Tag Archives: Incarnation

The Spirit of Truth

Jesus said to his disciples, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But, now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15.

Today is the Feast of the Pentecost, which serves as the terminus of the cycle which marks and celebrates the life of Christ.  Easter has come and gone; Jesus has ascended to the Father. These events have filled the disciples’ hearts with sorrow.  Their Rabbi, their friend, is returning home and leaving them.

In other sense, however, we sometimes refer to as the birthday of the Church.    The Church must now learn to listen for the voice of God within the community of believers inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus describes the Spirit as the Advocate (in Greek, parakletos).  The word parakletos connotes an advocate in a legal proceeding, who comes to the aid of a witness or a cause.  Just so, the Spirit will come to assist the disciples as they bear witness to the message of Jesus.  The term parakletos also connotes a comforter, an assistant and a companion.

Jesus has assured us of the presence of the Advocate, of the immediacy of the Spirit.  He promises that the Spirit will lead us into the truth. The Spirit will direct us through and to faith, a radical trust in the life and message of Jesus. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters refer to this process as theosis, a journey through which our lives become more and more deeply entwined with the life of the Father and the Son.  Remembering the image of Jesus as the vine, through the Spirit the life of the Father and the Son is grafted onto our lives, our history.

The reading today points also to the unity and interdependence of the Trinity.  Jesus teaches that “all that the Father has is mine” and that the Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to us.  Jesus teaches that no member of the Trinity acts independently; similarly we need to learn to live interdependently. Pentecost involves learning to trust God as a companion, and learning to trust each other.

Henri Nouwen once wrote that “education to ministry is an education not to master God but to be mastered by God.”  Pentecost involves listening for the Trinitarian voice within the Church and in the world.  That voice will remain near us and within us.  Jesus promised us that the Spirit of Truth would offer us that sense of comfort, that sense of confidence, that sense of peace.

Pax Spiritus,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

A New Song

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm
has he won for himself the victory.

The LORD has made known his victory;
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

 Sing to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.

 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.

 Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.

 In righteousness shall he judge the world
and the peoples with equity.  Psalm 98.

The Psalm from today’s Lectionary offers us the perfect message as we near the end of the Easter season.  The Psalmist calls for every person, every nation, and all of creation to rise up in a joyful song of being known and loved by the God of Israel. We need “a new song” because God has done something new, something out of our experience.  Even the rivers will clap their hands as God’s judgment will set creation right.

The Sabbath, the day of rest, offers both Jews and Christians the principle occasion for giving praise to God.  Praise is a funny thing; it is not particularly useful and does not accomplish any particular thing.  Praise, therefore, is not a means to an end.  Rather, praise is the end.  We join together to acknowledge God and give Him thanks for no particular reason other than He is God.  And somehow, in that simple act of gratitude, the Psalmist tells us we will find our joy.

One of the reoccurring ideas in this psalm is the Lord’s “victory”, also sometimes translated as “salvation”.  In the original Hebrew, the word is Y’shua or yeshua.  That word is the basis for the name of the old Testament hero Joshua, and is anglicized as “Jesus.”  Viewed through a Christian lens, this psalm speaks of the victory God has won, offering us a wonderful Easter message.

Walter Brueggeman has observed, “In this literature the community of faith has heard and continues to hear the sovereign speech of God, who meets the community in its depths of need and in its heights of celebration. The Psalms draw our entire life under the rule of God, where everything may be submitted to the God of the gospel.”

In the life of Christ, God sang a love song to all of creation, a song through which all creation was made new.  This psalm invites us to share in that song, replying to God’s song with great gladness.  My prayer for all of us is that we join in that new song, in that love song, with happy voices and glad hearts.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Remade in the Likeness of the Son

We were made “in the likeness of God.”  But in course of time that image has become obscured, like a  face on a very old portrait, dimmed with dust and dirt.

When a portrait is spoiled, the only way to  renew it is for the subject to come back to the studio and sit  for the artist all over again. That is why Christ came–to make  it possible for the divine image in man to be recreated. We were  made in God’s likeness; we are remade in the likeness of his  Son.

To bring about this re-creation, Christ still  comes to men and lives among them. In a special way he comes  to his Church, his “body”, to show us what the “image  of God” is really like.

What a responsibility the Church has, to be  Christ’s “body,” showing him to those who are unwilling  or unable to see him in providence, or in creation! Through the  Word of God lived out in the Body of Christ they can come to  the Father, and themselves be made again “in the likeness  of God.”

