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Posted by on May 11, 2024

Transitions: Waiting, Praying, Growing

Transitions: Waiting, Praying, Growing

What can be done with a broken plate, or cup, or bowl? A beautiful keepsake crashes to the floor and is, as the saying goes, smashed to smithereens! An everyday cup slips out of a child’s hands and meets the same fate. Things break, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes they can be mended. Sometimes they can’t. And sometimes they can be reused rather than being sent to the trash heap.

In our own lives, we also experience times of transition. Something exciting and wonderful comes to an end and we mourn its passing. Something difficult begins to improve and we rejoice, hoping the improvement will continue. Sometimes it’s a bit of both and the something new is born slowly and quietly. Sometimes there’s a sudden change and that also requires time for adjustment.

In these times of transition, when broken pieces wait for realignment and transformation into something beautiful again, we don’t always know what to do. These are times for waiting, praying, and growing into newer, deeper, more human persons.

After the Resurrection, the disciples were visited many times by the Risen Lord. They came to believe that he had indeed risen from the dead. Many still thought he might now lead armies in battle to “restore the kingdom to Israel.”

The last time Jesus met with his friends, he instructed them to remain in Jerusalem and wait “for the promise of the Father” of which both he and his cousin John had spoken, the baptism with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1-11)

Baptism is a word that means to plunge into something. Baptism with water involves having water poured over the person being baptized or their being submerged into water. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a physical thing. In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop anoints the person with chrism and lays hands on the person’s head, while together we pray with him for the Holy Spirit to enter into their hearts in a new and deeper, transformative way. Not everyone experiences a sense of something being different in their lives after Confirmation, but there is a difference and some do notice it. Sometimes, the difference is dramatic. In the early Church and at various times in the following centuries, the coming of the Spirit has been seen in the community with signs and wonders – speaking in tongues, prophesy, healings, and other wonderful things.

At any rate, whether with dramatic signs or simply with a quiet sense of peace, Jesus promised the disciples would be baptized, plunged into, the life of the Holy Spirit. How that would happen or what it would mean was not explained before he was taken up and away from their sight. Two men, dressed in white, reminded them that they were to return to Jerusalem to wait and pray for the fulfillment of the promise. And so they did. The men also promised that Jesus would return one day. How or when this would happen was for the Father alone to know, he assured them.

St. Mark also spoke of Jesus’ final words before being taken up into heaven. He told them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel, the good news, to every creature.” Signs and wonders would accompany their preaching. We can get very literal in understanding the words in the Gospel, but I suggest it’s important to seek understanding in terms of what we have learned in two thousand years about humans and our interactions with each other. People would be healed, new words and ways of speaking would be used, dangerous things would not hurt them. All would see the goodness of God in their lives and actions. (Mk 16:15-20)

St. Paul instructed the community at Ephesus regarding the gift of living their lives as Christians, followers of the Lord. The eyes of their hearts will be opened to see and understand the great hope and power of the inheritance they have received through the Holy Spirit’s anointing. They are to live with humility, gentleness, patience, preserving the unity of the community with peace. They are one body and share in the one Spirit, received through their baptism. Some are to go out publicly and teach and preach. Others will live more quietly in their communities, doing the regular things expected of those with their calling – parents, homemakers, tradesmen, teachers, healers, software engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, astronauts, poets, musicians, and so many, many more vocations that have opened through the centuries. (Two reading options – Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13)

We are all called to be preachers of the Good News. We are not all called to do it on the street corners or pulpits of our communities. We do it in the everyday way we live our lives. Forgiving when we have been hurt. Helping those to heal who have been wounded, whether physically or emotionally. Finding ways to make living as Christians fun for our families, and preparing each member to be able to hold on to the hope and joy of the Good News while dealing with the opposition they will meet outside the community.

As a community, we are like a great big mosaic that is being created by our Father. He takes each of the broken pieces of our lives, places each in a very specific place in the design he envisions, and creates something beautiful and unexpected. Meanwhile, we wait, pray, and grow, becoming the pieces he needs for the mosaic.

