inocentes, hemos encontrado desconsolados la matanza de niños escolares. Hemos visto y tocado la fiebre del temor del COVID. No temas. Están sueltos de los lasos de la muerte como El Señor. Todo el sufrimiento de las cruces de la humanidad ha sido vencido por la cruz y resurrección del Salvador Victorioso.

Christ is victorious! Death has no power over him. Joined to him we have the promise of everlasting life. Heaven and earth are reconciled. With Him and in Him all glory, honor, and praise are given to the Almighty Father.

The forces of evil, despair, and distrust fell on Him and He vanquished them with compassion. “Father, they know not what they do.” In this priceless witness, the forces of derangement became only more furious. But He conquered them not by force but by coming forth from the sealed tomb.

Cristo en su triunfo ha vencido las fuerzas del pecado y furia por su humilde fe en la voluntad de su Padre. Lo captaron y crucificaron por su miedo, por su temor de que El los derribara de sus tronos y elevara a los humildes y mansos. Una luz resplandeciente que hace mover la tierra en sí misma nos ha amanecido en esa noche de nuestras velas de esperanza como estrellas en el domo del cielo.

Through the sin of Adam, a promise is made and fulfilled. God comes to pitch his tent with us. Light from light, True God from True God, begotten not made.

El cirio de la luz eterna rompe las cadenas de la oscuridad. La llama vacilante abofeteada por los vientos de nuestros tiempos, impulsados por la indiferencia, el enojo, y la desesperanza, la luz del cirio brilla aún más. Nos guía a través de las brisas de nuestra peregrinación, a través del Mar Rojo a pesar de nuestra duda. Anda en frente de nosotros por noche en el desierto desconocido y mostrándonos el camino al Padre.

“Go to Galilee.” “Go tell the others.”  You will see him there. He is not here. But surely, He is here. We go to tell the others. Leaving our jars of spices and unguents to perfume the dead; leaving our wine and spices to wash the dead. We find him! We fall at his feet. He smiles and lifts us up. Go tell the others.

Mary of Magdala, relieved of seven devils by the Lord’s touch, weeps at the open tomb. His body has been stolen. Where have they taken him? The gardener must know. He must know. “Tell me sir, tell me where have they laid him?” So quietly, so gently, kindness meets my ears. “Mary!” He calls through my tears. The gardener tends a new paradise where sin cannot enter, nor ugliness, but only the sweetness of blossoms. “Mary!” I look up. “Rabboni, it is you!”

Nos da nueva vida el jardinero del paraíso. Su voz suave seca nuestras lágrimas. Con precaución levantamos nuestros corazones. ¿Puede ser? La tumba fue vacía. Ni sabemos por donde lo llevaron. Señor Jardinero, ¿sabe usted a dónde lo llevaron? y nos llama por nuestro propio nombre. ¡Cómo queremos quedarnos en este jardín de dulce alegría!

¿Sólo era en el pasado la tumba vacía?

The Angel tells tourists today, “He is not here.” We come with our phones and cameras, in our sandals and shorts. We are here to see the empty tomb. “Have you listened to the women and gone to Galilee?” the lightening voice asks. This is not history. This is your story. What are you going to do with this second chance? How will your sorrow be turned into joy? How will your smile conquer the frown in your heart? Is it enough to marvel at the paschal candle, the singing, the flowers and the lights? This holy night is only the beginning. On your way, as you leave the garden, pay heed to the Gardener to find your name and yourself.

Ya amanece el sol, Víctor de la madrugada. La estrella de la mañana surge en nuestros corazones. Cristo Rey victorioso, crucificado y muerto por las fuerzas de la maldad, triunfador resucitado desde la muerte llevando a nosotros consigo a la derecha del Padre.

Cristos Anesthe, Alethos Aneste, Christ is Risen, Truly Risen.

¡Viva Cristo Victorioso!

Readings for Easter Vigil– Lecturas para la Vigilia Pascual

Readings for Easter Sunday – Lecturas para Domingo de Pascuas

 

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Posted by on Apr 7, 2023

Why did Jesus have to Die?

Why did Jesus have to Die?

“Why did Jesus have to die?” “What kind of a God would require a blood sacrifice, of a human being no less, before forgiving the disobedience of the first humans?” “What kind of parent would demand the death of a son?” “Who is ultimately responsible for the death of innocent people?”

