Yesterday and today I have been without internet access but the messages from the daily lectionary have been very clear. My suggestion to all who are looking for inspiration this week is to look deeply into the first letter of John, especially chapter 4 which has enough power to last throughout the remainder of the Christmas season. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Let us love one another because love is of God. Everyone who loves is begotten of God and knows God. 2. If God so loved us we also must love one another. If we love one another, God remains in us and God’s love is brought to perfection in us. 3. God is love and whoever remains in love remains in God and God remains in them. In this is love brought to perfection among us.
I know that you have likely heard and/or read these lines often before. What I suggest is sitting with them until they are stitched into your consciousness, popping up each time someone crosses your path, and you may find a new word in some one of the phrases as I did this morning. I have always heard #3 as God’s love is brought to perfection IN us but today I read it as AMONG us. A new effect of our willingness to love! I rest my case.
Today is a feast in Christianity that is difficult to explain. The word itself: transfiguration,if broken apart, speaks of a change from something into something else, a change in figure or form. What we know from each of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is a similar recounting of the same event that took place on Mount Tabor. Jesus had taken his friends Peter, James and John to that mountain for a time of prayer and something inexplicable happened. Jesus appeared to change into a “being of light” – as if from another realm. It seemed that the space-time continuum had been breached because he was seen by his friends to be in conversation with Moses and Elijah the prophet, both Old Testament figures.
Clearly, this event was something “other-worldly” for the three disciples of Jesus, something that they wanted to hold onto. (“Let us set up three tents here, Master, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah…”) but that was not to be. The vision disappeared as quickly as it had come and they were left in the presence of “only Jesus” again.
Why was this gift given to these three and not all twelve of the apostles? What did it mean for their lives? How are we to interpret the story? These questions and more can only be answered as conjecture. Perhaps our experiences of meeting Jesus are not as real in this physical realm. Perhaps we meet him in imaginal space or simply in our deepest moments of prayer. Perhaps we have yet to trust ourselves to some holiness in ourselves that might allow a deeper understanding of our connection to the divine.
Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (11:1) tells us that ” faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” Perhaps we might benefit on this day from sitting quietly and putting ourselves in the gospel story of the Transfiguration (LK 9:28-36) to see what cannot be seen with our physical eyes but which might be grasped through the eyes of faith.
All it took for Mary Magdalene to recognize (the somehow transformed) Jesus outside the tomb was the sound of her name coming from his lips. “Mary,” he said, and then she knew. May we each hear – deep in our hearts or in the call of those who need us today – the name by which the Beloved calls us and may we know at that moment how greatly we are loved. Then may our response be a wholehearted “Yes!” (JN 20: 1-2, 11-18)
One of the phrases I remember hearing rather often from my father when one or another family member would be explaining something in a long or roundabout way is “Short stories” (Which sounded like “Shot stories” in his Boston accent). It was a familiar way to tell us to get to the point and was generally rather effective.
One would wish the opposite of that directive after reading the conclusion of today’s gospel. It says: “There are also many things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think that the whole world would contain the book that would be written.” (JN 21:25) How I wish that the gospel writers had given us more of Jesus! I say that and then think of how much more I could do with what is written in those very pages. And I could, if I wished, fill a whole building with the commentaries that have been written over the centuries.
What really is the point? My short answer today is my desire to understand more deeply what Jesus was talking about and witnessing to his legacy to us. Next I think that in trying so hard to “get to the bottom” of his meanings I could easily be buried in the mountains of commentary that exists. Then I realize that I could spend a lifetime ruminating on a very few sentences. Take these for example:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.
I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.
I”ve spent some time yesterday and the day before picking up branches under one of our large maple trees. I hope that today I will complete the task and be able to rake and then cut the grass under that tree. We’ve had an inordinate amount of shedding going on this spring, mostly because of the heavy winds of the past few months. Some of the branches could be mistaken for trees themselves because they are so very large. As I drag them to a pile on the edge of our property, I sometimes wonder what made them separate from the tree as many of them seem strong and not at all diseased. People would say that it’s just the way of things in nature: they live, are nourished by their root system and then they die – either from a weather event or just old age.