As we wait and pray this week for the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives once again at Pentecost, may we have the courage to request the grace of being open to the ways the Father will shape and mold us into the pieces he needs for his mosaic. It may take a bit of sanding, nipping off a corner here or there, or being turned around or upside down several times, but eventually, we will fit into the picture just the way we need to fit.

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on May 5, 2024

Who Gets to Go First?

Who Gets to Go First?

A group of children get together to play. After some discussion, they decide on a game. It may be a group game or it may be a one-on-one game. If a group game, captains of teams are selected and the group is divided into teams. With a one-on-one game, it’s somewhat easier, as long as the two players have already been selected. If not, then the group must decide which two will play.

Finally, the preliminaries are completed and then the most critical question is asked. Who gets to go first? Is it the player with the red markers or the black markers in checkers? Which team is “up” first in baseball? Who serves first in volleyball? What about chess? Or Chutes and Ladders? Or Candyland? Even games for very young children require addressing this question. Who gets to go first? How is the decision made in a fair way? Sometimes it seems like the team or player who goes first will have the advantage in the entire game. That’s not necessarily the case, but it can feel that way.

In God’s relations with humans, we often think that we are the ones who make the decision about whether God will be part of our lives or not. It’s my decision whether I will pray, or go to church, or have my child baptized, or, or, or.   So many possible times that I must make a decision regarding my relationship with what one of my professors, Dr. David Mandelbaum, called “The Transnatural.”

The Transnatural refers to experiences, forces, unexplainable realities that are experienced by peoples around the world. They are often called gods or spirits or demons or other titles, depending on whether they are perceived as positive or negative in their relationship with human life and community. They are beyond our everyday, ordinary understanding of the natural world. Commonly, the term supernatural is assigned to them. However, Professor Mandelbaum suggested that transnatural as a descriptive term takes away the value-laden pre-conceptions with which we look at such experiences when we call them supernatural.

As groups, we also tend to think that our understandings and rules for membership in our community are exclusively ours to determine. But that is not necessarily the case.

Blessedly, whether we are loved and welcomed into God’s family is not determined by our worthiness, our ethnic or racial background, our wealth, our education, our family connections … God is the one who decides, who takes the initiative, who welcomes all.

St. John reports that Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” How does one remain in his love? By keeping his commandments. He doesn’t say by keeping the Law dating from the time of Moses. He says, “my commandment.” And what is that commandment? “Love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:9-17)

This love is not one of master and servants or slaves. This love includes self-sacrifice on the part of Jesus, the first lover. He calls his followers friends, – trusted friends, friends with whom he shares his deepest thoughts and even fears. He also shares all he brings from his Father.

Who chose whom in the relationship? “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” And because we have been chosen and sent to bear fruit, we may ask the Father for what is needed and we will receive it.

Will it always be what we expect? No, most certainly not. But not because Jesus lies or because the Father doesn’t keep promises. Not everything we think we need or want will be good for us or others in the long run. And God is in it for the long run with us.

Who gets the first move? God does and did. That first move sets things in motion and God is still a player, a companion in the game, with arguably a better view of the final outcome.

St Peter discovered this reality relatively early after the Resurrection. He was traveling and stopped to rest and have lunch. While he waited, he had a vision and in this vision, a large cloth filled with animals was lowered from the sky. A voice ordered him to eat them. But they included ritually unclean animals. He couldn’t eat them. He would become unclean himself. The cloth with the animals went up and down from the heavens three times. Each time the voice from heaven told him, “What God has purified you are not to call unclean.”

As the visions ended, messengers arrived from Caesarea with a request from Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman cohort there. Cornelius had been told in a vision to send a messenger to Peter and ask him to come visit. Cornelius was known to be a good man, God-fearing and respected by the Jewish community. Peter agreed to visit him.