All of these questions and more have been raised throughout history, following the death of Jesus. Believers and unbelievers alike have wrestled with the problem of evil and the painful finality of death. Answers are complex and, many times, unhelpful. At best, they provide some logical foundation, based on human values and cultural expectations. At worst, they are downright illogical and unsatisfactory.

I have no good answers either, but I have some thoughts. One of the most important things I have learned in my lifetime is that without difficult times, I don’t appreciate the good times as well. I also have much less appreciation for the challenges faced by others.

If there had always been enough money to be sure of where the next groceries were going to come from, I would not appreciate what it is to go through year after year of food insecurity. If I had always been able to purchase health insurance, I would not be as ready and able to encourage and rejoice with folks who can now get health care and insurance because of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) in the United States. I would also be less able to encourage those who have always been part of the middle class and now find their income has fallen so much that they are qualified for Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). If I had never spent late nights with a crying baby, I would not be able to sympathize with and offer nonjudgmental help to another parent whose child just will not go to sleep!

So many times in my life, there have been difficult moments. Each time, as I come through them, I appreciate more deeply the pain and suffering that are part of life for others as well. I become, I hope, a more compassionate person.

I wonder to what extent Jesus also had to go through hard times as part of growing in compassion and determination to help make life better for others. He had an intense experience of God’s love at his baptism in the Jordan. He grew in wisdom and faith during his time of fasting in the desert. He shared the experience of God’s love with those he met during his public life. He would have been encouraged by its reception among so many ordinary people. He must have been surprised at times that the message he brought was doubted and opposed by so many who were leaders of the community.

In the end, he realized the danger he faced in continuing to proclaim the coming of the kingdom. After all, he lived in a conquered nation where those who led revolutions or opposed the power of Rome were routinely executed publicly. Yet he chose to remain faithful to the call he had received. His cousin had paid the ultimate price for his proclamation of the coming of the Messiah. Now Jesus was facing the same powers and penalties.

He chose freely to continue forward. He could have run away. He saw the soldiers coming out from Jerusalem, down through the valley and up the mountainside to the Garden where he and his friends were spending the night. He could have slipped away before they arrived.

But he didn’t run away. He chose to go and testify to what he had come to understand. When asked if he was the Messiah, he did not deny it. In fact, in St. John’s account, Jesus used the name of God, I AM, three times during his arrest in the garden. When Pilate tried to release him, his accusers retorted, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” This frightened Pilate, but when push came to shove, Pilate did not resist their demands. Anyone who called himself a king or a god was too dangerous to keep around. (Jn 18:1-19:42)

Jesus went to his death freely. He chose fidelity to what he had come to know and understand about God, about humanity, and about his place in the grand scheme of things.

Did he know he would rise? I don’t know. In the Gospels, there are statements about rising, but they were usually phrased in terms of “on the third day,” which was a code phrase for “God will come to the rescue and make things right.” But literally, who knows when or how?

Jesus died. Of that there is no doubt. To make doubly sure, his heart was pierced by a soldier’s lance. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. His friends and family went home to mourn his passing. A guard was posted outside the tomb to be sure there would be no false claims of resurrection.

Jesus was a human being in all senses. If he had not gone through all the suffering he endured, would we who follow his teachings and believe what he came to proclaim about God’s love for all of us be deeply convinced of the truth of God’s unwavering love and forgiveness? I’m not sure we would be.

Jesus died not to appease a vengeful God. Jesus died not because of the “sins of Adam” that made humanity unfit for Heaven. Statements about his sacrifice as payment for Adam’s sins are found in the Scriptures and tradition, but those are from a specific cultural context in which animal sacrifice was a given. They may not be the way we would speak of the same reality today, though all of us are guilty of adding to the pain and suffering of those around us in big and little ways as we go through life.

Maybe Jesus died because he was so totally committed to what he had come to understand and experience of his relationship with the Father that there was no other option but to trust and go forward. In the process, he showed us too the way to move ahead through the sorrows and pain that come to each of us in our daily lives. He showed us that we grow in compassion through suffering and hard times. He showed us that the Father loves us through it all. And he is there with us as we go through it too. We just need to trust that he is there and open our hearts to receive his love and support.

