First Sunday of Lent – C – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2013                                                                                            First Sunday of Lent – C

Deuteronomy 26:4–10
Romans 10:8–13
Luke 4:1–13

 In each of the readings today, we hear a profession of faith. We hear someone professing their belief in God or the Lord Jesus. On the First Sunday of Lent this year it is a creed, a profession of faith that is put before our gathering.

 In the book of Deuteronomy we find ourselves at a liturgy. Someone has come with the first fruits from the land. They are offering it to the Lord God. But as they present their offering to the priest, they must also recite the creed. But the creed is really a recounting of events. It is the story of how God guided and protected their people. How God did not abandon them in Egypt. This creed goes on to professes a faith in a God who heard their cry, who actively listened to his people. That listening led to a response, a bringing out of his people from slavery and oppression into a land that he himself gave them. It is from the gift of this land that these first fruits have come.

 What is the center of this profession of faith? What is at the heart of this story? It is God first being attentive to the cry of his own and then using his power and strength to save, to bring his people out of slavery. The heart of the story is Exodus—bringing people, his people, from misery and carrying them, as it were, to a new land of milk and honey.

 This Exodus story, this passing out of Egypt was the wonderful thing God did for the Israelites. This was what they remembered when they brought grains for an offering of thanks. It is not enough to offer first fruits, to fill the basket and then leave it in front of the altar. You must confess your faith in the God who made it possible for you to bring this gift of offering to him. You may bring your offering, but with it you must remember that once you were in slavery and now you are enjoying a freedom that you did not have before. There has been a change in your situation. You must confess that change and whose power brought it about when you come to worship and bring an offering. Worshipping God, bringing an offering, being grateful, professing your faith in God who fought for you: all this goes hand in hand.

 What is this Lenten season we are beginning? A going back to the beginning of things. It is getting back to the basics. That is just what the Israelite did. When he came with his offering, he went back to telling, to professing the basics of his faith. And the content of his faith is nothing less than the moments God pulled him forward and set him on a new journey just as God had done with his ancestors. The confessing Israelite found himself in the same line as his ancestors. He understood that their God was his God. He is the recipient of God’s plan to save, to redeem, and to make new. Each time the Israelite came to worship and bow down before God, he or she put themselves in the same line as those who first felt God’s call and mighty power. He or she declares themselves an heir to the first recipients of the gift of freedom and land.

 Paul also speaks of confessing and believing. The confession of faith is simple: confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead. For us Christians that says it all. It looks and sounds simple and it is. The heart of our confession of faith is another exodus, the passing of Jesus through death into the new life of resurrection. The Christian creed is very simple. Jesus has become Lord and defeated every power that would oppress and strike down humanity, death being our greatest enemy. Jesus has become the mighty arm the God of Exodus once wielded at the Red Sea. In Jesus God shattered humanity’s last chain called sin and death.

 To be a Christian means that the heart has been taken over of the risen and victorious Lord. It also means that this good news of God’s victory in Jesus is not a secret. It must be spoken about. There is a connection between heart and mouth, heart and word. What you say, says who you are. A Christian has his or her words shaped by a heart that holds firm to the new and imperishable life Jesus holds out to us. It is a double confession as it were: Our God has acted on behalf of life and he has acted in his Son. It is that simple creed that governs all our actions and choices.

 All of this, of course, is the Easter story: Christ’s victory over sin, evil and death. Each Sunday of Lent that good news is told to us even before we come to the great feast of Easter. Lent is the time to remember what is basic to our faith. Lent is the time to prepare the heart to be able to speak again what has happened in its recesses. Ultimately our faith, our creed, is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of our heart having experienced the mighty power of God that set life over death.

 The Lenten journey is a journey of being able to put into words what has happened to our hearts. Like the Israelite of old Lent is the remembering time, remembering the mighty act of God that made us one of his very own. Remembering, too, each mighty act of God in our lives when we were tested and tempted to let go of the strong hand of God and make it on our own. But God held on and pulled us through. Lent is the time for remembering the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 Ritually Lent is a time for us to prepare to speak our heart again at the Paschal Vigil. There we will once more stand at the water, the water of the Red Sea, the water of Baptism, and we will have to say in whom we believe, in whom we trust, who it is our heart follows, who it is who has brought us back to life from our slaveries, our lostness, our hopelessness.

 When we come to the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday, what is in the basket of our lives? What first fruit are we bringing to offer? Do we realize that our lives, the basket is a gift? Do we know what precious gift we are bringing to the Lord? And with what words do we come each Sunday with our offering? Words that express our faith, our trust? Words that acknowledge that we are loved? Words that can accompany our love in return?

 This is the season for preparing the first fruits of our life, getting the basket ready to be brought to the Paschal Feast. Lent is the time for the heart to find those words that will come with our basket. And when we come with our life basket, we will be met by God’s gracious and powerful hand as he reaches out to take our lives and bring them through the final exodus to the land flowing with milk and honey.

Epiphany 2013 – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2013                                                                                                            Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1–6
Ephesians 3:2–3a, 5–6
Matthew 2:1–12

[This story of the magi coming to Bethlehem is so familiar to us that perhaps we don’t really hear it any more. When a story like this is so well known and it is repeated, year in and year out, it is easy to say , ‘I know it already.’ But there is more to the story than the characters and the story line. It is not just about some event that took place way back when in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The story is not flat description of facts. The story is a window that looks out and beyond to something wonderful. St. Paul gives us the key of how to read this charming Middle East story. His word for it is ‘mystery.’ He says the story reveals a mystery. And what is Important about this story, according to Paul, is that this story-mystery was not told until it was told in this story. God kept the mystery to himself until the time came for it to be revealed in this story. And so, the simple, charming story of magi from the east looking for the King of Jews, could only be told when the right moment had come. It could only be told when the star appeared. Then the mystery the star announces could be told. Indeed, it looks as though the mystery began to be told when the star appeared.]

 Our feast is called the feast of the Epiphany. This is not an English word, or rather it is a word borrowed from the Greek and brought into English. The word itself has a rather generic meaning. It can be translated as ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearance’ ‘revelation’. The name indicates that the feast itself did not originate in the Roman world but rather in the Greek world. The question of course is what or, as we discover in hearing the story, who is appearing, who is being revealed and made manifest. Who is coming into the world? The word originally related to the appearance of a god, or the apparition of a god to a human being. Thus the mystery behind the story is the mystery of the appearance of our God. The mystery contains the response to Advent. Advent was waiting for God to come. Advent was simply the proclamation and the cry “Come, Lord”. Epiphany is simply “Your God has come”. The waiting is over and finished.

