Tag Archives: Year C

16 June 2019: Solemnity of the Trinity

 

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

Trinity: relationship of infinite love

White_gold_banner_sm Unlike other liturgical feasts which celebrate events, Trinity Sunday celebrates a mystery: the mystery of God’s own inner life. The feast’s Lectionary readings trace the human experience of the mystery of God.

History and meaning

Scripture reveals the Trinity indirectly and implicitly. Hebrew scripture shows God reaching out from the Godself to reveal and to redeem, and to create in human hearts a believing response to God’s actions. Christian scripture recounts Jesus revealing God as “Father” (Jn 2:16), himself as “Son” (Jn 14:9), and the “Paraclete” (Jn 14:16) or “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:17) as a guide to all truth. The believing community’s liturgy and rituals make the Trinity explicit (for example, in the sign of the cross, and in sacramental words and actions).

Using scripture as a starting point, patristic writers and theologians constructed Trinitarian dogma. Although first-, second-, and third-century creeds, liturgy, and rituals asserted Christ’s deity and spoke of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Christian writers and apologists struggled to articulate the exact relationship between Jesus and God and to defend Trinitarian ideas to philosophical opponents. Within the ekklesia itself, disagreements about Jesus’ nature led to conflicting views, such as adoptionism and Arianism. In the fourth century, the council of Nicaea (325 AD) addressed Jesus’ nature (Jesus is fully God and fully human) and the relationship between Jesus and God (homoousious, meaning “same substance” or “consubstantial” or “one-in-being”). Later councils expanded the Nicene creed to speak more about the Spirit’s divinity and role. In the fourteenth century John XXII instituted a church-wide feast celebrating the Trinity on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Theologians further our understanding of the Trinity by continuing to explore the mystery.

Readings

The first reading from the book of Proverbs explores divine Wisdom, personified as God’s witness and assistant at creation. In later Christian thought, Wisdom becomes synonymous with the Logos (Word); John’s gospel connects the Logos with Christ. Christians hear this poem as describing the Logos’ (or Christ’s) role in creation. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to highlight divine Wisdom, later understood to be Christ, already present in Hebrew scripture.

The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Rome ekklesia presents a disciple’s experience: God is the source of redemption; Jesus performs the redemptive act; and the disciple experiences redemption through the Spirit’s outpouring into the human heart. Between the time of Jesus’ saving act and his parousia, disciples experience suffering (along with weakness and death) as a result of the present age’s unbelief and persecution. The Spirit is the creative force of the new creation, and has already purified, cleansed, and readied disciples for the new age. Because water is the dominant symbol for cleansing and new life (baptism), Paul describes the Spirit’s action as pouring God’s love into disciples. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to highlight God’s actions of redemption, the redeeming act, and our encounter with God’s love.

In John’s gospel Jesus reveals the true mystery of the Trinity: God’s infinite love. God expresses this infinite love in relationship between the Father, Son, and Paraclete-Spirit.

  • Father and Son. The Father and Son exist in total, self-giving love. The Father gives everything to the Son; the Son gives everything back to the Father in the Son’s complete gift of his life on the cross.
  • Paraclete-Spirit. The Spirit makes the Father’s and Son’s infinite exchange of love known and powerfully real in disciples’ hearts. The Spirit continuously reveals and constantly updates our understanding of God’s once-for-all revelation of love in the Christ event.

The Trinity Sunday readings invite us to consider our own personal experience of the Father, Son, and Spirit, a God who reveals an ever-deepening mystery of God-in-relationship. We encounter God in creation, as suggested by the first reading. We encounter God in Jesus’ redeeming act, as suggested by the second reading. We encounter God in the Spirit’s revelation, as suggested in the gospel. In each case, we experience God who constantly reaches out and invites a response within disciples. Do we take time to meet God in mystery? Do we allow ourselves to be drawn into a relationship of infinite love? Do we reflect God’s infinite love in our human relationships?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 June 2019: Seventh Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 7:55-60
RCL: Acts 16:16-34
  Ps 97:1-2, 6-7, 9   Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
RCL: Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
  Jn 17:20-26

 

Lectionary note: Readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
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 commentary uses the Seventh Sunday of Easter readings.