There is no celebration of Eucharist on Good Friday. But we gather to remember the great love of Jesus and his willingness to go through all of the hardest things ever asked of humans: betrayal, unjust trial, condemnation, mocking, physical abuse, and death. He was there. He will be there always with those who suffer the same. And he’s even there for those of us who pass through less dramatic but deeply painful times.

We gather this day in prayer and silence to be with him in the mystery of timeless eternity. We continue in quiet through the day to come.

Peace be with you.

Readings for Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

 

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Posted by on Apr 6, 2023

Meals Shared and Rituals Born

Meals Shared and Rituals Born

Holy Thursday – the first of three days that mark the culmination of Jesus’ life and ministry. The Triduum, a three day liturgy. We gather together to remember ancient traditions, as well as the events that gave birth to them and led to their continuation into our times.

Passover was and is a fundamental feature of Jewish faith and history. The children of Jacob/Israel and their families, had found sanctuary in Egypt during a great famine. They and their descendants had grown to be a large group in the many years that followed the famine. Eventually, leadership of Egypt changed enough that they came to be seen as a potential threat and restrictions were applied that led to their enslavement.

Hearing their cries, God called Moses to intercede for them with Pharoah. When Pharoah refused to free them, a series of plagues came upon Egypt. Each was more severe than the previous one. Finally, the Lord sent the Angel of Death to slay the firstborn of all in Egypt, except those who were his own. These he had ordered to sacrifice a lamb, put some of its blood on the doorpost and lintels, and eat a communal meal of the sacrificed lamb. That night, the Angel of Death carried out its work. Pharoah ordered the Israelites to leave the land. (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14)

The Passover meal has been celebrated since that time in recognition of the great power of the Lord God and his care for his people, Israel.

Jesus and his followers were descendants of the people who escaped from Egypt. They came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover that year. In three of the Gospels, his last meal was a Passover celebration, but in the Gospel of John, it’s a couple of days before Passover. This is the Gospel that is featured on Holy Thursday, and the focus of this reading is Jesus washing of the feet of his disciples. (Jn 13:1-15)

Washing the feet of guests was a common thing done by hosts of any gathering. People didn’t wear closed shoes like we have today. Their feet got dirty as they walked from place to place. Servants would wash the feet of guests at banquets or other formal gatherings. But the host or the master of the household never washed anyone’s feet.

Jesus got up from the meal, took off his robe, tied a towel around himself, and began to go from one person to the next, washing their feet. Peter objected, but when told he must accept the service or not be one of the group, he accepted Jesus’ service too. When he had finished, Jesus explained to his friends that as his followers, they would be expected to follow his example. They were to become each other’s servants. More than that, they were to be servants to all, including those of lower social status.

John doesn’t tell us about the institution of the Eucharist. His focus is on the service and on the love of God.

St. Paul, however, describes the custom of the early church in his letter to the Corinthians. He tells of taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it, and sharing it as the Body of Christ, in obedience to Jesus’ command at the Last Supper when he did the same thing. Paul tells too of the sharing of the cup, transformed into Jesus’ Blood, shed for all of us, to reunite humanity with the Father. Paul’s writings predate the Gospels. This is the earliest description we have of the communal celebrations of our Thanksgiving banquet, the Eucharist. (1 Cor 11:23-26)

When I was a young girl, we were told that Holy Thursday was the day we celebrated both the beginning of the Mass and the institution of the priesthood. This was because only the priest could say the words of consecration that turned the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Our understanding of Eucharist has grown and developed greatly since those early days of my life. With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the work of many theologians, the Church’s understanding of Eucharist has expanded. We have come to understand that through our baptism, we all share in the priestly ministry. We together offer the sacrifice of the Mass. The priest is the one who speaks the words of the Eucharistic prayer aloud, but those words include statements of our own participation in their offering. We pray with our priest, “We offer you …” The words of consecration are not the high point of the Mass. The final offering, before the Lord’s Prayer, is the high point. “Through Him, with Him and in Him…”

Yes, priesthood can be traced to the Last Supper, but so can diaconate, our ministry of service, and our very own priesthood of the non-ordained, the laity. We are all called to be part of offering Eucharist (Thanksgiving) to God. We offer our praise, our thanksgiving, and our service as a people called out of slavery. With our Jewish sisters and brothers, we can say, “Our ancestors crossed the Red Sea and our feet are wet.” We could add, “Our ancestors sat at table with Jesus, and our feet have been washed.”

