Monthly Archives: May 2016

29 May 2016: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 14:18-20 Ps 110:1, 2, 3, 4 1 Cor 11:23-26 Lk 9:11b-17

 

Eucharist: our super-abundant banquet in the wilderness

White_gold_banner_smOn the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Lectionary readings invite us to think about the Eucharist, foreshadowed in the Hebrew scripture as a thanksgiving offering and fulfilled in Christian scripture as the kingdom’s banquet and Jesus’ saving act.

The first reading from Genesis introduces the priest-king Melchizedek, who offers a thanksgiving sacrifice for Abraham and asks the blessing of God Most High. Through Psalm 110 (today’s responsorial psalm) and the Letter to the Hebrews, Melchizedek becomes a type or model for Jesus and his Eucharistic sacrifice.

The second reading from Paul letter to the Corinthians (written in 56-57 AD) gives the earliest written account of the institution of Eucharist, predating Mark’s gospel account by fifteen years. Paul’s narrative emphasizes Jesus’ action of self-giving (“take;” “this is my body,” “this is my blood”) and Jesus’ double command to repeat his action (“do this”).

Luke’s gospel reading describes Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish. All four gospels tell this story: Mk 6:30-44; Mt 14:13-21; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-14; all four contain similar verbs: take, bless, break, give. Jesus uses these four verbs in all accounts of the Eucharist. In today’s story, Luke wants us to connect the following:

  • Wilderness: Luke tells us that the crowds and disciples are in a “deserted place.” The Exodus writer uses the same word–ἔρημος (ER-ay-mos)–to describe the Sinai desert. In the desert wilderness God fed Israel with miraculous manna. In the same way Jesus feeds the crowds and us with miraculous bread of the kingdom.
  • Banquet: Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, bread and fish are part of the messianic banquet, the generous meal shared by God with humans during the messianic age. The miraculous wilderness food (Num 11) prefigures the messianic banquet. When the Israelites complain to Moses that they have no bread or fish (meat), God provides them with manna and quail. Jesus signals that he is hosting a special meal, not a simple a picnic, when he tells the crowds to “sit down” or “recline.” Luke uses the word κατακλίνω (kah-tah-KLEE-no), which means “to recline at dinner.”
  • Super-abundance: To emphasize this is a messianic meal, Luke tells us that the crowd ate until they “were satisfied.” The word χορτάζω (khor-TAHd-zo) means “to gorge” or “to supply food in abundance.” Luke also mentions the “leftovers;” the word περισσεύω (peh-ris-SYOO-oh) actually means “the super-abundance.” At the messianic banquet, God provides a super-abundance of food for everyone.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the readings let us see the Eucharist foreshadowed, instituted, and actualized. In the Eucharistic mystery, we continue to find new meanings of wilderness, banquet, and super-abundance. In the Eucharistic sacrament, we encounter God as sacrifice, covenant meal, and life. At every Mass, God shares a banquet with us, made from our bread and wine offering, and returned to us as God’s own super-abundant self. We live with one foot in the wilderness and one foot in the kingdom. For what do we hunger?

—Terence Sherlock

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22 May 2016: Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Prv 8:22-31 Ps 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Rom 5:1-5 Jn 16:12-15

Trinity: Mystery, metaphor, meaning

On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the Lectionary readings reveal the living God as the mystery of salvation: God is love (1 Jn 4:16). Trinitarian language expresses the early believing community’s personal experience of God’s three-fold revelation: utterly transcendent (as creator, king, shepherd, and caretaker of the chosen people), present historically in the person of Jesus, and present in the spirit of their community.

In the first reading, God reveals through the Proverbs writer God’s creative action. Wisdom, personified as God’s craftsman, is present with God before anything exists, and delights as God makes the cosmos, including humans. New Testament writers recognized this personified Wisdom as both the Logos (Jesus, God’s Word) and the Spirit; this Old Testament passage begins to reveal the Trinity.

