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Archive for the ‘Resurrrection’ Category

I’ve been preoccupied this week with the birth of my first local great-nephew last Thursday and various deadlines, meetings and events at work. Evan Robert’s first pictures should be showing up in my Flickr sidebar soon. He’s going to be baptized on the feast of John the Baptist and my nephew and his wife were pleased that his name (Welsh for John) ties in so well to the feast. I love knowing that my love for liturgical and scriptural connections is rubbing off on the next generation!

I’ll have some thoughts on the rich lectionary readings for the Ascension during the week. In the meantime, my friend and coworker Katie Carroll offered this piece in our print publication, also called Bringing Home the Word. I liked it so well that I asked her to share it here as we move into Ascensiontide:

“The Discovery Channel recently aired a feature called The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Director James Cameron (of Titanic fame) posited that the grouping of names found on six ossuaries (limestone coffins) in a single newly discovered tomb made it statistically probable that the tombs were those of Jesus of Nazareth; his brother, Joseph; Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdalene; and Jesus and Mary’s son, Judah. Though cognizant that Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, Cameron dismisses such narrow thinking and suggests that the resurrection and ascension might have been spiritual, rather than physical, events, and thus, his thesis is in no way contrary to Christian theology.

“Where does one begin?

“Catholic theology flatly denies that Jesus had any siblings. The doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity make this impossible. No matter how many times secular fortune-seekers try to portray Mary Magdalene and Jesus as spouses, there is simply no evidence to support such a theory, much less that they had a child together. The apostles worshiped Christ, spent their lives in service to him and, for the most part, died martyrs’ deaths. Is it likely they would have failed to notice or report that God left a family behind?

“St. Paul was kind enough to spell out for us the significance of Christ’s resurrection. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, he writes: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” He cites in other letters the testimony of more than five hundred disciples, eyewitnesses to the resurrection, most of whom were still living when Paul wrote. The infant church had centuries of theological obstacles to overcome, but it was certain that Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

“Though we are often removed from it, doctrine does matter in the everyday lives of Christians. It is no small thing to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us or sacrifice for others; doctrine assures us that we have a very good reason for doing it. Christ’s passion, death and resurrection are proof that his message is true—our sins can be forgiven, we can be better people and we can make the world a better place. Christ’s ascension, which we celebrate today, gives us some idea of how to do that. ‘Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?’ the angels ask the disciples at the ascension. Jesus himself has instructed them to preach the gospel, not to stand idly about, gaping at the miracles they have witnessed.

“Authentic faith starts with the relationship between us and God, the ‘vertical’ dimension of faith. But Christianity insists on the ‘horizontal’ dimension as well—reaching out to others with the gospel, whether we’re preaching it or living it. This latter dimension is the difference between a litany of doctrinal declarations which for some passes as faith, and a living relationship between God and humanity in Christ. Our faith is nourished by our private time with God—at Mass, in prayer, when reading Scripture, but it is practiced in our interactions with others—at home, at work, when we think no one is looking. Knowing our faith and its basis is invaluable (we could all spend more time with our Bibles or the Catechism of the Catholic Church), but living out our faith brings life.”  —Kathleen M. Carroll

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Today’s Gospel pulls together themes and echoes of the many stories of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee: the call of the fishermen to be the first disciples, the multiplication of bread and fish to feed the crowds, the miraculous catch of fish, the meal shared with Jesus, the breaking of the bread. These are the iconic, significant events both before and after the resurrection, and the writer of John’s Gospel shows us how the apostles needed to deepen their understanding of these events.

The resurrection indeed changed everything on a cosmic level, but Peter, John and the rest were still going out fishing in their boats. So it is with us. It takes a lifetime of living our faith to achieve a real integration of what we do in our everyday lives with what we profess on Sunday. And Jesus understands this. This is why he focused his parables and actions on the most basic aspects of the daily lives of his listeners and followers. He strove throughout his time on earth to forge this connection.

At the last supper he said, “When you eat and drink, remember me.” And in Luke’s Gospel, a stranger walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explained and interpreted the scriptures for them, but it wasn’t until he broke bread with them that they recognized him as the Lord. Here in John’s Gospel the stranger on the beach, tending a charcoal fire, patiently leads them through their memories of him and his actions and they, too, recognize him as Lord.