As we celebrate our liturgy this day, let us remember that call to service. We transition at the end of our celebration to the quiet of the Garden of Gethsemane and the beginning of Jesus’ passion – his arrest, trial, execution, and burial. On Good Friday we will hear of those events. But for today, we give thanks and rejoice in the gift of Eucharist – our sharing in the very life of Christ.

See you at Eucharist!

Readings for Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Holy Thursday Liturgy – live-stream from Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos, CA

 

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Posted by on Apr 2, 2023

A Destination is Reached

A Destination is Reached

We have arrived at the end of Lent. Today we enter, with Jesus, into Holy Week. We have traveled with him from Galilee, through Samaria, to Judea and Bethany. We have heard that he brings living water, sight to the blind, and life to the dead. Today we see him enter Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Kings and conquering heroes entered cities on horseback, with great fanfare, welcomed by throngs of people. Jesus entered on a donkey, as had been foretold in ancient scriptures (Zec 9:9). This is not a conquering hero. This is a man of peace.

On Palm Sunday, as we enter into Holy Week, we hear of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Immediately afterwards, we hear Matthew’s account of his Last Supper, the agony in the Garden, his trial, and his execution as an enemy of Rome. It’s a week of powerful readings, profound emotions, and great mystery.  We travel with him from the heights of praise to the ignomy of death on a cross, outside the walls of the city, by the city dump.

God did not choose to come among us as a conquering hero. He did not choose an easy life, filled with praise and luxury. He didn’t worry that the powerful might not like to hear the news that the poorest among them were cherished by their maker. He chose to experience all of the ups and downs of human life. Security in family life and career. Excitement in working with people. Wonder in seeing the growing faith and hope of the community. Joy in being able to help relieve suffering. Courage in speaking truth to power. Fear in knowing that great suffering would soon be unavoidable, especially if he did not back down from the truth he had been called to proclaim. Betrayal at the hand of a trusted friend. Terrible pain in the end, as he suffered a death reserved for those who had committed great crimes, including rebellion against Rome. Burial in a borrowed tomb.

Yet through it all, Jesus did not back down. The Son of God, the Word made flesh, who pitched his tent among us, held on to the reality he had come to understand and proclaim. A new day had dawned. Creation was new again. The relationship between God and humans was healed.

As he was dying, Jesus prayed one of the most powerful psalms ever written. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It sounds like the words of a man who is despairing. They are certainly the words of a person in great distress, and Jesus had to have been in great distress. But more than that, it is also a song/prayer of great faith and hope. Psalm 22 describes the agony of a man who has been betrayed, abandoned, and mocked by all. “He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves him,” say his tormentors. The prayer continues, with more description of the agony being endured, until finally a great song of praise and hope bursts forth, “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you…”

As we travel with our Lord through this week, may we too know the love and consolation of our God, who didn’t hesitate to enter into human life and share it all, especially the hard times, when hope seems far away. He will be there to meet us in those hard times, because he experienced them himself.

Blessed Holy Week to all.

Readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Palm Sunday liturgy – Resurrection Catholic Community – Aptos, California

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Posted by on Mar 26, 2023

Opened Graves and the Breath of God

Opened Graves and the Breath of God

“I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” These words were spoken to the Hebrew people through the prophet Ezekiel during the time when the Babylonian Empire controlled the land of Judah, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and many of the people had been taken into exile in Babylon. The Lord continued, “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them.” (Ez 37:12-14)

Once the dead have been raised from their graves, the Lord promises to bring them to life by putting his spirit in them. The Hebrew word for spirit is important here. It is the same word that is used for breath and wind. The spirit of God in this passage is God’s breath. In the Garden of Eden, God breathed life into Adam. In the desert, when the dry bones came back together into people in the vision granted to Ezekiel, the Lord breathed life and regeneration into the bones, which became covered once again with muscles, skin, and all that is needed for human life.

When the people see this return from death (and exile), according to the prophecy, they will recognize that the one who has done this is the Lord, the One who keeps his promises.

