THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
acts 1:1-11; ephesians 1:17-23; matthew 28:16-20
a hindu came to a bishop. he had read the gospels. they fascinated him. he read on… in the gospels, it was JESUS—his works, his teachings, his death and resurrection. in the acts, it was the disciples. the church continued where JESUS had left off. this man told the bishop: «i must belong to the church that continues the mission of CHRIST.»
this is what we celebrate today: we continue where JESUS left off! he gives his disciples a programme (witness to him) and a promise (the power from on high).
in the gospel, JESUS commissions his disciples to teach all nations and to make disciples of them. he promises to be with them «always, until the end of the age.»
in the first reading, the programme and the promise is similar. JESUS calls his disciples to be his «witnesses in jerusalem, throughout judea and samaria, and to the ends of the earth» and promises them the power of the SPIRIT.
first, in a court of law, a witness cannot give hearsay evidence; it must be his/her personal experience. a christian witness is someone who testifies to a personal experience of GOD.
second, witness is not of words but of deeds. after henry stanley had spent some time with livingstone in africa, he said: «had i lived any longer with him, i would have been compelled to become a christian, and he never spoke to me about CHRIST at all.»
third, the greek word for witness and for martyr is the same: «martus». to be a witness means to live the mission of CHRIST no matter what the cost.
christian witness sounds a tough task. and it is… if we attempt it alone. that’s why JESUS promises his presence and the power of the SPIRIT to strengthen his disciples.
the ascension calls us to carry on the mission of CHRIST with the power of the SPIRIT. how will i be JESUS’ witness and carry on his mission? will i live the programme and rely on the promise?
24 May 2014
VI SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 peter 3:15-18; john 14: 15-21
richard daly, the mayor of chicago for 21 years, was an unpleasant boss. one of his speech writers once asked for a raise. daly responded: «no raise for you. working for a great american hero like me is remuneration enough.»
two weeks later, daly was addressing a national war-veterans’ convention (he was famous for not reading through his speeches before delivery). he began: «i’m concerned for you. i have a heart for you. i propose a seventeen-point plan… to care for the veterans of this country.» cheers and shout of approval from the veterans!
the end of page one! he turned the page. and he saw these words: «great american hero, you’re on your own now.»
daly felt really alone. he was on his own.
that’s perhaps the way the apostles felt during the last supper. alone. on their own.
JESUS has told them about his death and departure. the apostles are confused. they don’t understand this talk of death and going away. they are afraid they will meet a similar fate.
JESUS promises them his SPIRIT to comfort and lead them: «the father... will give you another advocate to be with you always... i will not leave you orphans.»
and he reminds them: «if you love me, you will keep my commandments… and those who love me will be loved by my father, and i will love them and reveal myself to them.»
a promise and a reminder! the promise of the eternal comforting and advocating presence of the SPIRIT. the reminder that they will experience GOD’s love when they love.
we see the promise and the reminder unfold the first reading: with the power of the SPIRIT and with love, the disciples go out to proclaim CHRIST to the people of samaria.
we, too, have been given this gift of the SPIRIT. then why do we still feel lonely and troubled? perhaps because we have forgotten the reminder!
do i keep the commandment of love? am i open to the comforting and guiding presence of the SPIRIT? then… i will not be alone. i will not feel «orphaned».
17 May 2014
V SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 6:1-7; 1 peter 2:4-9; john 14:1-12
a little boy was scared to sleep alone. he called out to his dad: «i’m scared. couldn’t you stay in here with me?»
dad said: «son, nothing will happen to you. mom and i are in the next room.»
«i know, daddy. but i’m scared.»
«there’s no reason to be scared. GOD is here with you.»
«i know that, also, daddy. but i want someone with skin on.»
the little boy’s fear is similar to the disciples’ fear. JESUS—their master, for whom they left everything—is leaving them. they are afraid to face the world alone; they fear staying in their «room» alone.
JESUS assures them that there is no need to be afraid, and gives them three fear busters:
faith in GOD and his son is the first fear buster: «you believe in GOD, believe also in me.»
JESUS tells philip: «whoever has seen me has seen the father… i am in the father and the father is in me.» the second fear buster: in and through his son, GOD is with us, is present with skin on, is deeply involved in the events and crises of our world.