Clearing the branches makes me more aware of the gifts of the trees to our ecosystem and to me. Beauty, shade and release of necessary gasses as they breathe are notable reasons to be grateful, as is the shelter they provide for the birds. Interestingly, today the gospel is the familiar “vine and branches” reading from John that speaks to us of our connection to one another and to God. And that is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.
I’ve often said that chapter 21 of John’s gospel contains one of my favorite stories. People have heard me enthuse over “breakfast on the beach” more than once each year – the latest, just 9 days ago in fact! It has so many elements to recommend it: Peter’s impetuosity (jumping out of the boat to get to Jesus sooner), the miraculous catch, the image of Jesus as cook and servant to others and the love that was so palpable among the men gathered on the beach.
I don’t often spoil the mood created by all those elements by talking about the second part of the text which is really the heart of the message. It’s too hard to leave the serene message of love at the beginning in order to hear the words of Jesus about the last test that Peter will endure for the sake of Christ at the end of his life. Jesus would not be around much longer in his physical body so Peter would have to remember the entire conversation on the beach if he was to take love all the way to the end.
A question, three times asked, a response and then a command the full impact of which Peter could not have foreseen at that moment comprise perhaps the mission of a lifetime for this greatest, most human apostle.
Do you love me? Yes, Lord. Feed my sheep.
Why repeat the question two more times? (Peter wondered that too, sounding more frustrated each time Jesus posed it.) It’s doubtful that he didn’t believe Peter’s answer. After all, Peter did jump out of the boat and swim to him rather than waiting the few minutes it took to row to shore. Some would say it was a way for Jesus to bring to Peter’s mind the time that he betrayed Jesus, disavowing any knowledge of him – to blame him of his failure to love. I doubt that. It doesn’t seem like a tactic Jesus would use and Jesus certainly knew Peter’s heart.
Most likely Jesus was trying to fortify Peter for the cost of discipleship. Feeding the lambs and sheep of the Christian flock in the face of the persecution leveled against the them was not going to be easy. Remembering the words of Jesus and coming to understand the significance of the charge would need to grow within Peter, deepening the love that would be the anchor of the rest of his life and the courage to endure his painful death.
I sit this morning not knowing what the future will bring to my life. I would do well to open my hands and heart to the question of Jesus and hear his challenge. May we all answer as Peter did the third time the question was put to him: Yes, Lord. You know all things. You know that I love you. And may it be the answer on our lips until our last breath.
Both the psalm response and the gospel in today’s lectionary put the word “trust” front and center for our consideration. Four times Psalm 33 is interrupted with the refrain: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you. It’s a statement of exchange, a bit of a challenge for God, it seems. If we trust God, God must be counted on to be merciful OR is it a “hoping against hope” situation where we close our eyes, grit our teeth and hold our breath hoping for a good outcome?
It would seem that the gospel (JN 6: 16-21) presents the perfect situation to illustrate the necessity of trust. Only twice have I been in a boat when a storm came up. Once was on a large cruise ship when the only danger from the wind stirring the water was a bad case of nausea for the majority of us. All we needed to do was stay in our cabins and wait it out. The other was at a smallish lake where we needed to get back to shore, rowing as the two of us had never done, before the storm broke. It was that second case that might be compared with the situation of the apostles in the boat. I wonder if our inner distress would have been increased or calmed by the presence of Jesus walking on the water toward us! He appeared to the apostles to be a ghost. Why would it be different for anyone in that situation – especially as he appeared in his “resurrection body” that seems from all accounts a detriment to recognition for all who encountered him?
Would his words (It is I. Do not be afraid.) have been enough? Are they enough for us to engender trust in situations of inner or outer distress? Saturday is sometimes the perfect day to give in to what we don’t expect and let our trust in Christ take us home.
Today we read my favorite post-Easter gospel (JN 21: 1-14).
Seven of the disciples are together and probably still asking one another, “What do we do now?” The three brilliant years are over and they probably don’t see any sense in going on without Jesus around. Reports differ about sightings of Him and nothing seems to be happening to prove anything miraculous, so Peter decides to do the only thing he knows how to do. “I’m going fishing,” he says. They all decide to go with him but even that doesn’t seem worthwhile as they fish all night without any success. It’s only when the dawn comes and Jesus gives them a new way to fish that everything changes. “Cast your nets over the right side of the boat and you will find something.”