 But stories like that of the magi have a wonderful way of bringing the mystery home, the mystery of God’s coming. It is not just a headline story: “God has come” “Go visit him!” No the mystery is overwhelming, beyond expectation and the story exposes us to this mysterious God. Yes, the mystery begins with the star; but the star will disappear from the story. Because the star is to get things moving. And if there is anything that holds us to this story it is all that movement that is generated, at least for some. The magi are seekers, they search for the truth. They are in reality looking for the truth. And they use the means they have, their knowledge about the sky and stars. They can recognize when something is happening in them. Today we could call it science and reason. There is truth in them that demands a response; it is that search for truth that pulls the magi out from home and starts them on a journey; the star is a pointer. They remain faithful to the mystery of the star.  For the magi something new has been born, there is a new beginning. The star reveals to them truth not as an idea but as a person, an important person, a king of the Jews. And the star leads them to Jerusalem.  And for a moment the movement stops. What next?

 They seem to know that Herod, king of Jews thanks to the Romans, is not the King of the Jews. The palace of King Herod is not the palace where they will find a newborn king. The star can only bring them so far. They need something more. The journey toward the mystery that the star pointed to will now need another pointer as it were. The mystery being revealed has left another pointer. That pointer is found in the scriptures, in the prophets of Israel. The birth of the king they are looking for has been indicated by the Word given to Israel. In a bit of irony, Herod does not know what is in the scriptures and prophets, but the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem, they know: Bethlehem is where your journey leads. There you will find what you are looking for. There you will see the face of the mystery revealed. And so it happens that the child is found in Bethlehem thanks to the star and thanks to the Word spoken by the prophet. Notice how after the audience with Herod the magi see the star again and rejoice. Word and star. In another language, reason and wisdom, science and the Word of God come together to reveal the God who has come in the humble child of Bethlehem.

 So the magi move on to Bethlehem. And there gifts are given to the true ‘king of the Jews’ the one who has been the object of their search, the one hidden and yet revealed in the star. But the story is about movement. Some move, steadily and surely, following the signs of the mystery. But some who have the signs in front of them, do not move. We do not hear that Herod will come to Bethlehem. We do not hear that the scribes who know the birth place of the Messiah will come to Bethlehem, even when foreigners are moving there. They move at Herod’s summons only. A mystery? Yes. Not all move in the direction of what they know to be the truth. Perhaps they have no interest in searching anymore; perhaps the Word of God no longer excites them; perhaps they have lost the sense of mystery in that Word. Or maybe it is unthinkable that foreigners can be drawn to look for oure Messiah—how they teach us anything anyway. And Herod; oh yes, there cannot be two kings of the Jews. Either these magi are fools, caught up in their wisdom, or there really is a new power out there and that power is a threat—we know what course of action Herod takes so that there is no threat to his claim to power. When the Messiah comes, Herod’s true nature is revealed. It is not the Kingdom of God he serves. He cannot even imagine such a kingdom of justice and peace for all.

 So what is the mystery we celebrate on Epiphany? Who is the only person in the story who does not move in any sense but causes movement? Who is really at the center of the story and everyone moves around him, moves with their feet or with their knowledge? It is the child. The child is the center. And all move toward and around the child. The star is centered on the child. The Word of the prophet is centered on the child. The child holds humanity in thrall. The mystery today is that those who at first know nothing of Jerusalem or Bethlehem are finding the answer to their longing. The mystery is that the child in Bethlehem draws to himself those from afar, those from the east, the stranger, the exotic people on earth. And the mystery is enhanced because those who come as strangers to the child do not come empty handed. They come with the best they have, things precious, things divine, things royal—they come with gifts. The child completes as it were what is already within them. The child is offered what they recognize now belonged to the child all along: the best of what is human, the best of the earth, the wisdom that crowns humanity.

 Today’s mystery: Paul’s says it clearly: those who looked like they had no share in our communion with God have full share. What we are promised concerning eternal life, they are also promised. They are one body with us in the Messiah/Christ. The God who is revealed today: A God in action making one family, one body in his Child-Son.

 This is the mystery of Christmas at its fullest: Not just a child but a child gathering together children made in his Father’s image so that all are both children of Abraham, children of God.

You and I? Will we be in the house with the child and his mother, humble enough to be on our knees with our head touching the floor in front of this Messiah, the center of the world and its people? Or will we be in Jerusalem, 6 miles away, reading the Word but not recognizing the Messiah next door?

 The magi went back by another route. After we have prostrated ourselves before the mystery, our lives will never be the same. Let us at least head the words of the prophet today: rise and shine like Jerusalem for we know where our hearts longing will be satisfied and we know where our feet must always walk.

Christmas Day 2012 – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2012

Isaiah 52:7–10
Hebrews 1:1–6
John 1:1–18

Christmas Day is known for its singing. Perhaps more than another Christian feast, Christmas has generated an abundance of music from Gregorian chants to hymns and carols. Joyful singing is the mark of the day. Christmas concerts are a staple of the season. The prophet Isaiah today rightfully initiates this joyful sound. And the music begins with the sound of running feet,  with a messenger running with glad tidings. The messenger carries a word, a word of peace, a word of salvation; finally a word that says, “Your God is King!”  Simply put, your God has won the victory. It is as though out there somewhere something desperate has been going on and now we hear of resolution and victory. For the prophet it is the ruined city of Jerusalem that hears the sound of the feet of the messengers and her watchmen are the first to hear the news and raise the shout of joy. Then suddenly we realize that the good news is not just about something happening out there. The good news, the news of peace, is about a city in ruins. It’s restoration is at hand. The city is to be redeemed from its past. The city is the subject of God’s victory. And the victory: pure presence, the Lord is come, has come! The community in Zion is the one being told to stand up and sing because your King is coming. For the Jerusalem of the prophet it means that the exile is over and God is leading the people back. Mother and children are to be reunited. And the messenger’s word is that God is making this homecoming possible. God is calling Jerusalem to sing for this unexpected and wonderful meeting that is about to take place. God is acting on Jerusalem’s behalf, he is showing his power for her sake. So break out together in song the messenger says. This is not a victory happening out there, it is happening in front of your very eyes. Restoration, redemption, comfort, salvation, peace. This is the cause of the joy; this is what leads to singing and caroling. We need only listen to the message and open our eyes.

 The prophet has been telling us all through Advent, Zion, your God is coming! And so today we  remember this God who comes and who has made his dwelling among us. The image in John’s gospel behind this simple statement of God coming and dwelling among us is clearer if we read it as “And the Word of God pitched his tent among us.” Long before God dwelt in a temple in Jerusalem, he dwelt in a tent as his people wandered around the desert and began to take root in the Promised Land. But today we remember that dwelling in a desert tent or in the Jerusalem temple was not the final dwelling of God. Today our sole task of remembering is to say again the Word of God became flesh and in the flesh he pitched his tent among us. Today we remember that God began a new and unheard of kind of dwelling place, God in human flesh, God in a body just like yours and mine.