Last week we celebrated the feast day of St. Athanasius, who lived from around 296 A.D. until 373.  He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria, which was a center of the Christian faith at that time.  He fought against the Arian heresy, which suggested that God the Father created the Son (and thus called into question the co-equality of the Trinity) .

Athanasius defended traditional trinitarian doctrine even when it required him to stand against other powerful bishops and two emperors.  For a good while, he lived in exile, fleeing to seek shelter for a time with the Desert Fathers.  His steadfast devotion to the Trinity despite political and religious opposition led to his nickname Athanasius Contra Mundum (Athanasius Against the World).  The Roman Catholic Church considers him one of the four great Doctors of the Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church regards him as one of the Great Doctors also.

In the quotations above, St. Athanasius reminds us that although we were created in God’s image, that likeness had become marred over time.  (I find this formulation much more sound, and more palatable than Calvin’s notion that we had fallen into “total depravity”.)  He then suggests that the Incarnation of Jesus became necessary because we had strayed so far from God’s original likeness.  God sent his Son, he argues, to restore creation to His original intent.

But Athanasius argues the Incarnation didn’t end two thousand years ago, in fact he teaches that it hasn’t ended yet.  He says, “To bring about this re-creation, Christ still  comes to men and lives among them.”  In prayer, in the eucharist, and in our love for each other, we still encounter the Living Christ.  C.S. Lewis echoed this view when he wrote, “God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”  Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God calls his creation back to Himself.  I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when He talked about His sheep, who know His voice.

Athanasius then recognizes the wonderful and terrible burden on the Church.  As the mystical body of Christ, the Church must make the Incarnate Christ visible to a troubled world.  The Church must reveal Jesus and the Father to those who are “unwilling or unable” to recognize them otherwise.  By drawing everyone to the Father and the Son (through the power of the Spirit), the Church participates in the re-creation of the world.  Heaven help us if we’re not doing that.  Heaven help us indeed.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Not One Letter, Not One Stroke of a Letter

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matt. 5:17-20.

In the Gospel from today’s Daily Office, Jesus emphasizes his continuity with God’s message to His people, a message first announced in the law and the prophets.  That continuity shines forth in the story of the Transfiguration, which St. Matthew records at Matt. 17:1-9 and which the icon above depicts.  As God announces Jesus as his beloved Son, Christ appears flanked by Moses and Elijah.  We might wonder, “Why those two heroes of the Old Testament?”  Moses and Elijah, respectively, represented the Law (given by Moses) and the prophets.  Jesus comes as the full flowering, the conclusion or completion of the law and the prophets.

Rather than encouraging his disciples to abandon Scripture, he asks them to take it seriously. Like many of us today, the Pharisees and scribes had read scripture as calling us into a worthiness competition.  We find the perfect example of that view in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  (Luke 18:9-14; see here).  Jesus completes the law and the prophets by showing us that God’s love and grace has nothing to do with our worthiness.

A legalistic vision of Scripture works externally, requiring people to confirm to rules and to require such conformity from those around them.  Jesus calls us to internalize the Scripture, allowing it to transform our hearts so that we can live more deeply into it.  Legalism mistakes the packaging for the contents.  Thus, he tells his disciples that must go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  The impulse to legalism always calls us into a kind of idolatry, in which we substitute performance of a given set of obligations for a relationship with the living God.

Jesus asks us to move forward from the notion of right action to the idea of a right relationship with God. We find an example of what Jesus means in Matthew 23:23.  There, He notes that the Pharisees “tithe mint, dill, and cummin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”  Jesus doesn’t ask us to reject the Law (the Torah), merely to examine the principles which underlie it.  When our principle objective becomes a relationship with the Almighty that pushes us toward justice and mercy and faith, we will read the Law in the right context.

Jesus brings that Law into its fullness, pointing out how narrowly the people had come to understand God’s purposes.  The problem wasn’t that the scribes and Pharisees overvalued the Law; the problem lay in their underestimation of God’s purposes.  Thus, Jesus taught that the good Samaritan actually lived into loving his neighbor, while a more legalistic or superficial view asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29.  Like many of us today, while the scribes may have known exactly what the words of the law said, they had completely missed what they meant.  They had captured the notion of compliance, but missed the blessing of God’s spirit reshaping their lives.

I pray that we find that blessing today.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

By This We Know Love

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. 1 John 3:16-24.