That all may be one

White_gold_banner_sm As the Easter season closes, the readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings explore Easter themes of transition, anticipation, and oneness.

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles tells the story of Stephen’s stoning. This passage describes the death of Stephen, the believing community’s first martyr. Stephen, a Greek-speaking Jew from outside Palestine, opened the ekklesia‘s mission to the Greek-speaking world. In Stephen’s story, Luke warns the ekklesia to stay alert to the Spirit’s promptings and to adapt to the needs of a new age. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it continues the Ascension’s images and themes.

The second reading from Revelation is the conclusion of John the Seer’s vision. The believing community understands that the Easter experience has more to come: Jesus’ kingship (“standing at God’s right”), inaugurated but hidden, must finally triumph universally (“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!'”). In the Eucharist, the ascended Jesus comes in anticipation of his final coming at the parousia. The ancient liturgy’s refrain “Come, Lord Jesus!” reminds us that the Eucharist itself points toward Jesus’ return. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to close the Easter season and to look forward to Advent, the season that anticipates Jesus’ coming.

John’s gospel is from Jesus’ farewell discourse at the Last Supper. Scripture scholars call this part of the farewell discourse Jesus’ “priestly prayer;” he prays to the Father on behalf of his disciples, present and future. Jesus’ final prayer has two parts:

  • A prayer for oneness that makes God known (v 20-23). Three times in three verses Jesus prays “that they may be one.” He asks the Father that his disciples’ oneness, revealed through the disciples’ words and actions, will make God known to the world. Jesus prays for disciples present with him at the table, and for other believers not present. Through the generations, disciples rightly hear themselves remembered in Jesus’ words “for those who believe in me through their word.” We are part of the continuing presence of those believers who were present at the table, continuing to make God known through our oneness.
  • A wish that all disciples see Jesus’ glory (v 24-26). Jesus desires that his disciples see his glory, revealed through the unity (love) of the Father and Son, which will also make the Father known to the world. The Father’s gift of glory to Jesus, which Jesus gives to his disciples, reaches beyond the ekklesia‘s boundaries into the world to make God known. Jesus loves and glorifies his disciples to lead them into his mission of making God known.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season  allows us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings ask us to think about the unity of all disciples. The ekklesia is more than just a group of like-minded people; the ekklesia is a family headed by God. Keeping a family together requires work: honest conversation, attentive listening, compromise, patience, love. When in conflict, a family may look to a parent or an earlier generation for direction, but continuing family oneness comes only through the current members’ unconditional love for one another. Do our words and action in our community make the Father known? Does Jesus’ gift of glory invite the world to see the Father in our believing community? Do we act on the Spirit’s call to oneness even when it makes us uncomfortable?

—Terence Sherlock

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26 May 2019: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
RCL: Acts 16:9-15
  Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8   Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
RCL: Rev 21:10, 22-22:5
  Jn 14:23-29
RCL: Jn 5:1-9 (alt)

The Spirit in promise and action

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings explore the gift and action of the Paraclete (the Spirit) in the believing community.

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles tells about a pivotal meeting in Jerusalem in 49AD. At this difficult and contentious gathering, apostles, elders, and the believing community decided together that the predominantly Jewish followers of Jesus would allow gentiles into the new ekklesia without requiring gentiles to follow all Jewish laws, including circumcision. The letter to the Jewish and gentile communities acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s role in the decision. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to connect the Spirit’s promised work in the gospel with the Spirit’s active role in Acts.