We also witness a most poignant meeting between Jesus and Peter. In John’s passion narrative, we last see Peter warming his hands over a charcoal fire in the courtyard, filled with fear and anger. Three times he denies even knowing the man being tried and crucified, the man he swore to give his life to defend. Back to today’s Gospel, one wonders whether the charcoal fire at dawn on the beach brought back shameful memories of this denial. Many people interpret this threefold affirmation of his love as a healing of that denial. Healed of his shame, forgiven by the very person he denied, he can go on to live the ministry to which he’s been called.

The original Greek used in this story is even more revealing. It shows us that God is always willing to meet us where we are, understanding our limitations and failings, but always encouraging us to grow in our faith. First, a little background. (Disclaimer: I’ve thus far only dabbled in Greek [my preferred biblical language is Hebrew], so I’m gleaning some of this from what I’ve read elsewhere. Feel free to clarify in the comments.) Biblical Greek has three main words for love: eros, sensuous, physical, sexual love; philia, the love of friends and brothers (think of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love); and agape, a self-sacrificing love that goes beyond emotion or any physical attraction. It was considered the highest form of love and it’s the love we see in the great saints in our tradition.

Now, back to our friends on the seashore. The first two times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” he uses agape and Peter responds with philia. In other words Jesus asks, “Will you give everything for me?” and Peter says, “Sure I’m your friend.” The third time Jesus uses philia as well, recognizing that Peter is still growing in his faith, hope and love. But all three times, he urges Peter to the very work of feeding and tending the flock that will lead him into that greater selfless love that is any Christian’s goal. Service to others is ultimately the manifestation of our love for God and for one another. Jesus knows this. Peter will learn it. So will we.

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Happy Easter! The retail world has moved on to other events and is looking to the next holiday, perhaps the Fourth of July. The chocolate rabbits are long gone and we’re tired of eating hard-boiled eggs. But as a faith community we’re just beginning to unpack the mystery of the resurrection. Like any life-changing event, understanding doesn’t come instantly. And the resurrection changed not only the lives of a few people, but the nature of human reality itself. Death was no longer the end of all existence.

We have the benefit of 2,000 years of reflection and study on this idea and we still struggle to grasp it in our own lives. We come to Easter each year with new experiences and emotions that give us new insight into these events. Our faith is always growing and deepening. And so it was from the very beginning.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel begins in the evening of that first Easter day. Confused, even frightened, by rumors flying through their small group, Jesus’ closest friends and followers are gathered in the upper room where just days before they had celebrated Passover. Like any group of people gathering in the aftermath of a tragedy, they’re consumed with the events that have taken place and the effect those events have had on their emotions. They’re just beginning to grasp the implications of the crucifixion for their own safety. Now word is beginning to spread of the resurrection. “Mary Magdalene says she’s talked to Jesus in the garden.” “I’ve seen where we laid him. He’s not there. I believe he’s been raised.” “I don’t believe it. It’s madness.” Some are sitting quietly in an out of the way corner, caught in emotions of grief tinged with both hope and disbelief, too confused to enter into the conversation.

Then, Jesus is in their midst saying, “Peace be with you.” That’s all. A blessing of deep peace. Three times in the reading he says this. Some things are beyond understanding, beyond figuring out with our rational, problem-solving minds. We know that our emotions can be untrustworthy at times, influenced by so many things. We see in the first appearances after the resurrection that faith transcends both emotions and reason. Faith responds to God’s peace with a simple acknowledgement: “My Lord and my God.”

Throughout the Easter season, readings from the Acts of the Apostles show us the young church at work in the world. Faith is a living, growing thing. We move back and forth between faith and doubt, but we keep doing God’s work in the midst of the questions.

A year ago a friend lost his father suddenly. He was not at all religious even though his parents were very active in their church. As he dealt with the deep grief of losing his father, I felt at a loss for what to say. What do you say to someone who doesn’t believe in God, who has no sense of an afterlife? I couldn’t imagine how much worse the grief must be. As he walked with his mother through her own confusion and grief, he found himself taking her to church on Sundays, seeing the support of the close-knit community, and in this experience he came to a new appreciation of faith and of God. Over time he found a measure of the Easter peace that Jesus offers his friends today. We don’t always understand these things, we just know at a deep level that they’re true.

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