JESUS says: «i am going to prepare a place for you.» GOD has a special place for each one of us in the church and in the world. we need to find that place/mission/role. when we find our place, we will not be troubled.
this does not mean there won’t be problems. the first reading describes the problems the fledgling church has in the food distribution system!
the fear busters help the church overcome this problem: faith in GOD and JESUS keep the apostles from getting overwhelmed. they find their place and role in the church: the apostles focus on preaching; they appoint deacons to look after the administration… and the church grew.
the little boy’s fear is similar to our own. problems assail us, the darkness of our nights frighten us… and we need someone—with skin on—by our side.
may you and i have faith in GOD, believe that he is with us in his son and people, and find our place in life.
«fear is the wrong use of imagination. it is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.»
10 May 2014
IV SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 peter 2:20b-25; john 10:1-10
a native american and his friend were walking in midtown new york. decibel levels were deafeningly high with the chatting of people, the honking of horns, and the screeching of vehicle brakes.
suddenly, the native american said: «i hear a cricket.» his friend said: «what! you’re crazy. you couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all this noise!»
the native american insisted that he heard a cricket. he listened carefully, then walked across the street to a big planter, looked under the branches and… he found a cricket.
his friend was stunned: «that’s incredible! you must have superhuman ears!» the native american said: «my ears aren’t different from yours. it depends on what you’re listening for. my ears are attuned to natural sounds. let me demonstrate.»
he pulled out a few coins from his pocket, and dropped them on the sidewalk. every head within twenty feet turned to see if the money that had tinkled on the pavement was theirs!
«see what i mean?» asked the native american. «it depends on what’s important to you.»
the gospel highlights what/who ought to be important for us.
it has two parables. in the first, the imagery is of a sheepfold into which the shepherd and a prowler seek to enter. the second parable concerns the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, and between the sheep and a stranger.
the first parable is a challenge to israel’s religious authorities: will they listen to and heed JESUS’ message? JESUS can offer no external credentials for his authority; in the second parable, a small group respond in faith to his message because they hear in it the authentic voice of GOD. both parables make the same point: JESUS provides his people his word and sacraments, and gives them abundant life… provided they listen to him.
if JESUS and his word is important for us, we will hear him above the bustle of our lives, above the noise of consumerism and materialism. if our ears are attuned to power, prestige and pleasure, we will hear those.
the quality of our life indicates to what our ears are attuned! if we do not live «abundantly», we are listening to and following not the SHEPHERD but a stranger.
whom do i follow? to whom/what do i listen? do i still hear the shepherd?
03 May 2014
III SUNDAY OF EASTER
acts 2:14, 22-33; 1 peter 1:17-21; luke 24:13-35
nine months after my accident and first ankle surgery, i had a medical review. i was hoping the surgeon would allow me to start walking. he did. but he told me i would need another surgery after three months. i was despondent. more surgery. more pain. more hobbling.
at lunch, i mentioned the surgeon’s verdict to my spiritual director. that evening, there was a knock on my door. it was my spiritual director! he stayed with me about two hours. i do not remember what he said but i remember feeling hopeful and warm in my heart.
the two disciples on their way to emmaus had a similar journey from despair to hope and «burning hearts». the risen JESUS walked with them on their journey. he opened the scriptures for them; he explained that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things. he broke bread with them.he opened the scriptures for them; he explained that it was «necessary that the CHRIST should suffer these things.» he broke bread with them.
in the excerpt from 1 peter—written for christians in asia minor whose acceptance of the gospel alienated them from society—peter wants to bolster their faith and hope in GOD. he tells them that, during the time of their sojourning, the risen JESUS sojourns with them.
«GOD walking with us» is a recurrent theme in the bible. he walked with adam in the garden. he walked with the israelites during their sojourn in the desert. he walked with the exiles and assured them that nothing would overwhelm them. he walked the shore and the sea of galilee healing the sick and comforting the anguished.
GOD walks with us in our times of anguish and despair, times of confusion and pain.
do we recognise him? or does discouragement and despair prevent us from recognising him?
may you and i be aware of GOD walking with us on our «emmaus» journeys! may opening the scriptures and breaking the bread give us «burning hearts»… indications of an easter power and presence within us!