 Today the messenger about the God who has come is the evangelist John. The prologue to his gospel that we have heard has a distinctive name for this God who has come. He calls him the Word. And John traces his history for us. This Word of God is there before creation. He is with God the creator; creation happens through this Word. Then this Word God utters takes on the human flesh with the frailty we know so well. But there is a clear purpose for the coming of this Word into world. His visiting, his setting up tent has a purpose. It is so that those who hear this Word and say yes to it can become children of the same God with whom the Word lives. God’s Word comes into the world but it also experiences rejection, suffering and death. But he has effected a change. We have been restored and renewed; we have become children of the living God. And now the Word has returned to “the Father’s side” as John put’s it. A lovely  description of heaven: the Father’s side. The Word of God comes, speaks, establishes a relationship between us in the world and himself and then the Word brings his human flesh back home to be with the Father and with his flesh he brings u s into that same intimacy.

 John begins his Gospel with the phrase, “In the beginning was the word.” Creation began through a word, an utterance. Now a new beginning a new creation is offered as the Word takes up dwelling with us in human flesh. The coming of the Word is the coming of new life. As the gospel puts it, with the coming of God’s word true light has entered the world. Like the first word of creation that challenged darkness and night, so the Word that comes bares his arm in the face of the world’s darkness, throws light into it and makes sure it stays. John the Baptist is the first witness that God has sent this light and it is not about to be dispersed.

 The Word comes as on the first day of creation and brings light into the world. That is the victory won that the messenger in Isaiah is carrying to us. Darkness is over. Darkness among us humans is over. There is a flesh among us now, a body, that is filled with light—the Son of the Father, the refulgence of the Father’s glory, as the Letter to the Hebrews expresses it today. God’s light from the first day is back in our midst in a new and vibrant way and the gospel says, it is not going out. And let us not think that it is not going out because I am going to make sure it stays on. No, this light is a gift from the Father’s side. It will always remain a gift. Our choice is to accept it and live in it and with it—to enter into it.

 This Mass of Christmas Day with its proclamation of John’s Gospel on the Word coming into the world is traditionally heard in the full light of day. And it should be. It takes us far beyond any romanticized view of midnight births, children in crib and parents in a lowly stable and angels singing. Instead it draws us into the cosmic dimensions of the Word made flesh. It pulls us into the larger picture of creation itself, into the cosmos for which our Christ is also the originating Word. The flesh our Christ embraced was already being shaped by him at the beginning. The psalm we sang as our response to Isaiah’s call to break into song spoke of all the ends of the earth seeing God’s power. The flesh of the Christ born cannot be kept in his mother’s arms. It is a new flesh for the life of the whole world. The coming of the Word of God in human flesh is a beginning of a new chapter for humanity and the world it inhabits.

 Christmas means singing because the most profound intimacy there is, the intimacy in the heart of God, is now open to me, to us. The intimacy of the Father and the Son is spoken into the world in the Word made flesh. And that word of the Father had as his mission to bring us into that same intimacy; we are to abide in Jesus and the Father. The mystery of Christmas is that the Father’s Son leaves the Father’s side, his heart to become our flesh, so that in turn we in our flesh can abide with the Son in the Father’s heart.

 Our world may look like it is caught in darkness. The tragedy of Newtown, CT, the ruins of the relationships of those living in the Holy Land, the dark cloud that hangs over most of the Middle East, the violence that rings out in our own streets, the acrimony of our human words tossed to one another, the consumerism that imbalances the order of justice, the abuse of religion into fundamentalism….all this darkness may very well be overwhelming. But it is precisely in the midst of all this that we say there is light, there is healing and restoration because our God has come. To think and worse believe that all darkness is the real order of the day, is to say there is no Christmas, there is no light. The model for Christmas day is the same as for Advent, John the Baptist. I know that I am not the light, but I will tell you till my dying day the light has come. For those who walk in this light the unspeakable hope of living forever in the heart of God with his Son his been fulfilled. O Happy Day—humanity has been embraced, held close and kissed by the Father of life and love.

Second Sunday of Advent – C – Abbot Joel

Abbey                                                                                   Second Sunday of Advent – C

Baruch 5:1–9
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

 This is one of those rare Sundays in the year when the Gospel does not mention Jesus directly; it does not recount an incident from his life or one of his sayings. Jesus is absent in some way or at least is only in the background. Perhaps that is a clue about this season called Advent. It is not about someone here; it is about someone coming; it is the Advent of the Lord, to give this season its original and full title. It might do us well to be reminded that Jesus is not here. And our lives are lived as much without him as they are with him. It is a central mystery of our faith that Jesus is still coming. And if he is coming, then he is not here. Advent reminds us clearly of the fact that we are living in expectation of someone’s coming. It is not a fearful time. The word today makes it clear that for those who believe and trust in God, waiting and expectation are touched by the joy of anticipation. It is not an idle time, either. This time of waiting for Jesus is rather full–full of images of what is to come with Jesus; images of hope and fulfillment. At the same time the Word of God is quite concrete about what we are to do as we wait in hope. I find two images in the word today that clue us in on this work of waiting.

 First image: road work. Those of us who drive down Route 206 to I-80 are quite familiar with road work. First, there was road work on Cat Swamp Mt. There John’s words of leveling mountains could be seen firsthand. Now we are watching road work that involves widening and straightening in Byram. It seems it be going on for a long period of time, perhaps reminding us of the period of waiting for the Lord to come. And perhaps we have become accustomed to the road work and its signs.

 The prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist make it clear that the road work is as much about our lives as it is any improvement on route 206. John goes around proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The road work of waiting is called repentance. Translated into English it means a change of heart; it means a change of thinking, a change of the way I look at my life and the lives of others. As John understands it, the one who is coming is calling for a response to his coming even before he arrives. Something has to change. God’s expected arrival demands something radical.  John’s baptismal ritual is a sign that I am willing to change, to put my life in harmony with what and who is coming. It seems that the change of attitude and behavior is focused on forgiveness. Forgiveness in two ways: I accept forgiveness from God-I am cleansed from my failure in my relationship with God and with others; my past is cleansed by the mercy of God. I don’t go into the water so that I can wash myself; I go into the water so that God can pour his mercy and Spirit over me. I go into the water because washing myself is an illusion. Real cleansing mean submission to being washed by another.

 The second element of my new heart is that I forgive, I let go, I relax my expectations of what I expect from those who have hurt or injured me. The wrong they have done me might never be justified. But my holding on to the hurt is not the road to healing. Much road work is necessary here to move mountains in my heart so that it is leveled and the way forward is smooth. My heart has surely to be softened. The prophet John the Baptist was quite serious when he talked about the road work that would be needed to make the way for new life. Road building is not done with half-measures: the valleys are filled in and the mountains leveled and the road is straight not crooked or winding… A repentance that leads to accepting forgiveness and offering forgiveness ourselves is radical. It goes to the roots of the resistance of my mountains. …..Preparation for the Lord’s coming involves that radical remaking of life’s road. It is key to the new life. Remember forgiveness is the hallmark at the heart of the one who is coming. Every Eucharist reminds us: my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.