The next day, they went to the home of Cornelius, who welcomed them warmly. He explained that he too had received a vision, instructing him to invite Peter and listen to his words. At that Peter began to tell him about Jesus and all that had happened. While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit swept through the room, descending on Cornelius and his family, who began to speak in tongues and glorify God. Usually, the Holy Spirit’s presence was seen after new believers had been baptized and hands laid upon them invoking the Spirit. When this happened outside the usual order and without any human intervention, Peter realized that non-Jews could also become believers. God had called them too and loved them equally. Cornelius and his family were baptized then and there and entered the community of believers. (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48)

Once again, God made the first move.

Many years later, reflecting on all he had seen and experienced, John wrote a letter to some of the communities who were struggling with disagreements about the teachings of the apostles and Christian beliefs. John, in this letter, stressed repeatedly that love originates in God. In fact, “God is love.” So we must love each other. Only in love can we know God and only through love does life come to each of us. We can love because we are loved. We have life because we are loved. God loved us first. God got the first turn in the game and dance we all share. The dance and game of life and love itself. (1Jn 4:7-10)

This week, let’s remember how much we are loved and how Love does not exclude anyone. Some folks may be harder to love than others, but love doesn’t mean ‘like’ or ‘do just as others do.’ Love means to care and wish the best for all. Love means to smile and be patient while waiting in line or for someone else to finish before we get our own turn. Love means opening to the beauty of the day, even as the rain pours down and winds blow. Beauty and love surround us and are the very air we breathe and the atmosphere through which we move. God has the first move. Now we get our turn. It’s a wonderful adventure.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Apr 28, 2024

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Chop Wood, Carry Water

An ancient Zen koan came to mind as I read the story of St. Paul’s return to Jerusalem after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. The koan is this:

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

People have been reflecting on this simple statement for centuries. It’s a statement of deep wisdom that we see play out in the lives of many within our own Christian tradition as well.

The man we know today as St. Paul began as a Pharisee named Saul. Saul was a highly educated man, born in the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, trained as a tent-maker, and educated in Jewish Law in Jerusalem. He was a Roman citizen by birth.

Saul was deeply troubled by the teaching of Peter and the other followers of Jesus after the Resurrection. It was all blasphemy as far as he was concerned. He was the formal witness to the stoning of Stephen, the first of the Christian martyrs, and Saul absolutely approved of Stephen’s sentence. He was not converted by Stephen’s dying witness either. He set out to root out this heresy wherever it was found.

On his way to Damascus, he met Jesus on the road. He was blinded by the encounter and realized he had been totally wrong. Jesus sent him on to Damascus, where he was healed and taught by Ananias about Jesus and the new way of living in faith.

Not one to sit around twiddling his thumbs, Saul began to share what he had learned with the Jewish community in Damascus. His words were so effective that the leaders plotted to kill him. Eventually, he had to be lowered in a hamper from a window in the city wall that opened to the outside, to escape with his life. He returned then to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, the Christian community quite reasonably were afraid of him. This man had persecuted them relentlessly and now he wanted to join them? Not going to fall for that trap, no siree!

But Barnabas befriended him and introduced him to Peter and the other disciples. He explained what he had experienced and his faith in Jesus. He began speaking and teaching about his experience throughout Jerusalem, again arousing opposition.

Rather than let him get killed or spark renewed persecution, the Christian leaders decided to send him out of harm’s way. They took him down to the shore at the port of Caesarea and sent him back to his hometown, Tarsus. There he returned to his original trade, making tents. (Acts 9:26-31)

Before enlightenment, make tents. After enlightenment, make tents.

For the rest of his life, Saul, who came to be called by his Roman name, Paul, made tents. But the story didn’t end with making tents in Tarsus.

Eventually, Saul was called back to Jerusalem by the community’s leaders and commissioned, along with Barnabas, to travel out into the Gentile world of Asia Minor and share the Good News with Jewish communities there and with any others who were open to hear it. Thus began the great work of evangelization of the Gentiles for which St. Paul is known. Much of the Acts of the Apostles tells of Paul’s journeys and the communities he founded. Wherever he went, he taught about Jesus and made tents to help support himself and those who traveled with him.