Jesus confronted the death of his friend Lazarus. St. John tells us the story of how it happened. (Jn 11:1-45) This is the seventh miracle or sign of the divinity of Christ that John describes. Jesus and his friends had left Judea before they received word that Lazarus was very ill. They didn’t go to him right away, but a couple of days later, Jesus told his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” This seemed crazy to the disciples, because the authorities there had just tried to kill him. But Jesus had decided to go, so the disciples went along with him.

Lazarus had already died and been buried for four days when they arrived. Decomposition of the body would have already begun by that point. The sister of Lazarus met Jesus on the road and they talked. Jesus promised her that her brother would rise. She professed faith in the resurrection of the dead.

Now resurrection was a theory being debated by different schools of thought in the Jewish community at the time. Jesus assured her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus was claiming that belief in him would assure life that would never end, even if a person died. What a wild concept! His use of the two simple words, I am, was significant. “I am” is the name of the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. People did not say this or use these words to describe themselves. Martha expressed her faith that he was the Christ, the Son of God.

Martha’s sister Mary also came and spoke with Jesus, expressing her belief that her brother would not have died if Jesus had only come earlier.

Jesus approached the tomb and ordered that it be opened. With great reluctance, the order was obeyed. Then Jesus prayed before calling, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus, bound in the burial cloths, emerged from the tomb – alive again. Jesus ordered, “Untie him and let him go.”

The breath of God had once again entered into his body. Life had returned, at the word of Jesus. Just as in the time of Ezekiel, the grave had been opened and the dead raised. And once again, the people who witnessed it, believed. They had seen the Lord at work.

St. John is the only one of the evangelists to tell of this incident. His words were composed a long time after the events described, colored by years of reflection and the faith of the community for whom they were written. They are intended to share with us what they as a community had come to understand. In this interaction and gift of new life to Lazarus, God was revealing himself in Jesus.

Years after the raising of Lazarus, St. Paul wrote about the Spirit to the community in Rome. (Rm 8:8-11) He spoke of flesh and spirit. Flesh is the word he used to describe worldly concerns and actions, not all of which were life-giving or good. Spirit is the word used to identify the good actions and loving style of living of followers of Jesus. Flesh is characterized by the concept of sin. Spirit is about life.

Paul says, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” Once again, the breath of God gives life – a life that is stronger than death and continues after the body dies.

So, does this breath of God bring life only when up against physical death? I don’t think so. The holy breath of God is much more than a life preserver ring that is thrown to a drowning person. Besides, there are many situations in which we face danger or metaphorical death. Do I tell that secret that will discredit my former friend? Do I try to get more than my share of the common resources of my community? How can I look like a great person without taking any risks or actually helping anyone? So many ways to put ourselves at the center…

Each of these kinds of situations are dangerous to our fundamental well-being, the spiritual level of our lives. The decisions we make in our interpersonal relations, in our families and professional lives, all of these are areas that can lead us into tombs, tombs into which the Spirit of God is ready to blow life. The Spirit waits to blow renewed life into our interactions and our interior being. As we open to receive God’s breath in our daily interactions, we become more able to pass that life on to those with whom we live and work.

The Spirit blows through all of creation, through each of us and out into our circles. As we receive this breath of love, let us rejoice in the One who loves us and pass it on.

Lent is nearing an end this year. Let us open our hearts to receive the healing breath of God, to emerge with Lazarus from our tombs, as we prepare to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Mar 19, 2023

Not as Humans See

Not as Humans See

Sight is an amazing gift. A new baby’s eyes open and immediately floods of new sensations pour into existence for the child. It would all be overwhelmingly overpowering if the baby could see everything going on around it. Fortunately, at first babies don’t see things far away clearly.

The face of mother or father are among the first to be seen – that’s a good distance for starters. Baby studies them carefully and begins to associate experiences with what is being perceived visually. Gradually, the distance increases and more wonders come into view. Experiences begin to be associated with what the eyes are reporting.