 A second image hinting of what to do while waiting is offered to us by the first prophet we heard today, Baruch. He asks Jerusalem to change her clothes. The image is that Jerusalem is wearing mourning clothes because she lost her children in exile….well there is a promise that they are coming home. Look to the East!….something is happening there—time to change to a new outlook on things; time to change from mourning and lamenting to something new.

 The new clothes that the community is asked to wear reveal the change that is to come: now the clothes of the community are justice, peace and mercy.  Some might put on new clothes for Christmas or receive a gift of some new clothing to celebrate the Lord’s coming. All well and good…But it seems that if we heed the prophet’s word: then what we really are to be putting on as a community is peace, mercy and justice. When these are our clothes, then truly the Lord will come because he will recognize his own. If we want to hasten the Lord’s coming, then we need to put on these clothes because they are attractive.

 When we listen to Paul today he prays for his community in Philippi as they await the Day of Christ. And what does he pray for: He asks for love, knowledge, discernment, righteousness to be alive in them. These are the qualities he says that will make them blameless and pure when the Lord comes.

 Advent is about making preparations because someone is coming: the preparations are as radical as road building or changing clothes. But the result of making preparations means a new heart, a change in behavior; it means living out  the very qualities of the one who is coming: peace, justice, knowledge and discernment, mercy and a love that keeps on growing.

 New clothes mean a new person, new identity, new dignity; road work means a new landscape. The clothes and the landscape are marked by deeply human qualities that reflect the divine in whose image we are all made: peace, justice, mercy, knowledge and love. Those who are putting on such clothes will know their Lord when he comes.

 The prophets call is clear. Can we join in their vision? Are we willing to change our clothes, our lives. Will we be humble enough to wash in the in the Lord’s mercy, light and love?

23 Sunday Ord (B) – Abbot Joel

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

James 2:1–5
Mark 7:31–37

There is a lot of geography at the beginning of today’s gospel, place names like Tyre, Sidon, Sea of Galilee and the Decapolis. Jesus is understood to be making a tour of the area until he arrives at his destination east of the Sea of Galilee. What Mark gives us would not follow the logic of any tour. He travels north to go south and east. But does the geography really matter? Other than a few familiar place names in the Gospel, we probably pass over any geographical references.

 Mark is not a map-maker but a Gospel-maker. And for him Gospel geography matters. There is gospel in the geography. There is gospel in Jesus’ strange tour. In the Gospel Jesus has just healed the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman in the district of Tyre. His itinerary keeps him in Gentile territory. The dumb man who cannot speak plainly is also in the Gentile territory of the Decapolis (Greek for ten cities). Mark has Jesus heal in foreign territory.

 It is clearly Mark’s intention that Jesus mission to the Gentile world, the non-Jewish world, did not begin after his return to the Father. It was not something that came solely as a good idea from his disciples. Jesus has God’s breadth of vision. His redemptive activity is not limited to the people of Palestine, in other words his own! Jesus steps across the border and does not just take a quick look around and hurry back. No, the little tour Mark outlines for us makes us aware that Jesus invests in people other than his own kind. And it is a major investment.

 When Jesus heals a man in Gentile territory who cannot hear and cannot speak clearly, it is a sign that God is opening the ears of the Gentiles to hear God’s word. If they were deaf to God’s word up till now, then the time has come for them also to be able to hear God speaking to them. Now they can acknowledge what God is doing for them in Jesus. And as the gospel clearly says, the man can now speak clearly, presumably about Jesus. And those around him acknowledge that Jesus is restoring humanity by opening ears and loosening tongues.

 It is the prophet Isaiah who provides the background and the deeper meaning of what is happening in the Gospel. The prophets had a clear vision of what God was doing. They could somehow envision God working in broader strokes than their contemporaries. And so Isaiah sees God coming to vindicate and make right a broken humanity. The prophet sees a humanity transformed. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing…” The prophet sees God working in the very places where we humans feel most helpless, when we cannot see; when we are deaf and hear no word, no music, no sound, only silence; when we are paralyzed and cannot walk, cannot move a leg or arm or back, when muscles are atrophied. When we are powerless, the prophet hears God saying “Be strong and fear not!”

 Surely the prophet’s words gave a community of faithful hope. It gave the community the hope to pick up and move on. The broken world they knew and experienced was not the final word about humanity. Humanity is meant for wholeness, for sight, for hearing, for speaking. The prophet Isaiah’s context was the hope and promise of a return from exile. And the prophet remind the community it will happen, God will restore his people and his creation.

When Jesus reaches out to touch the deaf man’s ears, when puts his own spittle on his tongue and speaks the words “Ephphata” “Be opened,” he is bringing out God’s vision for humanity. Hope is real, God is faithful. When Jesus touches the man’s ailments, his ears, his tongue, Mark says that immediately his hearing was opened and he spoke clearly and plainly. What has happened really? What has happened is that the man is made whole again. He is complete. From being cut off from humanity because of his deafness, he is now restored whole.  With hearing and speech restored he can enter into human relationships; he is no longer silent, misunderstood, standing outside, alone.

 There is a clear hint here of a creative act. The people’s acclamation to what they see is “He has done all things well” It is a clear hint at the creation story where after every creative event, the story teller says, “And God saw that it was good.” And when he had made us human beings, “God saw that it was very good.” The people see what Jesus is doing and they take up the refrain in their day in their pagan country side and say: “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” They clearly recognize who is at work and acknowledge that what the prophet Isaiah had spoken of as coming, has truly come, “the deaf hear, the dumb speak.”

 Jesus speaks a word, “be opened,” and it happens; hearing opens up for the Gentile man. Is it too much to say that when Jesus says, “Ephphata” “Be opened,” in our gathering this morning, he is opening up our ears to hear his word. Is there not some sense in which our hearing has become dull; maybe even blocked? Ask ourselves, do we want to hear the truth? Do we want to hear what our brother, our sister, our spouse, our confrere is really saying? Have we turned them off, as w say?

 Jesus command “be opened” goes a long way. At its deepest level it is meant to be a healing of our hearing so that we can hear God’s word and work to understand it. The fact is we all live by a word. We need a word in order to find our way through life’s complexities. We need a word in order to know in the heart that we are loved, that we are cherished, that we are bonded into humanity.

The Gospel story today is preserved in the tradition for several reasons. (It is the only gospel story in the gospels which specifically and graphically and dramatically speaks of Jesus healing a deaf person). For sure it is about healing our ability to hear and thus it is about healing our ability to understand. It applies to our human relationships. But here in the Gospel it is also about healing our ability to hear God speaking in our lives; it is about opening ourselves up to hear God’s voice in his Son Jesus. It is also hinting that God’s word may very well be entering into the hearts of others whom we have written off as deaf as beyond hearing his word. It maybe the people over there on the other side who are receiving and understanding God’s powerful word of hope and love.