What about the rest of us?

St. John tells us that one day Jesus told his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Just as a vine grower prunes the vines regularly so they produce good fruit, so the Father works through the words of Jesus to prune his vines and prepare them to bear fruit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” In our following of Jesus and living out his words of love and service to each other, we bear fruit for the vine grower. Our lives of loving service, joy, and peace with those we meet throughout our lives will draw others to belief and sharing in God’s life. (Jn 15:1-8)

Along the way, as we grow in faith and trust, we continue to do the everyday things of our vocations. We chop wood and carry water, as it were. When we start out, we may not really understand the importance of everyday activities to a life of faith and service. With God’s grace, we grow in understanding throughout our lives. Sometimes we are blessed with a deep awareness of God’s presence in our lives and activities. We are enlightened to God’s presence in the NOW of our lives. Then the awareness fades as we continue on our journey from one day to the next. We continue to chop wood and carry water.

As John reminded his community many years later, we are to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1 Jn 3:18-24) Our daily activities, the chopping wood and carrying water of our daily responsibilities, are the place we find God. This is where we come to recognize the Spirit in our lives and trust that all will be well in the end. The wood will have been chopped and the water carried to where it needed to go.

Seasons are changing around the world. For some the warmer, sunnier days of spring and summer are coming. For others, it’s autumn and winter will be here all too soon. Wherever we are, we are called to do the everyday things of our vocations. But we are also called to remember the Lord, to speak to our Father, to seek the presence of the Spirit in those we meet. We cook, clean, bake, grow vegetables, preserve food, share it with others. We go to work or school and share love and friendship with those we meet there. We come together to celebrate Eucharist, to give thanks for all we have received and shared. We chop wood and carry water.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Apr 21, 2024

Help in Time of Need – The Shepherd

Help in Time of Need – The Shepherd

The afternoon was bright and sunny. The ocean was quiet. The breeze was gentle. All was peaceful and calm.

Suddenly, the chickens next door began to squawk and race around their yard. The roosters began to crow at the top of their lungs. The dogs barked up a racket. Something drastic was happening and they were telling the world.

Neighbors wondered if someone had fallen or if there had been some sort of accident to provoke such an uproar. But when they checked, all seemed fine and the animals had quieted again.

Later, the owner of the chickens and dogs explained that he had seen what looked like a badger approaching the house. The animals had responded according to their nature. The chickens were panicked, not having a great number of self-defense options! The dogs had shouted a warning to their owner that a serious problem was needing attention. And with all the uproar, the threatening animal changed plans and went back to the field.

St. John tells us that Jesus spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd. In biblical times, prophets often spoke of the leaders of the people as being their shepherds. This made sense with an historically pastoralist people, who raised sheep and goats and traveled with their animals. Jesus took the idea of shepherd farther than the traditional one of God as the Shepherd of Israel and leaders who failed to obey the Law as bad shepherds. Jesus declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In saying this, he was using the same terminology and usage as God had used when he spoke from the burning bush to Moses, “I Am.” This was one of seven times in John’s Gospel that Jesus speaks of himself in divine terms.

Jesus speaks of the role of the Good Shepherd as watching over the sheep and protecting them. Remembering my niece’s comment about sheep being dumb as compared with goats, I find Jesus’ statement even more striking. The Good Shepherd cares about the sheep, even if, and maybe because, they are not the most intelligent animals.  The Good Shepherd will protect the sheep even at risk of his own life. Jesus will give his own life for his sheep. Those who do not own the sheep will not do this. When the wolf (or badger or hawk in the case of the chickens) comes creeping up on the sheep, the hired shepherd might well run away. Wolves are not animals that are easily defeated. They work together in packs and don’t hesitate to go after humans too, if necessary to get the sheep.