The second reading from Revelation describes God’s creating a new Jerusalem, a symbol of the ekklesia or believing community. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to show the end of history, when God will dwell directly within the believing community. In contrast, God is present in our time in a particular place, in a particular sacrament, and under a particular physical form (bread and wine). Supported by the Spirit, our words and actions make God’s presence visible in the secular city.

John’s gospel is from Jesus’ farewell discourse at the Last Supper. Jesus’ central concern is the disciples’ life after his resurrection and ascension. Jesus promises those who love him and keep his word two gifts: the Paraclete (John’s name for the Spirit) and a peace the world cannot give.

  • The gift of the Paraclete. The Greek word παράκλητος (pah-rah-KLAY-tohs) literally means “one who is called to another’s side,” and so it is usually translated as “advocate” or “intercessor” or “helper.” In Greek and Roman courts, a paraclete assisted the accused, giving counsel, pleading a person’s cause, or interceding with the judge. In John’s gospel, the Paraclete replaces Jesus’ physical presence in the world after Jesus returns to the Father. Jesus tells the disciples the Paraclete will “teach them all things and recall for them everything” Jesus has said. The Paraclete completes Jesus’ revelation by inspiring the ekklesia to understand and to interpret Jesus’ teaching.
  • The gift of peace. Jesus’ peace is not like the world’s fleeting peace, but is the biblical promise of shalom, a Hebrew word that means “peace” and “well-being” and “everything-is-right.” Jesus’ peace flows from his oneness with the Father. His gift of peace is intimately connected to his gift of the Paraclete, who will be Jesus’ ongoing presence. This peace, inspired and enlightened by the Spirit of Truth, allows the believing community to perform “greater works” than Jesus himself, by continuing to reveal the Father and the Son.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks, allowing us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings ask us to think about the active presence of the Paraclete. Even in the ekklesia‘s most difficult times, the Spirit inspires believing community members to unity and fellowship. Can we see in the needs of others a new way to understand our traditions? Can we allow the Spirit to help us discern the truth of others in disagreements, dissent, and debates? Can we accept Spirit-driven change and remain in peaceful fellowship with all?

—Terence Sherlock

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19 May 2019: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 14:21-27
RCL: Acts 11:1-18
  Ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13   Rev 21:1-5a
RCL: Rev 21:1-6
  Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
RCL: Jn 13:31-35

Our place in history: honor, glory, love

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings explore how we, as disciples, act in honor and with love in the present time.

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles recounts the first mission of Barnabas, John Mark, and Paul to cities in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Returning to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas report to the believing community who commissioned them that their mission to the gentiles was a success. God, always the main character in Luke’s writings, acts through prophetic representatives, such as Barnabas and Paul. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to show how the post-resurrection believing community continued to grow.

The second reading from Revelation describes God’s creating a new heaven and a new earth to replace the world destroyed during the great battle between Christ and the satanic beasts (Rev 19: 11–22: 5). God also creates a new Jerusalem, a symbol of the ekklesia or believing community. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to emphasize Christ’s ultimate victory and the end of history. Jesus’ resurrection began God’s “new things” and our life in the ekklesia anticipates the future new Jerusalem. In our time, God dwells with us in veiled form, in Word and sacraments.

John’s gospel is from Jesus’ farewell discourse at the Last Supper. Jesus’ central concern is the disciples’ life after his resurrection and ascension. Jesus invites his disciples to honor (“glory”) and to love one another:

  • Jesus’ glorification. In Middle East cultures, honor (or “glory”) is a person’s public claim to worth and a public acknowledgement of a person’s claim. Jesus’ claim to worth is his honorable and glorifying life of service and obedience to God’s saving plan, including his transformative death. God publicly acknowledges Jesus’ claim by raising Jesus from the dead. God honors and glorifies Jesus by enthroning Jesus with God and will further honor and glorify Jesus at his parousia (Jesus’ second coming or “return in glory”). Honor reveals who Jesus and God are. In western cultures, and especially the United States, personal power is more important than honor; dishonored and dishonorable people can restore honor through money or litigation.
  • Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus gives his disciples both an example (a sign) of love and a command to love. Jesus’ example is washing his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:5-15), which they must do as Jesus did for them. In his new commandment, Jesus makes the example explicit: that they love one another as Jesus loved them. Jesus’ unique, unconditional love also identifies Jesus’ followers. In Jesus’ absence the disciples are to repeat Jesus’ unconditional love, making Jesus present by their actions. In western cultures, and especially the United States, love is conditional: we decide who is worthy of love, such as the “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor.”