In an earlier post, I suggested that John’s first epistle (which really looks a lot more like a sermon) offers us an extended love letter.  In this reading from today’s Lectionary, we see a perfect example of that idea.

St. John begins by asking a hard question:  “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”  If we really love God, how can we stand by idly and watch the pain of His children?  Loving God means that we love each other, in truth and in action.  The love of God, if genuine, creates in us a compulsion to do what we can whenever we find His children in pain or in need.

St. John does not so much conceive of love as an emotion; rather, he sees it as an active consequence of our relationship with the resurrected Jesus.  Love isn’t so much something we feel as something into which our relationship with God compels us.  Only in St. John’s writings do we find the language “God is love”, although that notion is woven throughout the entire fabric of Holy Scripture.

I’ve written before about the grace of charity, not simply consisting of philanthropic donations, but as encompassing our love for each other.  St. John argues that our charity constitutes evidence that we living in Christ.  If we chose not to abide in love, we will miss the gift of Easter, and will ultimately abide in death.  Love, as Christ taught us, will demand self-sacrifice.  That sort of love springs only from a vibrant relationship with the Lord, which infects and spreads throughout our relationships with His “little children”.  Trusting in God finds its expression in a life lived out through love of our brothers and sisters.

If the Christian Church is struggling to find its meaning or its relevance today, it need look no further than 1 John.  John teaches us that our task lies not simply in minimizing need in the world, but in actualizing love.  Jesus drew crowds, not because of good showmanship, doctrinal purity or comfortable accommodations with stadium seating.  Rather, Jesus drew crowds because of the immense depth of his compassion.  I’m convinced that the Church will only find its proper role through making God’s love visible in this fragile world.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Touch Me and See

While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”  Luke 24:36b-48.

Today, we encounter the Risen Christ in the Gospel of St. Luke. This passage follows directly after the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  As is true of so many stories of encounters with Jesus after the resurrection, the disciples do not appear to recognize Jesus immediately, and “thought they were seeing a ghost”.  In the Emmaus story, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  Luke 24:16.

We’re left with the impression that there was something about the resurrected Jesus which was contiguous, and yet discontiguous with the man they knew.  While they struggled with the apparent discontinuity, at times this resurrected Jesus seemed quite familiar.  The resurrected Lord could be apprehended, but always escaped both recognition and understanding.  And yet, He bore the marks of his entry into human history; the scars bearing witness to His torture were unmistakable.

Just as the wounded Christ still bears the marks of human history, for the disciples, the trauma of the cross still remained brutally fresh.  He bore the marks of death, but had vacated the tomb.  The resurrected Jesus proved that death itself was nothing but an empty shell which could not separate us from the Source of Life.

Jesus offered to the disciples exactly what he offers to us today.  He told them, “Peace be with you.”  He offered them the peace that comes with knowing their friend still lived, and this wasn’t some ghost.  He showed them that He was “flesh and bone” and he ate some fish with them.  And lots of folks correctly point out that Jesus did this to assure them that he wasn’t simply a spiritual apparition, that He was real.   While that’s certainly true, I think it misses a big part of the story and the import of that broiled fish.

We remember that in the 22nd chapter of Luke, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, asking that we celebrate the Eucharist in His memory.  He told the disciples that he would neither eat nor “drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Luke 22:18.  Thus, when Jesus dines with his disciples on the road to Emmaus and in this passage, He announces the arrival of God’s kingdom.  He calls the disciples as witnesses, not only to His bodily resurrection, but also to the inauguration of the kingdom He spoke about so often while He walked among them.  In the language of an everyday meal, He told them the reign of God had begun, and invited them to share in it.  Thus, he directs them to share the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins to everyone.

Of course, one passage from this reading resonates particularly with me.  Having lived through the bone-chilling barbarity of the crucifixion, the confusion of confronting their resurrected rabbi, Jesus offers a simple prayer for his disciples:  “Peace be with you.”  The disciples surely felt a miasma of emotions:  terror, shame, failure, regret and doubt.  Although escaping comprehension, Jesus offered them a bit of sanctuary within that simple shalom.

Luke describes the disciples thus:  “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….”  I think that description applies to many of us who have had a variety of encounters with Christ, and still wonder.  Even the very faithful are sometimes very fearful.  And yet, Jesus calls such people (people like you and me) to be His witnesses.   I hope and pray that as we touch Him and see, that same peace Jesus offered to His followers arises within each of us.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Abiding in Him

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. John 15:1-11.