Baby reflects:
I cry and the tall folks around me pick me up and give me something to eat! I’m sitting in my car seat and I’m feeling pretty peaceful, but there’s one of those tall beings who pick me up when I cry. Oh boy, I’ll just cry and get picked up! No? Well then, I’ll complain some more. Oh. Now I can’t see them. Oh well, I guess I’ll just sit here quietly and see what comes next…

For the man born blind, the story of whose encounter with Jesus we hear in John’s Gospel, these experiences didn’t happen. He had to figure out the world in different ways. With much help from family and friends, he grew up, but the only way he had to support himself as an adult was to beg for alms from passers-by. A far cry from the experience of those who are blind in developed societies. (Jn 9:1-41)

In Jesus’ time, people believed that the light residing within people was what made it possible for them to see. If a person was born unable to see, there must not be any light within them. If there’s no light, then it’s only reasonable to assume that only darkness is there. Darkness is the realm of evil, so someone must have sinned in order for the child to be filled with darkness. For this reason, people asked Jesus, who had been the sinner whose actions resulted in the birth of a blind child: the parents or the child before birth? Jesus responded firmly, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

Jesus didn’t wait around to see what would happen to the man as life continued. He acted. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Then he spat on the clay ground and made some mud, which he smeared on the man’s eyes. He then told the man to go to a pool called Siloam (Sent) and wash off the mud. This pool was known to be a place where people were sometimes healed, so the man went. He washed off the mud and he gained the gift of sight, not the gradually expanding sight of an infant, but the sight of a person who could function in society.

The rest of the story tells of the consequences of this new experience in the man’s life. People were astonished. He was led to testify before the religious authorities about what had happened. (It was on a Sabbath that Jesus acted – how could he be from God if he broke the Sabbath by working?) Who was this Jesus after all? What did the man think of him? The man didn’t change his evaluation of the experience: the man who healed me must be from God because he “opened my eyes.”

Jesus went to find the man after he had been tossed out of his religious community by the authorities. He asked the man if he believed in the Son of Man, a title for the savior who was to come from God. The man became a follower of Jesus when he learned that Jesus was the one who had transformed his life.

This theme of sight and of light runs through the readings from the book of Samuel (16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a) and the letter to the Ephesians (5:8-14) as well.

When the Hebrew people decided they needed to have a king rather than be led by strong, wise men and women in times of danger or attack. God acquiesced to their request and Saul was anointed king. However, Saul didn’t turn out to be entirely faithful to God’s instructional leadership. God had someone else in mind to be the next king. The challenge was that kingship so commonly passes from father to son. Saul’s sons were not the ones God had in mind either!

The Lord sent the prophet Samuel to the village of Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse. One of Jesse’s sons would be the one he should anoint the one to be the next king. Jesse had eight sons. Any one of them might be the one, so one by one they were presented to Samuel. Each time Samuel thought, surely this would be the one. But none of the seven older sons was the one. Finally, they called David in from tending the sheep. David was still quite young. No one would have expected him to be the choice, yet this young man was the one chosen. Samuel anointed him in the presence of his family and the elders of the community. The spirit of the Lord, the holy breath of God, rushed upon him and remained with him.

As the Lord told Samuel, “Not as man (humankind) sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

As members of the Followers of the Way, the early Christians in Ephesus were learning new ways to live. Many things that were acceptable behavior in their society were not “pleasing to the Lord.” Paul encouraged them: “You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…” He advised them to act always with the assumption that what they were doing must be worthy of being seen – done in the light. Everything done in the light can be seen and everything that can be seen is light. He concludes, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Light and sight are the keys. God sees in different ways than we do. Our human vision and understanding can go only just so far. Like the new baby, as we grow, we see more deeply and more clearly. As we grow in the experience of God’s love and life, our ability increases to perceive how far and deeply love extends and actually forms the substance of all life.

As we continue the journey to Holy Week and Easter, let’s ask the Lord to open our eyes too. To help us to see the face of Love all around us – in the people, the plants and animals, the environment, and the universe. To help us to value the unseen goodness of all of creation and treat it with reverence. To trust that all will be well, as long as we keep our eyes open in trust to the Lord, our God. And finally, to let that light be reflected into the world around us, letting the Light of Christ pour through us into our world.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

Open My Eyes – Jesse Manibusan

 Liturgy – Resurrection Catholic Community

 

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Posted by on Mar 12, 2023

Water: Cool, Clear, Water

Water: Cool, Clear, Water

My father loved the music of a group called Sons of the Pioneers. The refrain of one of their songs, Cool Water, included the phrase, “Water, water – cool, clear water.” The song told the story of at least two people traveling in a desert, presumably in the American West. One of them was hallucinating due to dehydration, seeing “big green trees and the water running free and it’s waiting there for me and you.” The other assured him that what he was seeing was not really there.