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks, allowing us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. This week’s readings ask us to think about our place and role in God’s unfolding of history. The first reading tells the beginning of the ekklesia‘s history; the second reading tells the end of history. The gospel gives us Jesus’ teaching for how we live in the in-between times. In a culture that doesn’t value honor, how do we live honorably? How do we glorify God? In a culture that rations love, how do we love as Jesus loves?

—Terence Sherlock

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12 May 2019: Fourth Sunday of Easter [Good Shepherd Sunday]

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 13:14, 43-52
RCL: Acts 9:36-43
  Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5   Rev 7:9, 14b-17
RCL: Rev 7:9-17
  Jn 10:27-30
RCL: Jn 10:22-30

Shepherding the sheep

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings talk about shepherds, sheep, and our discipleship.

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles recounts the first mission of Barnabas, John Mark, and Paul to Antioch of Pisidia in Asia Minor. Mission stories in Acts follow a repeating pattern: the apostles preach in a synagogue; some number of Jews and God-fearers believe while others reject the message and create opposition; the apostles then announce they will preach to the gentiles. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Paul’s proclamation fulfills Jesus’ promise that his followers will “hear and know his voice.”

The second reading from Revelation describes the victory of the believing community (“the great multitude … wearing white robes”) over their persecutors. The “time of great distress” or “tribulation” refers to Christian persecution under the emperor Domitian (89-96 AD). The great multitude now worship “the one sitting on the throne” (God) and “the Lamb” (Jesus) perpetually. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to continue the gospel’s shepherding theme: “the Lamb will shepherd them.”

John’s gospel is not from Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10:1-16), but is a summary Jesus provides later, during the feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). Jesus, speaking to a first-century audience, says some things about sheep and shepherds that twenty-first century hearers might miss:

  • Sheep are honorable. Every culture identifies certain animals as symbols that represent or express its worldview. In the ancient and modern Middle east, people seek and value honor. Middle eastern men protect and maintain their honor, even to the point of death. An honorable man suffers death in silence, without complaint. In the ancient world, people saw that sheep behaved this way: when being shorn or prepared for slaughter, sheep remain silent and do not cry out. Middle eastern people naturally equate manly, honorable behavior with sheep; sheep symbolize honor. (For a scriptural example, see Isaiah’s suffering servant songs). Jesus, calling his disciples “sheep,” recognizes their honorable status.
  • Shepherds are honorable protectors and leaders. In Hebrew scripture, shepherds are noble, honorable figures. Ezekiel referred to kings as shepherds of God’s people (Ez 34), and the psalms describe God as a shepherd (Ps 23). When Jesus calls himself a “good shepherd” or “noble shepherd,” he is aligning himself with kings and with God. Just as an honorable Middle-eastern man looks after his friends and family, and just as an honorable shepherd looks after his sheep, Jesus and the Father look after disciples who hear their voice and follow them.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks, allowing us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. The readings for Good Shepherd Sunday ask us to reflect on God’s honor and care for disciples. Despite seemingly insurmountable problems or distress, God promises to shepherd disciples and wipe away every tear. Jesus promises that disciples who hear and follow him cannot be snatched out of the Father’s hand. Where and when do we encounter God’s care for us? How can we act as “honorable” disciples?

—Terence Sherlock

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5 May 2019: Third Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
RCL: Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)
  Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13   Rev 5:11-14   Jn 21:1-19

Do you love me?