 The story is preserved in the tradition to alert us to the fact that unless we hear and hear well, we cannot speak. Unless we listen closely, then our speech may be garbled as was the man in the Decapolis. His hears were opened, then Jesus anointed his tongue and he spoke. If we hear well, then and only then can we proclaim what God is doing.  When we listen well, then our words become a proclamation of the goodness of God. The goal of a disciple of Jesus is to listen well so that we can proclaim who he is and the good he is bringing about.

 Jesus’ gestures of putting his ears into the man’s ears and anointing his tongue with his own spittle left such an impression on those who heard the story, that the actions of Jesus even found their way into the rite of baptism. After a child has been baptized, anointed, given the new clothing, and after the candle has been lit, the celebrant cannot leave the newly baptized merely to see the light of Christ, he must also lean over and open his ears and mouth; sight and hearing together. May these simple words from the baptismal rite remind us again today of what the gift of hearing and speaking is all about:

 “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father Amen.”

19th Sunday (B) – Abbot Joel

19 Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

1 Kings 19:4-8
Ephesians 4:30-5:2
John 6:41-51

 Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of Israel. He was faithful in his service to the Lord. Zealous to the extreme. In the scene just prior to this he has confronted 500 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Singlehandedly he has proved that the God of Israel is the true God. God sent fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice. Elijah then set about killing off the prophets of Baal. This angered Jezebel the Queen. She promptly put a price on his head. But Elijah is getting tired of confronting the king and queen about their behavior; he is tired of battling other prophets; he is tired of being persecuted by king and queen. He finds himself alone, the only true prophet. His strength is weakening. The rest of Israel seems to have abandoned him. His message is doubted. He carried on the fight for the true God by himself ad now feels himself getting weaker physically, emotionally and spiritually. We would say he is getting depressed. He doubts himself and his vocation.

 With the queen in hot pursuit he makes a decision to go south and out into the desert. He walked for 12 straight hours out and away where no one could follow him. With the last bit of energy he prays to God: Enough. I’ve had enough of other people’s plots; enough of being questioned about my authority; enough of standing alone for you and being your only witness. I give you back my life; take it; I want to join the ancestors. He finds a solitary desert bush (called a broom tree but it really is a hardy desert bush), lies down near it and falls sleep assuming he’ll not wake up again.

 Do we not find ourselves in the same situation as Elijah from time to time. We look at our life and wish it were over. We try to stand up for the truth, in our community, in our society. We try to reflect the human and Christian values we know and cherish. Yet we become frustrated; no one listens or worse yet they smile and laugh at our concerns. Like Elijah we have a sense of being alone, even alone before God. We begin to doubt ourselves. We feel down and crushed. We are asked, who do you think you are? Where do you come from, anyway? Are you any better that the rest of us? We find ourselves caught between the whispers of others; our identity is being pulled apart and isolation comes over us.

 Like Elijah we look for a way out. We too feel like running away into the desert; and if we are honest, we wish we could find some tree out there to lie under and fall asleep and not wake up to reality anymore.

 In the gospel story we find that Jesus too is becoming a victim. The crowd turns on him. They start to complain about what he is telling them. They murmur about him. Who does he think he is talking about coming down from heaven? We know his parents. He is the son of that carpenter Joseph and his mother is still around. Jesus now feels alone, hemmed in, not understood. Jesus answers the complaining head on. Jesus makes it quite clear that he knows who he is: he knows his origins: I come from the Father. It is on his authority I come here. I have been living with him. I have seen him and it is his life I have come to bring. I bring a living giving bread. You can challenge my origins, you may not understand them or believe where I come from or who I am, but I stand firm, for the Father stands behind me and with me.

 When the crowd challenges Jesus’ identity and turns on him, Jesus goes back to his origins in the Father. When the crowd wants to challenge Jesus’ mission and purpose he makes it very clear that the life he carries with him is authentic and that is what he offers. When Jesus tires of the crowds challenges to him, he returns to his father’s will and plan. God will teach you, scripture says,   and he is doing that in my word. God’s will is Jesus’ food. On this he lives and strengthened by it goes forward to Jerusalem, to the cross. This same food of life he offers to those who wish to join him in his life with the Father. I am the living Bread from the Father, be nourished on this bread, eat it and you will live forever….When Jesus is pressed about who he is, he becomes stronger in his relationship with the father, and stronger, too, in offering that relationship to us and to the world. The relationship is nourished in the bread that Jesus gives.

 Elijah is gently wakened by an angel. What a surprise. Elijah went to sleep all alone under a lone desert bush. He thought he’d not wake up again. Instead he is woken up and finds a small meal of cakes and water to nourish himself with. God wakes him up and God provides this food for the journey. Like most of us, we don’t hear the message the first time. We go back to sleep content with our feeling of being alone. But the angel comes back and touches us gently again: Get up eat, the journey is long; you need your strength. Then Elijah takes the food and drink again. But this time he is reminded what the food is for—it is for his journey to meeting God’s presence on the holy mountain. The angel offers food and reminder of the strength and power the food will give. Without the food God puts down dear the bush, Elijah would not have made it. The food is a reminder of who really is caring for him and who is directing his life in the first place.

 When we forget who we are; when we have lost our sense of direction; when we are depressed because we feel alone or abandoned; when we, like Elijah, are ready to give up the fight, to stop serving; when even life is drained of meaning, then it is our turn to be touched by God’s angel. It is our turn to come forward and take and eat of the food that Jesus offers.

 The bread that the Father gives is his only Son. He is giving for the life of the world. Coming forward to take of this bread is not an option or a luxury for us on the journey of life. The desert is real, we often come close to thinking we are alone. This bread is a necessity for us. Elijah has to be reminded twice to get up and eat. When we eat this bread Jesus offers, then like Elijah we are reminded of who we are, of where we come from and where we are truly headed. The Father is our origin too and it is to the Father we are going. Jesus offers food, not to those who have completed life’s journey, but to us who are on the way. This is our food; it is the viaticum that will strengthen us every day in the here and now. It is food for us who like Elijah and Jesus get discouraged at ourselves and others. The food points us in the right direction. May God’s angel touch each of us today and may we hear those strong and affirming words: Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you. It is not time to die, it is time to live!

13th Sunday (B) – Abbot Joel

Abbey                                                                                                    13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

 When growing up we often hear parents and teachers telling us to speak in complete sentences. Or finish one thought before starting another. We learn the same when being taught how to write a sentence a paragraph. At first sight it looks like our evangelist Mark violates this rule in his gospel today. He starts a story about Jairus, a synagogue official who makes a dramatic entrance and request of Jesus for his young daughter. Then suddenly out of nowhere Mark introduces a nameless woman suffering from menstrual type bleeding. We can hear ourselves saying, finish one story first then tell us the next. But no. We hear one story start and this is interrupted with a seemingly unrelated second story and when that is finished, we return to the first story. When we finish the whole story, we find two scenes that seem very different, but maybe underneath it all there is just one thread. Maybe there is only one sentence with two stories..true it is a long sentence.