When Jesus spoke about being the Good Shepherd, it was expected that only the Hebrew people were of interest to God. God was still a deity of only one relatively small group of people. Outsiders had no place among those to be protected by the shepherd. Jesus, however, did not consider only the Jews to be the sheep loved and protected. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” His mission is big enough to include all peoples. All are to be members of one flock. And all will be included in the salvation gained for them by the good shepherd who dies rather than allowing them to be lost. (Jn 10:11-18)

This was a huge expansion of understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. Through Jesus, God’s love and call extended formally to all. Those who believe and follow him become children of God. (1 Jn 3:1-2)

Because of the close relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, miraculous healings continued after the Resurrection through the actions of the apostles, as signs of Jesus’ power and relationship with the Father in the Trinity. Humans don’t typically have the power to heal with a word or a touch. But Jesus does. (Acts 4:8-12)

Like the owner of the chickens and dogs who faced the badger this past week, Jesus and his followers step up to help those who need extra help. This includes those with little money, those who have health issues, those whose physical safety is threatened, those who must leave their homes to protect themselves and their children, those who learn new skills or do jobs that don’t take advantage of their existing education but allow them to send funds to help their families far away. Thus, many, many people follow the Good Shepherd and do what they can to help and protect the sheep. And the Good Shepherd is there among all of us, his sheep, with all the messiness of our lives, walking with us and helping us along the way.

In this next week, let’s reflect on the ways we experience the protection and love of our Shepherd. Let’s also reflect on how we can share in his mission and help protect others whom we meet in our daily lives.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Apr 14, 2024

Perfected in Love – Part of a circle

Perfected in Love – Part of a circle

It was an afternoon class, after a long day at school for all of the children. They had come together from several schools for religious education class that afternoon. They were members of the same parish, so they knew each other, had been in classes together since kindergarten. They were friends. They happily visited with each other until their teacher called them together to begin the day’s lesson.

One girl was having a happy conversation with one of her friends and didn’t really want to  stop and begin class. As the other children formed a circle with their teacher for their beginning song and prayer, she turned her back on the circle. She was in the circle, but her back was turned.

Her teacher was shameless about taking advantage of whatever happened in class to teach the children, so rather than get upset or angry, she directed the attention of the other children to what was happening. The circle was still there, even though the child was not participating. All she needed to do was to turn around and she would also be included in the conversations and lessons that would follow. But it was entirely up to her whether she would remain excluded or whether she would join. The situation was a perfect example of what happens when we turn away from God’s love and decide to go it alone. The choice to return is always our own.

This incident came to mind as I read St. Luke’s account of what happened on Easter Sunday evening when the Lord appeared to the apostles in the Upper Room. (Lk 24:35-48) Luke tells us that those who had met him on the road to Emmaus had returned and just told their companions that they had met the Lord and recognized him “in the breaking of the bread.” And then he was there in their midst. The doors were locked. There was no way for anyone to get in. Yet there he was. Quite a startling thing to experience, and not just a little frightening. It must be a ghost!

Jesus’ first words were ones of reassurance. “Peace be with you.”  He began to reassure them by having them touch him, including his wounds. He asked for food and ate it. Then he began again to teach them. This time it was about the history of prophecies regarding what would happen when the Christ came. They were more ready to hear what he wanted them to know and their minds were opened to understand. Jesus told them that repentance for the forgiveness of sin would be the message shared with all the world, beginning in Jerusalem. They themselves would now be the ones to witness to what they had seen and heard.

And so they were.

After Pentecost, the apostles preached fearlessly in Jerusalem, healing the sick and leading the community in worship and in communal living and service. Many thought the miracles of healing were the results of the actions and power of the disciples, but Peter and the others were quick to point out that they were not the source of the healing. (Acts 3:13-15, 17-19) It was the power of Jesus acting through them. Peter spoke one day, explaining in an ancient formula the divine origin of Jesus’ power and life. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant, Jesus…”

It was a frightening thought to the people that they might have been complicit in acting against the prophet, the servant of God. But Peter was reassuring. Although they had acted against the anointed one, God would forgive them, because they didn’t know what they were doing. Repenting and not repeating their sin would lead to its forgiveness. In other words, they could turn back to the circle and again be part of the community of God. Being converted means to turn back to the circle of love.