In the second reading, God reveals through Paul’s letter to the Romans the Trinitarian functions of God: God (the Father) is the source of redemption; Jesus performs the redemptive act; and the Spirit enables us to experience the redemptive act.

In the gospel, God reveals through John’s writings the Trinitarian actions of God: Jesus reveals the Father; and the Spirit makes meaningful Jesus’ revelation to the present and future disciples.

Why do we care about the Trinity? What difference does it make to us in our daily lives? The Trinity is important because this is how God reveals the God-self to us–God’s very nature is three-fold. This is how we experience God. God’s revelation tells us not only about God, but also about us. Trinity leads us into:

  • Mystery: God is not unknowable; God wants us to know who God is. God self-reveals to us moment-by-moment: in creation and salvation, in scripture and liturgy, in the believing community’s faith and works. The Trinity’s mystery means that no matter how many times we experience the saving God in creation, scripture, and community, there is always more to know and to experience. In growing into God’s mystery, we also unravel the mystery of who we are.
  • Metaphor: All talk about God uses limited human words, images, analogies, and metaphors to try to capture and to hold on to an utterly transcendent God. We think that theological terms like hypostasis, person, and procession actually tell us about God’s inner life. At some point all human words and ideas about God fail. Only our experience of God–loving, saving, present–remains. We know God through relationship.
  • Meaning: God-in-relationship gives meaning to human life. In God’s trinity we experience love-that-overflows; we encounter love-that-saves; we see how the believing community should live. The Trinity–transcendent (beyond us), present (with us), and enlivening (in us)–calls us to become fully human.

The Trinity Sunday readings reveal the ever-deepening mystery of God-in-relationship. Do we search for meaning, or have we stopped at metaphor? Whom do we seek?

—Terence Sherlock

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15 May 2016: Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Vigil:  Gn 11:1-9 or
Ex 19:3-8a, 16-20b or
Ez 37:1-14 or
Jl 3:1-5
Ps 104:1-2, 24, 35, 27-28, 29, 30 Rom 8:22-27 Jn 7:37-39
Sunday: Acts 2:1-11 Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or
Rom 8:8-17
Jn 20:19-23 or
Jn 14:15-16, 23b-26

 

Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents two sets of readings for Pentecost Sunday: the Vigil of Pentecost or Pentecost Sunday. This commentary uses the readings for Pentecost Sunday.

 

Creating and sending the believing community

Pentecost marks the end of the Easter season and the readings that examine the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. These final Easter readings give us three different views on how the Spirit abides with the ekklasia and empowers us to continue Jesus’ work.

The first reading from Acts gives us Luke’s version of the Spirit’s coming to the believing community on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Originally a harvest feast, by Jesus’ time Pentecost had acquired a religious meaning as well: the day when God gave the covenant to the Hebrews at Sinai (Ex 19). Luke reinterprets Pentecost as God’s covenant renewal with a new people. Using wind and fire images, Luke connects God’s presence at Sinai with the Spirit’s presence at Pentecost. Through the Spirit’s action, everyone is able to hear the disciples’ message “in his own language.” The Spirit reverses the Tower of Babel’s confusion of language (Gen 11), enabling the disciples to invite everyone (Medes, Parthians, Elamites, …) into God’s kingdom.

The second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians describes the Spirit’s work in the believing community. Paul describes the Spirit’s actions as spiritual gifts, functions, or workings. Some Corinthians thought that a spiritual gift indicated the recipient’s importance. Paul tells them that a gift benefits the whole believing community. All share the same body and Spirit through baptism; baptism removes all cultural and social distinctions. All share in one Body of Christ and the kingdom.

