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Posted by on Dec 2, 2023

Beginnings, Endings, and Continuity

Beginnings, Endings, and Continuity

One year comes to an end. Another begins. One story comes to an end. Another begins. One way of living ends. Another begins. We see this pattern again and again in our lives. But what about the transitions? Is there anything that remains from the year or story or way of living that carries over into the next?

We have reached the end of a liturgical year, a series of fifty-two weeks of remembering and celebrating the love of God reaching into our human lives. A new year begins for us on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – this very Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent. Do we start from scratch somehow or is there a seamless continuity between the celebration of Christ the King and the beginning of Advent?

The word we use for this time comes from Latin, from a word meaning arrival. Something or someone is coming or arriving. In our Christian tradition, we look for the coming of Christ into our world, both at the end of time and into our own personal time. We also await the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and son of Mary.

Do we start with a totally clean slate then? Not really. Jesus was born into human history. Just which day and which year we don’t know. Parents didn’t go to the Court House and record births in those days. Even the presentation of a child at the Temple didn’t get recorded in any way that we can reference officially. The early Church chose late December for the birth date to coincide with the Roman celebration of the return of light at the solstice. Since Jesus is the Light of the World, it made sense to celebrate his coming at that time. It also made it easier not to be noticed while celebrating the coming of a person who was crucified for treason!

So then, Jesus has already come into human history. He has promised to come again at the end of time. When that end of time will be was originally thought to be very soon after his Resurrection. But that too turned out to be a bit delayed. Of course, in terms of the age of the universe, it’s barely a blink in time, but it’s a long time for humans.

The ancient Hebrews waited for a very long time too, with many ups and downs along the way, for the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah asks the Lord why he lets the people wander away, harden their hearts, and no longer respect his will. He reminds the Lord that he could come in great power and punish them, blowing them all away like leaves carried away by the wind. And yet he concludes, “O Lord, you are our father, we are the clay and you the potter.” We humans and all the world are the work of the Lord’s hand. (Is 63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7)

St. Paul gives thanks to God for the people of Corinth in his first letter. They have been filled with grace, a share in the life of God, through Christ Jesus. They have received all the spiritual gifts they need as they wait for the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, they wait, and as they wait, they live the teachings they have received. (1 Cor 1:3-9)

Jesus reminded his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Like servants whose master goes on a journey, it’s still necessary to keep watch and be prepared for his return. (Mk 13:33-37)

And how do we keep watch and remain prepared for the master’s return? What have we been taught? What have we been hearing in the past few weeks? Care for the hungry, the thirsty, those in need of shelter, clothing, health care, and all the basic necessities of a dignified human life. All of these are the activities to which we are called as children of the Father and siblings of our Lord Jesus, sharers in the Kingdom of God.

Here is the continuity. We have come to the end of a year of living and learning the ways we are called to serve the Lord. We begin a new year of learning as we prepare to celebrate his coming. And in this time of transition, we are reminded that resting on our laurels and trusting that we have learned enough and all is well is not enough. We must continue to learn and practice what we have learned already. And then we must remain alert so that we recognize the Lord when he comes into our midst.

Happy New Year. May this be a year of joyful growth and surprises as we find the Lord in every corner of our lives.

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent – Cycle B


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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Easter and “Eastering”

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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