St. John tells the community of the Beloved and all of us that when and if we sin, “we have an Advocate with the Father,” namely Jesus the righteous one. (1 Jn 2:1-5a) As we keep his word, keep his commandments, God’s love is perfected in us. Love is perfected as we love our God above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves. Turned into the circle and drawing strength from the Lord and our community, we can begin to live the law of love. We can be perfected in love, bit by bit, each time we turn back to the circle of those with whom we live in this great community of love.

May we be aware of the love we share and receive with others in this coming week and of the readiness of the Lord always to welcome us back into the community when we for any reason turn our backs on the circle.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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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 Jun 5, 2022

Filled with the Holy Breath of God – Sharing the Good News

Filled with the Holy Breath of God – Sharing the Good News

Fifty days after the celebration of Passover, Jews celebrate another great festival, Shavuot. Shavuot is a celebration both of the early summer harvest (in more southerly climes) and the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai in the early days of the 40 years the people traveled in the desert following the Exodus and before their entry into Palestine.

The first reading for Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter, describes an event that forever changed the lives of Jesus’ followers. They had been staying together as instructed, spending time at the temple in prayer, and waiting to see what would happen next. It had been a pretty amazing set of weeks since the Resurrection. When would they see Jesus again?

That morning, as they were gathered for prayer together, they heard what sounded like a strong wind blowing. It filled the whole house. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire that separated and rested on each of them. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The Holy Spirit – the holy Breath of God – came to each of these men and women who were close friends and family of Jesus. They experienced the love and joy with which God holds each one of us in this moment of deep union. The Holy Breath of God breathed in them, surrounded them, and set their hearts on fire with love.

Sometimes these experiences of the presence of God are very quiet and not externally obvious to other people. But this was not one of those times. The noise was noticed by people outside the building. A crowd began to gather. There were people in town for the festival of Shavuot from all over the known world. It was one of three annual celebrations that brought visitors to Jerusalem for prayer and celebration every year. But this was something different. What was the noise all about?

Then something even more astounding was noticed. These uneducated Galileans were speaking and each person could understand what was being said. There were no spontaneous translators. There was no need for translators. The words spoken by Jesus’ friends were heard in the language of the people who listened to them in the crowd. What words were they hearing? They were hearing “of the mighty acts of God.”

The reading from Acts for this Sunday stops at this point. But take a little time and read more on your own. You will hear about Peter speaking to the crowd, pointing out that it’s too early in the day for them all to be drunk. What the crowd is hearing is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about the coming of the promised one. Peter shares the good news of Jesus’ coming as Messiah, of his death and resurrection, of the new life promised to all. Many people believed what Peter told them and asked to become a follower of Jesus too.

There is a story in the early Hebrew Scriptures that is meant to explain how it came to be that there are so many peoples and languages on Earth (Gn 11:1-9). In this story, all humans spoke the same language and could understand each other. But they got too confident in their own ideas and ways. They decided to build a tower to the heavens so they could never be scattered. The Lord saw what they were doing and intervened, making them unable to understand each other’s words. Without a common language, they scattered to all parts of the world. The tower is known as the Tower of Babel.

The events of Pentecost were in direct contrast to what had happened at the Tower of Babel. Now peoples from all over the world understood the words spoken to them. It was not necessary for all of them to become one again. God came to them and met them where they were and loved them as they were. For this to happen at the time of remembrance of the gift of the Law, the Torah, is especially noteworthy. The Torah was/is the guide for living a life pleasing to the Most High. And now, the Holy Breath of the Most High is breathed out into peoples from all over the world, speaking many different languages, and living in many different ways.

All are one in sharing the love of the Father. And all can be different in the gifts and perspectives they bring to the community. God is Father to peoples of many lands. It’s not necessary for all to be identical.

