Saturday, April 30, 2011

Joy in the Crucified (and Risen)

This being the second Sunday of Easter, it is appropriate to say again, happy Easter; happy pinnacle feast of the Christian year; happy victory of life over death. For Christians everywhere, Easter is our definitive statement that love wins, and that God’s mercy has no worthy opponent. Together we profess that hope defeats despair; that Christ’s death and resurrection is the assurance of God’s forgives and reconciliation.

But yet, I doubt. In a world dominated by religions other than Christianity (Islam in the East and Secularism in the West), I ask myself why Jesus Christ, why us, and why me?

So close to the heart of oil rich Alberta, it is hard to identify with the experience of the early church, their dependence on one another for all things monetary, cultural and spiritual. Most of us are pretty self-sufficient -we can look after ourselves.  A community that pools their resources (as the book of Acts says the Apostles do), and promises to protect members from poverty and persecution, as the first Christians did, is a difficult sell these days.  And for me it all begs the question, has Christianity (what Jesus taught) become irrelevant?

Well it just so happens that the gospel of John, written from the experience of believers almost 2000 years ago wrestles with these same questions.  The query, why Jesus Christ, why this, and why me is at the heart of St. Thomas’ want to touch the wounds of a crucified and risen Messiah;  and I emphasis the first part of that, a crucified Messiah.  Because for Jews of the ancient world, those who witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection, doubt persisted.  They doubted not that a Messiah could be raised, but that a Messiah would be crucified.  In other words, they questioned the logic of a God who would stoop to human frailty and be victim to the very world He created.  This is a scandal to the Hebrew people – to many an insult.  But, in this sort of God, a God on fire with love and integrity, Thomas believes. 

Hardly doubt Thomas’s want to touch the wounds of the risen is one believer’s statement that Love, and any Being who claims to love, would indeed give of him/her self fully and completely to the well-being of a beloved. Thomas is confident that a real Messiah would walk the talk, even if, by doing so, Jesus challenges he (a believer) to do the same.

During a winter journey with St. Francis, Brother Leo reflected on the wonderful work the Franciscans were doing and boasted: Is this not perfect joy? Drenched and cold, St. Francis responded: "Brother, if you were to please God by giving the world a great example of holiness and teaching. If you were to perform miracles, chase away demons, heal ills, and raise the dead, this would not be perfect joy."

And "Brother, if you knew all languages, were versed in all science, could
explain all Scripture, had the gift of prophecy and could read hearts, you
would not have perfect joy."   

As they walked, Francis continued: Brother Leo, if you could speak in
tongues, and were acquainted with the qualities of all creatures, and dare
I suggest "O Brother, that if you had the gift of preaching so as to convert
 anyone and everyone to faith in Christ, that would not be perfect joy."

Now after some silence, Brother Leo questioned the saint, he said,
"O.K. Francesco, what is perfect joy?" Francis answered: "If, when
 we arrive at our destination, cold and wet, covered with mud and
hungry; if, we knock and the porter is rude, asks us who we are even
after we have told him, does not believe our story; If he refuses to open
the door, leaves us in the cold and hungry, beats us and drives us away
repeatedly, and, if we can accept such cruelty, trusting that it is God who
causes the porter to speak and behave so, if we can shake the dust from
our feet with patience and charity, note, O Brother, that we have found
 perfect joy.

Then says Francis, brother, listen up. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends is the grace to overcome oneself; to accept willingly out of love, all trial, injury, discomfort and contempt. These and these alone, are gifts to celebrate. In most else, given that such things come from God and not from ourselves, we have no right to boast.

Friends of Christ, there is cause to doubt -at least uncertainty can be owned. I have good reason to ask why Jesus Christ, why us, and why me - the truth can hurt. It was difficult for the first disciples to accept that theirs was a God who walked the talk –It might be difficult for us. But if faith so compels, might we overcome ourselves to discover the integrity of our Messiah’s commitment, the resolve of God’s love and forgiveness. With hope in the crucified and risen, dare all who believe find perfect joy. Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do This in Memory of Me

It is easy to take people for granted.  How often do we realize the value of friendship, love, or even mentorship, after a companion is gone?  How often have I dismissed a person who challenged me, only to later recognize how impactful she or he was on my life?  In this vein, I can only imagine how it was for the disciples after Jesus had died and rose.  How difficult was it for Peter, Judas, or Mary Magdelane, the many men and women who broke bread with Jesus, witnessed his compassion for strangers, his humble dependence on Abba, to finally comprehend his actions and discover their master's true identity – a Christ known only by faith.

Tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, his last supper with those who would ransom, deny and abandon him.  And just as Jesus celebrated with his friends, we too will wash feet.  It’s a simple gesture, and for many of us it is an awkward gesture.  For Christ, it was a humble service done in love; for Peter it was humiliating. 

St. Peter’s reasons for not wanting his feet washed may have been different than yours or mine, but his objection resonates. A positive spin says that Peter knew he was unworthy, but another suggests that he was looking out for none other than number one.  Peter knew that no King who washes feet has any glory to share, that no master who crawls on his knees has accolades to distribute, and a messiah does not wash feet -that’s what slaves do.  As a self-respecting man, Peter knew darn well that he could never benefit from being the right hand, or wing man, so to speak, of a slave.  In end Peter submits but only because Jesus insists, essentially humiliating the apostle.  And perhaps it is fair to say that he knew his unworthiness.  To what degree is another question. 

In the letter to the Corinthians, the Lord’s last supper is recalled by St. Paul and the early Church. According to Scripture scholar James Dunn, Paul understood the Eucharist as two messages –one for the weak and another for the strong.  For the strong, such is "a reminder that feasting together has an objective significance, while for weak Eucharist is the assurance that they indeed belong at God’s banquet."  Weak and strong, wise and foolish, courageous and scared, rich and poor, Peter, Judas, and Mary, Christians are called to celebrate together and to serve one another - to make Christ visible by being ministers of presence to each other and the world. 

The challenge to Jesus’ followers, in the gospel and today, is to do as he does.  We are invited to appreciate his presence, to not take one another for granted, and to depend on strangers, even if we find all of this very humiliating.

In each and every Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of God’s love for us and do consider the many ways to do as he does.  Through faith might we also discover who Christ is, comprehend his actions and acknowledge his simple, yet sometimes humiliating, instructions:  “Do as I have done to you” and “do so in memory of me”.