In the Gospel reading from today’s Daily Office, we find Jesus talking about His favorite topic: relationships.  I think Jesus cared more deeply about this subject than virtually any other, and perhaps we should, too.  In this remarkable passage, Jesus addresses our relationships with Him, with God the Father, and with each other.  I believe the refrain within this passage provides the key to Jesus’ meaning.  St. John uses the word “abide” eight times, so we should probably understand the sense in which he uses it.

One of the greatest problems we encounter in modernity is that vast number of people who feel adrift, who feel isolated from the world and cut off from anything that offers meaning in their lives.  As Willy Loman observed in Death of a Salesman, “After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.”  Jesus compared such lives to a branch cut away from the vine, which will ultimately wither.  He observed that “the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine”.

All of us sometimes feel cut off from our source, and Jesus offers us the remedy:  “abide in me”, “abide in my love”.    Too often, we try to make our way alone.  We forget that relationships provide the very basis of the spiritual life.  To “abide with” means to participate in a very special sort of relationship.  To abide with Jesus and to abide in His love means that we will make Christ our spiritual home.

As with all relationships, abiding with Jesus involves a reciprocal settlement, a complementary arrangement.  Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”  Thus, we should ask ourselves, “What sort of dwelling place have I prepared for the Lord?”  Jesus calls us not simply to remain with Him, but also to make a home for Him in our lives.  Unless we permit this mutual indwelling of Christ, we will find ourselves spiritually “dying on the vine”.

St. John does not suggest that we admire Jesus as a historical figure from the past, or that we attempt to emulate something that was quite wonderful once. To abide with Christ does not mean that we merely prepare for that day in the future when we might see Him.  Abiding with Jesus means to make our home with Him here and now.  The term implies persevering, remaining true, and lasting steadily.  When we abide with Christ, we will share St. Paul’s conviction “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39.

Abiding connotes that we will remain with Jesus, and He will remain with us.  Like the branches on the vine, our continued existence depends on remaining connected to the Source of our lives.  If we allow the Word to make a home within our lives, we will feel the Divine pulsing and surging across all creation.  At that point, this holy relationship begins to determine how we act and how we love.  Thus, keeping the commandments becomes less like a burden, and more like a presence.  We are thereby grafted onto the tree of life, grafted onto the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I think that’s exactly what St. John had in mind when he wrote about a time when our joy would be complete.

I wish you the joy of God’s presence,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2012 James R. Dennis

What Was From the Beginning

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us– we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  1 John 1-2:2.

Already within a generation or two of Jesus’ life, questions arose within the Christian community about the reality of the experience of Jesus.  Some had begun to question His humanity, others questioned His divinity, and many questioned exactly what this all meant.  In today’s reading from the Lectionary, St. John wrote to address those concerns, writing in the shadow of the Cross.

First, he assured his audience that Jesus was a very real human person.  He writes about the Jesus that was seen “and touched with our hands.”  John’s letter offers a deeply incarnational theology. For this reason, this passage complements the reading from John’s Gospel, which I’ve previously written about (here).  St. John describes Jesus as the “word of life”, and we hear the echoes of the opening of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.”

John writes to assure that community, and us, that the resurrection involved a very tangible, physical reality.  John and the apostles shared in that divine life.    In that remarkable moment, the spiritual world and the physical world collided.  St. John tells us that this union, that fellowship, remains available to us all.

He addresses a couple of false claims that circulated throughout the Christian community at the time.  The first of these was the contention that sin was unimportant.  To this first claim, St. John responded that we cannot claim our share in God’s fellowship if we walk in sin.  Life with Christ, walking with Christ, will require that we walk in the light, and turn away from the darkness.

Secondly, John addresses the notion that of how our relationship with Christ (our fellowship) will change our lives.  Christianity does not inoculate us from sin.  Rather, “walking in the light” will expose our failures and open a path toward the grace of forgiveness.  Thus, St. John notes that we’re fooling ourselves if we deny our sin.  “If we confess our sins,” however, “he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

A number of scriptural passages refer to Jesus’ role as the judge of the world.  John offers a more comforting view of Christ:  that of an advocate.  Advocate may have had legal connotations, suggesting Jesus arguing for us as an attorney might do.  I’m inclined, however, to think of Jesus more as a friend who’s been down this road and has my back.

1 John, perhaps more than any other epistle in the Bible, is a love letter.  St. John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:7-9.