 And just what is the thread that holds the long sentence together. It is simple and most common: death. Death joins Jesus to Jairus, his young daughter, and to the hemorrhaging woman, and death joins the two women to one another. Jairus only approaches Jesus because his daughter is at the point of death. It is a desperate situation for the father. He is begging for life. The women with the blood flow is already dead on one level and it is threatened with it on another level. The woman is considered unclean because of her blood flow. This uncleanness separates her from her relatives, from any relationships with people and makes it impossible for her to worship in temple or synagogue. She is an outcast and belongs to no one—socially and even religiously she is dead. After 12 years of hemorrhaging she is also physically at the point of death, like the young daughter of Jairus. You can only sustain loss of blood for so long and survive. She too is desperate, but her asking for help is not with words but with touch-she only wants to touch Jesus’ clothes and thus have a share in Jesus power to give life.

 After the adult woman is healed, saved and restored to community life, we hear the news that death has come to the young girl. Jesus ignores the idea that he should change his plans and not bother to respond to her father’s plea and instead he goes to stretch out his hands toward her. He challenges the crowd’s view of what death is and takes the child by the hand and raises her up. A resurrection? I think so. Now the young girl is restored to her family and the full meaning of her 12th year is opened for her: she is now able to complete her womanhood with marriage and childbearing. Truly a resurrection for this girl. She is able to life her live to the full and her family, by having her back alive, is also restored to life.

 The two women are in parallel to each other. One bleeding woman acts on her own initiative, her own faith. She has heard about Jesus and she acts on what she has heard, she reaches out for his power to save and give life. She touches Jesus. The dying and then dead young girl has a voice in her father. But Jesus responds to the cry of the helpless. Here Jesus takes the initiative-he stretches out his hand, grasps hers and raises her up—one hand grasping another hand and his power to save, heal and give life has an effect. Jesus is life and Jesus offers life. Jesus is the Father’s hand stretched out to restore fragile humanity to the fullness of its worth and dignity….The hemorrhaging women has been afflicted for 12 years; she has been living in shame and sorrow; walking in a no-man’s land for 12 years and making everything and everyone she touches unclean along the way. Walking contagion-walking death. She has been losing her life in her blood for 12 years-a long, slow death. All she has left is what she has heard about Jesus; her life is draining away but her faith has been growing; her courage and perseverance are strong. This life Jesus in his turn recognizes and commends her for: you may think, it is power from me that has cured you, but what has saved you, you have been carrying all along, your faith. In your faith you have placed your hand on what has power to heal, you are now made whole.

 Both women are daughters…but because of their deaths that has been taken away. The woman has been treated as one without family, without heritage, without a community of faith. And Jesus has restored her dignity her place in the community. She was held in contempt for 12 years, but now she has been given more than a cure, she has been given an intimacy of relationship beyond imagining: “Daughter, faith has saved you-go healed” Daughter of Abraham, daughter of Jesus in his new family, daughter to the one Father in whose image she was created from the beginning….The father-daughter relationship is what has gotten our story sentence started in the first place. A father about to lose his daughter at age 12, just when she is about to become a woman and enter society as an adult. And now she dies. The father is about to give up hope for his daughter….and Jesus says, you came to me in faith, hold on to your faith and do not fear. Death is not the end for you or for your daughter. The father held on to his faith and Jesus raises his daughter and gives her back to her parents….the loving relationship is healed and her potential is restored.

 Two women touched by death; two women surrounded by faith; two women who are linked to the number 12—the number of Israel’s tribes, the number of Jesus founding community, the age of maturity; two women who are or are about to be lost to their communities. Yes, what looks like 2 stories has at least three threads making it one: women, death and faith. But in the middle is Jesus. In the center of the story stands Jesus offering his risen life to the women of the community; offering the women of his community a wholeness of body and spirit and heart—in biblical terms saving them. Here is Jesus sharing freely and generously his life, his energy, his power to restore and make whole, all the while not counting the cost. Because for him to be touched by an unclean woman is for him to become contaminated. For him to touch a dead body is for him to become unclean….and yet his had remains outstretched.

 On this hot summer Sunday we gather to meet the Risen one reaching out for a hand, and lifting up.  We meet the risen one allowing himself to be touched by the unclean, the ostracized, the nameless. We meet the Risen one stopping to treat each of us as persons worthy to be heard and touched; we meet the Risen Lord saying to us, “Daughter” “Son,” “Get up and live your life to the full in the image of the one who made you.”

 God has only one story with one sentence and that is–I am the God of the living and what is dead I bring to life.

Trinity Sunday (B) – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2012                                                                                                      Trinity Sunday – B

Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40
Romans 8:14–17
Matthew 28:16–20

Trinity and Unity are known as abstract nouns in western languages. They seem to appeal to the head. They came into the Christian experience when Christians began to use western languages and western ways of thinking. When Christians ventured to make disciples of all nations, as Jesus tells the Eleven today, they sought to find ways to put their experience into the words of the way people thought and into the languages in which they expressed themselves. In the beginning the dominant languages were Greek and Latin. These languages could use abstract nouns and concepts. The language of those who first experienced the mystery of God that we now call Triune did not express itself  in an abstract manner.

 Today’s feast of the Trinity borrows an abstract noun to try and express the God in whom we have placed our hope and the God who has shown us love. In reality our ancestors in the faith did not use abstract language to speak about their experience of the God we so easily say is a Trinity and a Unity of persons. The language of Israel and the language of Jesus was concrete. Its images could be felt, seen and touched. And so the Word of God never calls God a Trinity, a person or a unity of three.

 The language of faith is really a language seeking to speak about mystery. That is the word that best describes what we stop to remember and celebrate today. As Christians we want to celebrate the fullness of the mystery of our God.  Put simply, we want to acknowledge our God as Father, Son and Spirit: All names that reveal the depths of our God and how succeeding generations of believers have come to recognize his movements in their lives. A mystery is not something leaves us shrugging our shoulders and walking away. A mystery is something that is just a little more than we can understand or fully grasp, but something that pulls us toward itself. A mystery will not send us away in fear or ignorance. Rather a real mystery such as our God of Father, Son and Spirit is reaching out to touch us, to draw us firmly and gently toward him.