(Have you ever been prompted to try a new way to do something and realize that in the willingness to do so you have success? It’s all about letting go of the habitual to find the prize sometimes, isn’t it?)
Peter, ever the impulsive one, jumps into the lake as soon as he hears that it is Jesus who gave the advice that caused the reversal. I love that. (Have you ever seen the commercials or news clips of a soldier surprising family members by returning home without their knowledge? Everyone is trying to “hug the stuffing out” of the returnee amidst tears and cries of joy and relief.) That’s Peter, of course. Everything changes for him in that moment.
And Jesus…what a tender soul! He does such a simple, elemental service for his friends. He cooks them breakfast. I think of all the “old days,” – Sunday mornings when I was working in a parish – when all the religious education classes were over. I would steal a little time to drive the 3 or 4 minutes to my friend’s house for a visit. She always acted as if I were a great dignitary (or even Jesus himself) with her joyful exclamations of welcome and her command to “Come and eat!”
Sometimes it’s not the monumental moments in life but rather the simple things that we do for each other that mean the most and stay in our memory. I would wager that until his dying day Peter could still see that fire on the beach and taste the fish that Jesus cooked for him that morning that made everything worthwhile again and gave him the confidence to say, “Yes, Lord. You know all things. You know that I love you.”
During this Easter season the lectionary readings are worthy of some serious pondering. That’s no surprise, given the events of the past week recounted in Scripture. Today (JN 20:11-18) we read a good example in two ways of how the passage through death has changed not only Jesus himself but also his relationship with his beloved disciple.
First, on the day of Christ’s Resurrection, Mary Magdalene, the faithful and well-loved companion of Jesus, encounters him near the tomb and thinks he is the gardener! How could she not recognize him??? I’m always reminded with this story of the day I didn’t recognize a priest who used to come often and help me with high school retreats. He had been on a year’s sabbatical during which he had studied spirituality for a semester, done a 30-day Ignatian retreat, lost some weight, shaved the mustache without which I had never seen him, and in addition sported a new “buzz cut” on his head. As he processed down the church aisle at a celebration for one of our Sisters, I wondered who he was. It was not until he began to speak that I knew him. I heard his voice and was shocked immediately into recognition. And he was also different inside – a softer, more humble and gracious “self” that could be felt to those who really saw the result of his “renewal.”
Secondly today, when Mary moves toward Jesus because he speaks her name with a tenderness that only love can express, he stops her (“Do not cling to me…”) and gives her a missionary task (“Go to my brothers and tell them…”). Evidently Christ’s”resurrection body” is somehow different; his journey through death changed him in some significant way both physically and spiritually. Surrendering everything he was then ready to manifest his divinity to the one who loved him faithfully. The relationship was deeper than a physical connection.When Mary realized her new role of messenger/missionary to her companions and to the world, she understood that her surrender was just beginning. Living from the heart had become her mission.
We would do well to contemplate these passages, these calls to unconditional and universal love presented to us today. What inner change must accompany such a shift in our life?
Today we move to the most sacred of ritual days in the Christian calendar. We call it the Triduum – Latin for three days: Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday in Protestant denominations), Good Friday and Holy Saturday – all leading up to the the great celebration of Easter, feast of Christ’s Resurrection. All of it portrays the events leading from the trial to the death and burial of Jesus so why do we call Friday “Good” when his suffering was so intense?
After reading the lectionary texts for today what remains in me is the refrain from a song based on chapter 13 of John’s gospel and the gospel acclamation from the same text. I think that, taken together, those two examples provide the best answer to the above question.
Do you know what I have done to you, you who call me your teacher and your Lord? If I have washed your feet so you must do as I have done for you. (Song of the Lord’s Command by David Haas)
I give you a new commandment, says the Lord: love one another as I have loved you. (JN 13:34)
Let us consider the lengths to which Jesus went to show us the depth of his love. How far are we willing to follow in his footsteps?