The other readings explore aspects of this reality. There are two options for both the Epistle and the Gospel readings. St. Paul writes to the people of Corinth (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13) about the variety of gifts given by the Spirit within the community. He notes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Regardless of our background, we are all part of the same body and share in the one Breath of God as source of our life.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul contrasts the status of those who live only according to ordinary human ways with those who live in union with and according to the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Without the presence of the Spirit, there is no hope for the deeper life and freedom of the adopted children of God. It is the Spirit, the Holy Breath of God, who bears witness to this and makes it possible for us to call God “Abba, Father” (or as we might say it, Dad).

Usually, the Gospel reading follows directly after the second reading, but on Pentecost Sunday, there is another prayer, the Pentecost Sequence, which traditionally has been sung. “Veni  Sancte Spiritus” Come, Holy Spirit, come! With this song we ask the Spirit to come into our lives too, with all the gifts and fruits of faith, hope, love, peace, joy, and richness that a life of faith includes. As we open our hearts to receive these gifts, we grow in faith. Our own individual gifts deepen and we know the joy of being loved by God.

The two options for the Gospel both come from St. John. The first option tells of Jesus’ visit to his friends on the evening of the Resurrection (Jn 20:19-23). After greeting them and showing them his wounded hands and side, he wishes them Peace and tells them he is sending them now as the Father sent him. He breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit (Holy Breath), to bring forgiveness of sin to those whom they meet.

The other option comes from a section of Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper ( 14:15-16, 23b-26). Jesus promises to ask the Father to send another Advocate to remain with them forever. This Advocate will be the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the name (power, authority) of Jesus. When the Advocate comes, he will teach Jesus’ followers everything and remind them of what Jesus has told them.

Again, the Holy Spirit comes to enlighten the minds and hearts of the followers of Jesus. He doesn’t come to make everyone identical. He doesn’t expect everyone to do exactly the same thing or to think exactly the same things. What he will enable is for these many people to share their gifts and talents in love with the rest of God’s people in our world.

We celebrate the time of the Spirit at Pentecost. God lives within us now, breathing life and love into our daily activities. Teaching us new things as new situations and understandings of how creation works come to light, God does not expect us to remain frozen in time at some ancient date. We live and learn of the wonders of creation and of God’s presence in each person.

Come, Holy Breath of God. Fill our lives with your presence and open our eyes to see you in all the wonders of your world and the people with whom we share it.

May this day be filled with joy as you celebrate with your families and communities this great gift.

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Posted by on May 29, 2022

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, another milestone event occurred – he ascended to his Father, to heaven. We celebrate this event today – the Solemnity of the Ascension.

Historically, the Ascension occurred on the 40th day after the Resurrection. That would have been a Thursday. Until recently, it was celebrated on a Thursday, Ascension Thursday! It was a holy day of obligation (when everybody was supposed to attend Mass) and we had a school holiday to celebrate it. However, our modern way of life and secular society model in the United States didn’t recognize this religious feast as a reason to cancel ordinary activities, so relatively few people were easily able to gather for Mass. The decision was made to move the feast to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the one just before Pentecost. This is where we have arrived this weekend.

Two of our readings this day tell the story of the Ascension. We begin with the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, written in around 75 A.D. “In the first book, Theophilus …” St. Luke addressed both of his account of the life of Jesus and that of the early church to Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “God’s friend.” It is equally important to remember that as we are God’s friends, it is also addressed to us.

A time period of 40 days, weeks, months, or years is also important in the Bible. Many things happened in 40 days or years, including the great flood during Noah’s time, the 40 years of traveling in the desert between Egypt and Palestine after the Exodus, the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting in the desert between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. This is a time of preparation for something that will be different, something better and long promised or awaited. Something new.

Jesus appeared many times to his friends during the 40 days following the Resurrection. He simply appeared in their midst. He didn’t come and go, knocking on doors and waiting for someone to let him in. The door was locked, but he was suddenly there among them. Then, just as suddenly, he was gone. They met him in the garden. They met him on the road to Emmaus. He joined them in the locked upper room where he had eaten that last supper with them. They met him at the seashore in Galilee.