 There is nothing abstract, nothing heady, in the Word we have heard proclaimed on this feast of the Triune God. Moses in not speaking in abstract to the people in front of him. He speaks of the God who entered whole heartedly into the people’s history and changed it. Their God is not up in heaven. Moses reminds the community that God has spoken, in the heart of the fire-the burning bush, the pillar of fire leading them out of slavery. He says God is Lord in heaven above and on earth below. God has acted: they saw the plagues inflicted on Egypt; they saw the wonder of a sea divided, walls of water on right and left and they followed the fire through the water safely. They saw their God as a God who was on their side, who fought for them. And then Moses invites the people to a comparison. Did you see any other god so involved on behalf of a people? Do you see any other God involved in working for freedom; where is the God involved in a rescue operation? No there is only the one God who has saved you! When you have been saved, when you have walked through water and your enemies have drowned in it; when you were a slave and someone bought you and freed you, there is nothing abstract about that. And so Moses says, your response to this mystery of God, this face of God can hardly be abstract either. It must look like something. And so what path will you take, how will you walk, who is leading you now? How will you be a people he has chosen? This is not abstract, it is as concrete as the fire and voice of the God of the Exodus and Sinai. It is as concrete and visible as the community like ours gathering for Sunday worship

 The mystery of the Trinity doesn’t begin in the head, not with our God. The mystery of the Trinity begins by becoming involved in the human story, making a commitment to it, and then changing its course. As this mystery of God unfolds over time (time is very concrete) two things begin to happen. One is that God reveals his mystery more and more so that in the end it is we who experience him as Father, Son and Spirit. We come to discover that God himself is communion, a communion of persons. He is one and yet a communion, he shares and is sharing himself. Our language has grasped on to simple words to speak about this communion: Father, Son and Spirit. But they are all words that have to do with relationship, about going out of oneself, loving and being loved.

 The other mystery that begins to unfold and unfold very quickly is that the mystery of God means making a community out of us humans. But at the same time a community with which the Trinitarian God is intimately and inescapably involved, connected with and living with. Moses speaks about God making a people for himself: All his wondrous signs at the Exodus were to make something more out of humanity than slaves. God was about to create a new people. In the mystery of this God as we experience him, there is freedom and love in his communion and in what he offers.

 Paul today makes the point about creating new relationships between God and humanity even stronger. For Paul the mystery of the Trinity is that we are now children in this Trinity. We are children of God. We have been adopted. This removes us from being nobody to a new identity with God because of our relationship with his own Son. This breaks the bonds that separate different members of the human family. All can be adopted as God’s children in Christ.

 Jesus makes it clear that our true identity will be found in the name we hear with the water at baptism. Not the patron saint or human ancestor. But the name of the Trinity itself. We are baptized now into that name of God. We become part of the living community and communion that is at the heart of the mystery we call God. We cannot become a Christian without getting wet. And we cannot become a Christian unless over that water is named this communion of God. The water and the word, the names of our God. Together they make it possible for us to utter the most intimate and personal of all names, “Abba, Father.” With that word we enter into the mystery of the Trinity.

 We often  reach out and take water when entering the church and sign ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. We do it most times without reflection. We don’t realize that at that moment we not only acknowledge our God, but we are placing ourselves once again into the heart of the Christian mystery, namely the love and power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 Christians have struggled over the centuries to get the word about this God of ours correct. But in the end there are only the three words and each one is only about one thing: love offered, love received and love given.

2nd Sunday of Easter – Deacon Owen

Doubting Thomas

On the evening of the first Easter Sunday, which we celebrated last Sunday, the disciples of Jesus huddled together in the locked upper room.  To a man they were in utter despair: they had left everything to follow Jesus, but now he was dead and his body was stolen.  They were frightened that the same people who had killed their Master would surely come looking for them.  They were confused where would they go now?  What would they do?  Into that despairing, frightened, confused company steps Jesus.  The grave couldn’t hold him in  and the locked door of their meeting room couldn’t keep him out.   There he was standing right in front of them.  They had been trembling with fear, but he says, “Peace be with you.”   They look to each other thinking, surely this can’t be him.  He extends his hands and points to his side.  They felt lonely and afraid, but he breathes on them and says. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Their fear and trepidation had held them in hiding and now he sends them out to a needy world, saying,  “As the Father sent me, so I sent you.”

Thomas, for some reason, had been missing from that memorable encounter.  the others kept telling him.  “Thomas, we have seen the Lord.”  But Thomas was having none of it.  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”  But before long he would be utterly transformed worshiping Christ while exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”

We need to ask ourselves just what was it that ruined Thomas from a doubter into a believer?  And what is it that canallay our doubts, and bring us to joyful faith in Jesus Christ?  Let’s look in turn at Thomas the doubter and Thomas the believer..

The infamous Thomas the doubter we had previously met earlier in St. John’s Gospel,  In the story of Jesus and Lazarus.  Lazarus was critically ill.  Jesus announced his intention to go to him.  But the disciples realized that this would take Jesus straight back to the very people who were plotting to kill him.  So Thomas gloomily says to the others, “Yah let’s go so that we can die with him.”  Later in that same Gospel Jesus had been explaining that he must go to his Father’s house, and that he would come back and take his disciples  with him. “  He said, ”You know the way to the place where I am going.  Thomas argues “We don’t know where you’re  going so how can we know the way?”

We readers of the Gospel of John,  begin to think of Thomas as a bit of a pessimist – someone whose cup was always half empty rather than half full, a man whose football team was never destined for a championship game,    but only tobe drooping in the record books.  He was a man who’s light at the end of a dark  tunnel wasn’t a sign of hope  but an out-of-control-freight train, roaring down the track at him..

Thomas wasn’t the first person to have doubts  and he certainly wasn’t the last.  Over the years doubt has often been elevated to the status of a virtue.

Here we are in the 20th century celebrating the scientific method of research where doubt is the only assurance of ascertaining absolute truth.

Let’s be clear that doubt itself is neither a good nor a bad thing.  Doubt can sometimes he highly desirable or really misleading.  If we believed every story we’ve heard about tooth fairies, Santa Clause and boogie men, we would soon lose out sanity.  If we were taken in by every advertising commercial or by politicians or religious leaders we would lose all our money, we’d be hard-put and unwilling to lend credence to any proffered statement we hear.

But, on the other hand it is neither sensible, nor necessary  nor healthy to doubt everything.  I need to know if a can trust my monthly bank statement when it comes in.  I need to know if the witness of the Bible to Jesus Christ is believable or whether it is just a piece of pious fiction.

There is a place for confident knowledge.  There is a place for Christian  dogma.  In those matters which are clearly revealed in Scripture, Christians should not be doubtful or apologetic.  The corridors of the New Testament echo with dogmatic affirmations begging.  “We knowWe are sure. We are confident. If you question this, try reading  the First Epistle of St. John in which with its reiterating  “knowing, “ the verb to know occurs about forty times in that book.  They strike a note of joyful assurance  which is sadly missing from many parts of the church today and which needs to be recaptured.

Doubt then is a very widespread phenomenon.  Many of our doubts are normal and proper.  But we should resist the temptation to doubt anything and everything.  And there is good news for doubting Thomases.  Thomas had an encounter with the living Christ, and he would never be the same again.  Having looked at Thomas the doubter let’s now consider Thomas the believer.

One week later, after their first meeting,, that would be today.  The disciples were assembled again and Thomas was there this second time.  Although the doors were locked again the same Jesus stands among them again, large as life.  And he speaks directly to Thomas.

Thomas had said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands…”  Jesus said, “See my hands.”