The Easter message  echoes throughout St. John’s letter.  He offers us a vision of Jesus welcoming us home, always ready to forgive, always ready to make a place for us.  We need only ask for it, and God’s mercy will fall down around us like a mighty river.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Whom Are You Looking For?

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

In today’s Gospel reading, Mary, the beloved disciple, and Peter discover that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. St. John opens the story with Mary, walking to the Lord’s burial-place early in the morning before sunrise. We’ve studied John’s gospel well enough and long enough to know that he intends to convey a double meaning when he tells us that she walked to the tomb “while it was still dark”. I’m certain that for Magdalene and the other disciples, this was a terribly dark time.

St. John begins the story with a mystery: the body of Jesus is missing. The disciples first encounter only the physical evidence of what looks like a grave robbing. Someone has rolled the stone away, removed the body of the Christ, and left behind only the burial linens. Mary runs to get the other disciples. Peter and the beloved disciple confirm the absence of Jesus’ body, but none of them yet understands what this might mean. Mary then meets a man she assumes to be gardener, and without understanding it, she has encountered the risen Lord.

I’m struck by Jesus’ question to Mary, “For whom are you looking?” We’ve heard Him ask a similar question before. Jesus asked John the Baptist’s disciples, “What are you looking for?” John 1:38. When the soldiers come to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Him, Jesus asks them, “For whom are you looking?” John 18:4,7. We also recall in John’s Gospel that some Greeks came looking for Jesus. John 12: 20-21. I suspect that this Easter Sunday, our churches will be full of people who are looking for Jesus, even though some of them may not even know it.

Consistent with John’s repeated theme of misunderstandings, Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener. Without knowing it, I believe she is right. I think St. John intentionally calls us back, not just to the garden of Gethsemane, but also to the Garden of Eden. Through his resurrection, Jesus has conquered death and re-made creation. That morning, Mary met Jesus and encountered the fulfilment of God’s directive: “Let there be light.” (Gen. 1:2).

It also strikes me that the tomb wasn’t really empty at all. That tomb was full of the visions and hopes of God’s people: dreams of a better world, dreams that they would be better people, dreams that death would not prevail, and dreams for reconciliation with God.

In a sense, that tomb resembles the stable in the Chronicles of Narnia: it is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The tomb contained God’s dreams for our life with Him. Within that tomb, the disciples will find the revelation that God’s promises were not empty. Those dreams they had weren’t in the tomb any longer; they were walking around and were alive! The shackles of sin and sorrow and death have been broken.

The passage ends with Mary’s affirmation of faith, despite the darkness of the horror on Golgotha: “I have seen the Lord.” I hope that, on this Easter Sunday, you are looking for Jesus. I’m certain that He is looking for you. And I hope that, like that good saint, we can tell the world : “We have seen the Lord.”

Happy Easter! He is risen!

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

All Who Heard It Were Amazed

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

 Glory to God in the highest heaven,
            and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  Luke 2:  8-19.

Reading Luke’s gospel, we find ourselves awe-struck by the events unfolding here:  heaven and earth have intersected, they have collided,  in this desolate, remote little place.  When locating his entry into human history, God chose neither Rome (the headquarters of the world’s superpower) nor Jerusalem (the seat of religious authority).  

This isn’t just an “out-of-the-way” little spot; the manger is decidedly uncomfortable.  The text makes that clear, noting that there was no room at the inn, and they found their place among the animals.  In no small way, the Holy Family’s rejection by the world (“no room at the inn”), foreshadows and points us toward the Cross, where Jesus is again rejected by the world. 

Similarly, the angels announce Jesus’ entry into human history to a meager group of shepherds.  The angels announce this collision of heaven and earth  to those who are poor, anonymous, not especially important or powerful, and probably misfits in the world.  Curiously, God’s makes Himself present first to those who just don’t seem to matter very much to anyone but the Lord of Heaven.

The angels told these shepherds, men camouflaged by their obscurity, that the Messiah, their savior and ours, lay in a manger among the beasts of the earth.  They ran to spread the news, and are still spreading it.  I’m wondering, can we be amazed at these events?  Can we set aside  our malaise and the mortification of the commonplace, and recognize that the birth of the Christ child is happening now, all around us?  I pray we can.

This Christmas day, I wish you the joy and peace of knowing that God is with us, and that Jesus has come to share God’s dreams for this world.  Love is raining down all around us.  And I’d ask that you save a few moments from your joy to pray and care for those who cannot yet feel that love, those who are broken-hearted, or hungry or alone today. 

Emmanuel, my friends,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2011 James R. Dennis