The last time they met, he told them to remain together in Jerusalem and wait for the “promise of the Father” when they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (The word baptize means to be plunged into something.) Clueless as ever, the disciples asked Jesus when he planned to restore the kingdom to Israel. When would Israel again become an independent and mighty world power?

Jesus sidestepped the question of restoration of an earthly kingdom and spoke of the more important kingdom, that of the Father. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons…” The promise for which they are to wait is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them to become Jesus’ witnesses in all the land, even to “the ends of the earth.”

Once again, Jesus is taken from their sight after these words. This time, he is lifted up and a cloud “took him from their sight.” Many images show him standing on a cloud as if on an elevator arising into the sky. The text doesn’t tell us how it happened. Just that it happened. Two men dressed in white clothing appeared among them and promised that Jesus would one day return in the same way they had seen him leave. These words have been the basis for other images of the Second Coming which depict a victorious Jesus returning to Earth for a final judgement. They also led the early Christian communities to expect a relatively rapid return of Jesus and the end of days. After all, he had been coming and going a lot during the preceding 40 days!

St. Luke’s Gospel (24:46-53) tells of the same event, in a more compact manner. Luke tells us that after Jesus had blessed his friends and been taken up to heaven, they “did him homage” and then returned rejoicing to Jerusalem. There they spent their days in the temple praising God.

Two options are offered for the second reading on the Feast of the Ascension. Each is lovely in and of itself. Parishes have a choice which to include in the day’s liturgy. Here a few thoughts about each.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:17-23) is a lovely prayer of blessing that comes at the beginning of a letter which very well might have been written for sharing with several of the early Christian communities founded by Paul. According to tradition, it was written while he was a prisoner in Rome.

Paul asks that God give the many gifts of the Spirit to Christians who receive these greetings he is sending. “A Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” He asks that our eyes be enlightened to see and hope in the great riches of glory offered and promised to those who believe.

This is a beautiful statement of the wonders of God’s identity and promise of blessing in and through our lives of faith. All is possible because of the great might he worked in Christ, raising him from death and placing him as head over all of creation. Christ is the head and his body is the church – all of us in the community of Christians.

What an amazing vision and blessing for all of us!

The second possible reading is from the letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28, 10:19-23). In this reading the focus is on Jesus’ role as the high priest who offered the sacrifice that could bring final reconciliation and healing of the rift between God and all humanity. This sacrifice does not ever have to be re-done. It was a one-and-done event, unlike the annual sacrifice offered by the high priest once each year at the temple in Jerusalem.

No matter how badly we mess up, no one has to be sacrificed again to reconcile us with God. All we need to do is turn back to God in confidence that his love and forgiveness are unchanging. God’s promise is trustworthy.

Also an amazing blessing.

We know that the Second Coming didn’t happen right away. But the coming of the Holy Spirit did. Ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with a sound like a mighty wind and tongues as of fire. Their hearts and minds were fired with the experience of the Spirit of God, the Holy Breath of God. And a new act in salvation history began. The public witness and sharing of the Good News of Salvation burst onto the world scene, beginning in Jerusalem

Today, however, we celebrate the promise. We anticipate the mystery to come. We recognize the puzzlement of the disciples, who really had no clue what was happening or why. We rejoice in the promise and blessing of the Holy Spirit living among us and of the great honor and gift of being part of Christ’s body.

So, how to celebrate? This is an important feast. Important enough for it to be moved from its usual spot to a Sunday, so we can take time to enjoy it.

Food traditions can be fun. Some ideas I’ve come across are in our Theologika website here: https://theologika.net/ofs-other-fun-stuff/feast-of-the-ascension/

I like to make orange meringue pie. Just use a regular lemon meringue pie recipe, but substitute orange juice. It doesn’t need quite as much sugar as a lemon one does and has a lovely flavor. I might just do that this year!

What will you do?

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to celebrate this day. Pray today and during the coming week for the Holy Spirit to come into your life in a special way as well. This is a time to open our hearts ever more deeply to receive Love. And next week, set aside time for Pentecost… Amazing things can happen!

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