John’s gospel gives us his account of the Spirit’s coming to the believing community on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection. John highlights three actions:

  • Blessing: Jesus’ blessing–“Peace be with you”–brings the disciples into communion with the Father and drives out the disciples’ fear.
  • Sending: Jesus tells the disciples to continue his mission (“As the Father sent me, I send you”). Jesus incorporates the disciples into Jesus’ own saving mission: to free humans from sin’s slavery (Jn 8:34-36).
  • Receiving the Spirit: Just as God breathes life into the first human (Gen 2:7), so Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples, giving them his power over sin. The Spirit unites the disciples to the risen Jesus, and the Spirit’s indwelling gives the disciples a share in the Father’s kingdom. Through the Spirit, Jesus gives the disciples authority to take away sin. Through the Spirit’s power, the ekklasia administers God’s mercy, continuing Jesus’ mission to the world.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season has given us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings have presented stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. This week we celebrate the birth of the ekklasia, our believing community, through the Spirit’s coming. Baptism’s water incorporates us into the ekklasia and we promise to complete Jesus’ mission. Confirmation’s coming of the Spirit strengthens us and gives us the gifts we need to bring Jesus’ message of salvation to the whole world. The Spirit’s coming completed Jesus’ mission. Are we using the Spirit’s gifts to continue Easter’s message?

—Terence Sherlock

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8 May 2016: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Celebration Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Ascension:  Acts 1:1-11  Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9  Eph 1:17-23 or
Heb 9:24-28; 10:19-23
 Lk 24:46-53
7 Sun of Easter:  Acts 7:55-60  Ps 97:1-2, 6-7, 9  Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20  Jn 17:20-26

 

Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents two sets of readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Dioceses that celebrate the Ascension on Thursday use the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Dioceses that celebrate the Ascension on Sunday use the Ascension readings. This reflection uses the Seventh Sunday of Easter readings.

Come, Lord Jesus: the church’s witness to the Father

The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection and ascension. This week’s readings ask us to reflect on the post-ascension ekklasia–the believing community, or the church.

The first reading from Acts recounts the death of Stephen, the believing community’s first martyr. Stephen’s vision of the ascended Jesus, standing at God’s right hand, continues the Ascension Day readings and images. Like Jesus, at his death Stephen asks forgiveness for his executioners and commends his spirit to the Lord. This passage also introduces Saul (Paul), who “stood by giving [his] approval and keeping guard over the cloaks of [Stephen’s] murderers.” Stephen’s death becomes a catalyst for Saul, whom Jesus will call to continue Stephen’s work to build the ekklasia among Greek-speaking Jews and gentiles.

The second reading concludes the book of Revelation. John says “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!'” The Spirit is the Holy Spirit; the bride is the ekklasia (Rev 21:2). John invites the thirsty to “drink living water freely.” This living water is God’s grace, which flows from Christ (Rev 7:17). Finally, John prays “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is the ekklasia‘s ancient thanksgiving prayer, found in the Didache (a Christian writing from mid- to late-first century AD).

Today’s gospel from John concludes Jesus’ testament or farewell discourse with his priestly prayer. In this passage, Jesus prays as intercessor, addressing the Father directly while his disciples listen in. Jesus petitions the Father about his present and future disciples. Jesus asks for these things for his believing community:

  • Unity: Jesus prays for future disciples (that’s us) who come to know Jesus and the Father through the words of his present disciples. Jesus prays for unity of all disciples (“that they may be one”), present and future, with Jesus and the Father as the model of unity.
  •  Glory: As the Father glorified Jesus, so Jesus now glorifies his disciples so that they might be perfect in unity and love. The disciples reveal and glorify the Father and Jesus through the believing community’s unity and love (“love one another as I have loved you”).
  •  Witness: The believing community’s unity and love stands as a prophetic witness to the Father and Jesus (“they know that you sent me”). The ekklasia‘s unity and love invites the unbelieving world to know the Father and Jesus.

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season has given us seven weeks to reflect on this cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings has presented stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. We, present members of the believing community, together with the apostles, Stephen, and all the ekklasia who have gone before us, pray the ancient prayer through the Spirit’s indwelling: Come, Lord Jesus! Our community’s unity witnesses Jesus’ and the Father’s glory to the world of our time and into the ages. Are we showing the unbelieving world that we know the Father?

—Terence Sherlock

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