Thomas said, ”and put my finger where the nails were…”  Jesus stretched out  his hand and said, reply, “Put your finger here”

Thomas said, ”and put my hand into his side”  –  “Reach out your hand and put it into my side

Thomas I will not believe it”   Jesus ,”Stop doubting and believe

That’s enough for Thomas.  His astonished reaction  is “My Lord and my God”  As soon as he saw he believed and as soon as he believed he worshiped.

Jesus’ response was, “Thomas, Because you have seen me you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Jesus has presented a blessing on any and all who have come to believe even though they haven’t seen.

Christians do not require a blind faith.

Faith is not merely agreement. Faith is not superstition. Faith is not credulity. Faith is rather knowing and believing the truth about Jesus Christ and committing oneself to Him.

Jesus is commanding faith without evidence  He is commanding Faith without sight.

If everyone demanded touching and feeling Jesus before believing and having faith there wouldn’t be any Christians alive today and yet we know that in fact there are millions of Christians who have never seen his hands or touched the wounded side of the Lord Jesus the Lord Jesus but they all come to believe by faith.

St Peter in His first letter said, “Though you have not seen him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

Do any of us here ever have a doubt.  When this happens call to mind the short prayer, Jesus, I believe, in you, help my unbelief.

Even in this day and age, we are given exercises to strengthen our gifts of faith.

At the beginning of Mass, Fr. Augustine mentioned that this is the annual commemoration of Divine Mercy.  This feast reminds us of the great faith of the Polish Sister, Maria Faustenia, it reminds us of the great faith of  His Holiness  Pope John Paul the second, and it reminds us of the great faith of Catholics across the World and their tireless novenas of the divine mercy.

Today we should ask ourselves just how strong is our faith.

Easter Sunday – Abbot Joel

Abbey 2012                                                                                                           Easter Sunday


Acts 10:34.37-43
Colossians 3:1-4
John 20:1-9

 A woman comes to the tomb. She comes to mourn for her friend. She comes to look at death. She comes, alone, to weep. He is no more, her friend. All she can do is come to place of death, to the house of death. She comes to be by his body. For that is all there should be left of her friend, his dead, cold body.

 But she is surprised. The place of death has been broken into. The door of the house has been pushed aside. She came to mourn. She thought he was gone forever. But she finds something strange: a tomb but no body in it. She thinks, it has been stolen, it has been taken away. She is right, it has been stolen. But it was not stolen by death. Death did not walk away with this body.

 Mary Magdalene sees the stone removed from the tomb but she does not really see what has happened.  See does not see God’s work. It is God who stole the body. He was the one who came during the night and stole the body to bring it home, to his home. God was the thief in the night. He came and brought the body of his Son home to himself. But something happened when God came for his Son’s body. He could not bring the clothes of death along with the body. Instead he gave his son new clothes. He clothed him with light, with beauty and a life that never ends. The cloths that bound his body and the cloth covering has face, yes God folded them up neatly and left them behind. Perhaps someone would see them and believe.

 We left here last Sunday, the Sunday of Jesus’ passion, putting the body of Jesus in the tomb. We went away astounded that an innocent man was executed so quickly. Today we gather to hear that the story is not over. We are listening to a story that says death is not the way our lives end. Yes, Jesus died. Yes, we will die. But that is not the end. We cannot roll the stone in front of the tomb and say it is over. Today’s celebration tells us that God is not finished with us. All the forces of darkness and evil do not have the last word. God has the last word. Mary comes to the tomb thinking it is the same with Jesus as for all others she ever knew. Love has died. Not so she will find out. The story of Jesus ends in life; it ends in a total change of the human person.

Today God says that innocent victims do not die in vain. God is saying that the human person cannot just disappear into the earth. We are of such value that our lives have an eternal value. When God comes to roll away he stone in front of house that holds his dead Son, he is sending a message loud and clear: Once a human being is born that human being is no longer destined for death. We can be like Mary Magdalene, looking for death and mourning for it. But God is saying that death is only a moment of change, a true Passover. It is a time to take off the clothes of the body and put on new ones. God is still working while we are lying in the tomb. Today God shows us what he is doing: his son becomes the first born of the dead.

 The gospel writer says it is the first day of the week. It is a new day, like the first day of creation. A new age has begun. Indeed it has. Death has been defeated. The human story is being rewritten from this moment on or the real story is being written. St. Paul reminds us clearly today: think of what is above, not on what is on earth. To think of what is on earth is to think of death as a final goal. We must not think like people think in the old world. That world is gone. We cannot think in terms of violence, in terms of a power that crushes and abuses, in terms of getting ahead at someone else’s expense. We cannot think of isolation. Above all, we can no longer think in terms of myself, ourselves as the center around which everything must move. Instead we must think along the lines of the new world that resurrection brings: a world where solidarity reigns, where diversity is not seen as “other” and different” but as human richness and beauty; we are asked to think of a world where truth guides and communion is the heart of love. Remember what Mary saw: the stone was removed, taken away. Do we believe that? Do we believe that the enemy has been robbed of his kingdom, his door is open—never to be shut again?

Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, they too notice the clothes of the dead man. He didn’t take them with him. Peter was like Mary Magdalene, he looked but made no connection; least of all did he recognize God’s handiwork. The disciple whom Jesus loved: He looked at them and he believed. He recognized that something wonderful had happened to Jesus. Jesus could no longer wear his old clothes. He left them behind. Was it his being loved by Jesus that enabled him to believe?

 It is a small thing to see the dead man’s burial clothes folded up. But in the sign of the old clothes lying there, the early followers of Jesus saw the sign of resurrection. The wonderful mystery of our faith in the resurrection is that we can become a sign, a witness like Peter says in his Acts sermon. We can bear witness to this new age precisely because we have put on resurrection clothes: we give witness to it, when we share with others without complaint, when the blessings we have received are poured out into the laps of others; when our words of greeting have a warm and open heart behind them, when the love we have embraces all; when we look at our bother and sister and see their gifts as gifts that lift up the community. We know we are in a new time when we look into the eyes of our neighbor and see that fear is no longer there, when we stand with others in their suffering and pain and not against them; when we let go of the hurts that others have done to us. When we do all of this, then we are becoming a sign that the resurrection is real.

 The world does not need an empty tomb or burial cloths to know Jesus is risen. The world has you and me to see, to look at. And when it looks at you and me, can it see a stone rolled back showing the powerlessness of death and violence? When the world looks at you and me, does it see a new body, transformed and changed? When it listens to you and me, does it hear a word that speaks of peace? When it looks at you and me does it see that the clothes I wear, the life I live, flow from an energy and love so powerful that it radiates a light that allows for no shadow?

 We can and must bear witness to that new world the beloved disciple, Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene saw a long time ago on the First Day: the stone has been removed; the burial clothes are folded up, left aside! When we are bearing witness to that truth, then Easter is not a long time ago but still alive and coming alive in the world today.

 Christ is risen, alleluia!

He is truly Risen, Alleluia.