The song has been running through my head today as I think of the readings from Exodus, John’s Gospel, and Paul’s letter to the Romans. Water and God’s care for us run through them as a theme.

The Hebrew people had escaped from slavery in Egypt. They had crossed through the Red/Reed Sea. They had experienced the cleansing of bitter water at one place in the desert so they were able to drink it. Another time, when there was no food, God sent manna and quail each day for them to eat. Then they arrived at a place that came to be known as Massah and Meribah. (Ex 17: 3-7)

There was no water for this large group of people to drink. People can’t last long without water. Why had Moses led them out from Egypt to die of thirst in the desert? Moses appealed to God for help and was told to take the same staff with which he had struck the river and parted the sea and to use that staff to strike the rock in Horeb. The Lord promised to be there in front of him as he struck the  rock. Water would flow from the rock for the people to drink.

In the presence of the elders of the people, Moses struck the rock and water flowed forth, demonstrating once again that God was with them on their journey.

Many years later, Jesus and his friends were traveling through Samaria, another dry land. They stopped in the town of Sychar, the location of Jacob’s well. (Jn 4:5-42) This town had been given to Joseph by his father, Jacob, in ancient times.

Jesus waited beside the well while the rest went into town to buy food. A woman came to the well to draw water for the day. It was the wrong time of the day for a respectable woman to come to the well. Respectable women came early in the day. She was not a respectable woman, as her conversation with Jesus later demonstrated. As it turns out, she had had five husbands and was now living with a man to whom she was not married.

Jesus asked her for a drink of water from the well. This was shocking. Men didn’t speak to women in public. Men didn’t ask strange women for water. Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans. But she didn’t run away. She challenged him, asking why he was asking her for water. Jesus answered that rather than question him, she would ask him for living water if she knew who he was.

Two things pop out here to be noted. First, living water in those days meant running water, not that from a well. Secondly, John’s gospel assumes that Jesus knew what he was doing at critical points in his ministry. His actions were signs to let the world know that he, the Word of God, had come into the world and spoke with authority.

When Jesus spoke of living water, she assumed he meant running water. But there was none there, only well water. So, she challenged him. “Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this cistern…?” But Jesus didn’t back off. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again…” He told her that the water he would give would quench thirst forever and continue to grow within the person who drank it. It would lead to eternal life.

The conversation went on for quite a while. It ranged from her marital history to where people were supposed to worship and the dawning realization on the woman’s part that this man might be the anointed one of God, the Christ. She called the rest of the town to meet him. Jesus and his friends stayed in that town for several days. As Jesus told his friends, God’s harvest of people for eternal life was ready. It was time to spread the word, to reap the harvest sown for centuries in the hearts of the people.

It all started with a request for a drink of water. Cool, clear water in the middle of a hot day of walking.

By the time Paul came on the scene, Jesus had died and risen again. The community was growing and spreading outside Palestine. He had been part of spreading the word well beyond the original lands and was now writing to the community at the heart of the Roman Empire. The Church of Rome.  (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8) And what was his message?

Paul wanted all to know that God is still loving and protecting each of us. Through God’s actions, the Holy Spirit of love has been poured into our hearts. Through Jesus’ death, we received the gift of reconciliation with God. We can live in right-relationship with God, the Most High. We can experience peace, harmony, tranquility in our relationship with God and with each other. All because God is present among us and pouring out the grace, the share in divine life, that makes our restored relationship possible.

Water comes and goes in everyday life. Some years we have plenty of it. Some years it is scarce. In some parts of the world, rain is a daily reality. In other areas, an inch or less a year is all that is normally expected. This year in California, we’ve had massive amounts of rain in just a few months. We have a Mediterranean climate, which in part means we have a rainy season and a dry season. Most years, rainy season is relatively mild. This year, when there’s only an inch and a half of rain in 24 hours, it seems like a small amount! Why, one day there were three inches!

But through it all, we need water to drink. We thirst for water.  We thirst for other things too. Power, prestige, security, friendship, respect, love… The list can go on and on. What do you thirst for? What do I thirst for? Do we thirst for the cool, clear water of eternal life?

Lent is a time to ask ourselves these questions.

And when the Lord appears in our lives, in his many disguises, will we be ready to receive living water from him?

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Mar 5, 2023

Light Shining Forth

Light Shining Forth

Abram was a shepherd, from Ur of the Chaldees (in contemporary Iraq). Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth in the Galilee. Paul was a tent maker from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia to the north of Syria who had become a student and teacher of the Law in Jerusalem. Each heard God’s call and responded in faith.

Abram had already left his homeland with his flocks and family and was living in Haran, an area that is now part of Türkiye. He heard the Lord’s call to move south to Shechem in the land of Canaan. (Gn 12:1-4a) This was a big deal. Gods were believed to be local to a geographic area. Yet his God was telling him to go to a new area, where the people worshiped other gods. God promised that a great nation would grow from this man who had no children at the time. Abram took God at his word and moved his family south. Much to his relief, I imagine, God was present in the new land too.

Just as God had promised, Abram became the father of not one but two great peoples, the Arabs and the Jews. And through his obedience to the call, blessings have come to all the communities of the earth.

Jesus too listened to God’s voice calling him at his baptism in the Jordan River. When he returned from his forty-day retreat in the desert, he began proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand. The time had come in which the people’s relationship with God would be mended. The signs of this new kingdom would include the poor hearing good news, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, those who were crippled being healed. It was a different kind of kingdom than the one expected by his contemporaries. But many people followed him. It wasn’t every day that one could see a healer at work or hear new teachings.

Jesus had some very close friends with whom he shared the last three years of his life. He took three of them up on a mountain one day. (Mt 17:1-9) Mountains in Scripture are often places where God meets people. This was no exception. On this day, both Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) appeared and spoke with Jesus about what was coming. His friends were astounded. Jesus’ face was shining like the sun and his clothing was blazing white. They rightly understood that God was present in that moment, his light shining through Jesus. Peter suggested that three tents could be set up, so Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would have a comfortable place to stay. Then they heard God’s voice telling them that this was his beloved son, to whom they should listen. This confirmed God’s presence there and they were afraid. They fell to the ground in worship.

The moment passed. Jesus touched them. Instructed them to get up. And as they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead. Of course, they had no idea what that meant, but we’ve all been told about it now – after the Resurrection.

Paul too had an encounter with the Risen Jesus. Another brilliant light experience. He was blinded for a few days afterwards. Then he got busy and devoted the rest of his life to telling what he had learned and experienced of God’s love and presence. He traveled through much of the ancient world between Jerusalem and Greece, all the way to Rome. His letters tell us today what he learned of God’s call and support for each of us in living the new way of love and service. (2 Tim 1:8b-10) He reminds us that God is the one who called us and will support us through any and all hardships that come our way as a result of following Jesus.

When I was in grade school, some of my teachers told us that we shouldn’t expect great or outstanding things to happen to us as followers of Christ. The miracles pretty much had all happened long ago.

For the most part, we do go through our lives with few surprise interventions from the divine world. At least, we don’t notice them most days. The sun rising, the moon and stars at night, the smiles of those we love, the people with whom we interact – all seem very normal. Nothing special there, folks.

Yet I believe we sell ourselves and our lives short when we say it’s all just ordinary. Amazing things still happen. God touches people directly and indirectly even today. We don’t talk about it much, but it happens.

There is a light shining just below the surface of the world around us. We don’t see it most of the time. But there are moments when it breaks through. A child races down the sidewalk to give us a hug. A friend calls just to say hello. The clouds pick up the sun’s rays at just the right moment to paint the sky with shades of rose. A bird greets us when we walk out the door in the morning, then picks up the treat it has just found and hides it in a neighbor’s gutter, planning to come back and enjoy more of it later. (No kidding. I watched a crow do just that a couple of weeks ago!)

Remember the words of the song, “You light up my life…” Remember the times you have seen someone’s face light up with delight. We speak of lighted faces. God is shining through those faces, smiling at each of us. May we each day be open and transparent enough in our interactions with others that God’s smile shines through us as well.

Abram, Jesus, and Paul were not the only ones whom God has called to go forth and bring blessing to the world through our lives. He calls ordinary people in all ages, including each of us too. The light continues to shine forth. Not as brightly as it did through Jesus at the Transfiguration, but enough that it can be noticed as a calming, reassuring, and powerful sign of love.

Here’s to the light!

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

 

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