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings focus on the believing community’s need for constant turning and returning to God.

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles recounts the disciples’ second appearance before the Sanhedrin. Luke presents another fragment of early Christian kerygmatic teaching (Acts 5:30-32): God raised Jesus from the dead, exalting him as savior; he calls all to metanoia (change of mind/heart) and forgives sins. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to show the continuity between Jesus’ teachings and the disciples’ proclamations. Peter’s metanoia is described in today’s gospel.

The second reading from Revelation describes every creature in the universe praising God and Jesus in the heavenly liturgy. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Jesus, “the lamb who was slain,” is exalted by God, “the one sitting on the throne.” Scripture scholars believe John the seer’s vision is based on a first-century Christian Easter liturgy fragment.

John’s gospel relates another post-resurrection appearance by Jesus. The gospel, from John’s epilogue, tells two stories: the first, about the disciples and a miraculous catch of fish; and the second, about Peter’s renewed discipleship:

  • The disciples’ story. Back in Galilee, the disciples return to fishing. They fish all night and catch nothing. At daybreak, someone on the shore tells them where to drop their nets. Following his suggestion, they catch an immense number of fish. When they return to shore, Jesus feeds them. They recognize Jesus through his sign (catch of fish) and his liturgical gesture (Eucharistic feeding). This story reminds the disciples (and us) that Jesus is present among us when we see and experience sacramental signs.
  • Peter’s metanoia. Jesus prepares breakfast on a “charcoal fire,” recalling the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard (Jn 18:18) at which Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus now invites Peter to restore this broken relationship by asking three times “Do you love me?” When Peter answers, “Yes,” Jesus charges him with sharing in his work of shepherding. For Peter to feed and to shepherd Jesus’ sheep, he must follow Jesus completely, to the point of laying down his life.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks, allowing us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. All discipleship begins with metanoia (a turning away from self and a turning toward God). Peter’s example shows that discipleship requires constant metanoia. Peter rejects Jesus and damages his own discipleship, but Jesus invites Peter to turn back, to repair his broken relationship, and to return to discipleship. Jesus asks: Do you love me? Jesus gives Peter the honor and responsibility of discipleship: service to others. How do we respond to Jesus’ question? How do we accept his infinite love and mercy? How do we live out our discipleship of service?

—Terence Sherlock

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28 April 2019: Second Sunday of Easter [Divine Mercy Sunday]

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 5:12-16
RCL: Acts 5:27-32
  Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-2   Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
RCL: Rev 1:4-8
  Jn 20:19-31

Seeing is not always believing

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings focus on coming to faith in the resurrection.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles places the apostles in public, in the Temple and in the streets. Luke’s opening words drive home his point: “great signs and wonders were being performed through the apostles.” Jesus’ prophetic spirit is working through his disciples, even more powerfully than during Jesus’ own ministry, because Jesus is now exalted to God’s right hand. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it describes life in the believing community shortly after the resurrection.

The second reading from Revelation describes the beginning of John the Seer’s vision. The “distress” (sometimes translated “tribulation”) John experiences is the Christian persecution under the emperor Domitian (89-96 AD). Roman provincials used Patmos as a place of banishment. The “son of man” (Jesus) appears to John, dressed in a “long robe” (a sign of priesthood) and “gold sash” (a sign of kingship). “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says, “I am the one who lives.” This identifies the ‘son of man” as the resurrected Jesus, who has power “over death and the netherworld.” John writes to encourage Christians by emphasizing Jesus’ victory over death. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it emphasizes Jesus’ resurrection as victory over death.

John’s gospel tells two post-resurrection appearance stories. His late first-century believing communities were rapidly losing eyewitnesses to Jesus and his earthly ministry; they were trying to understand and to reinterpret “belief in Jesus” without having physically encountered him. John speaks to struggling disciples:

  • Seeing and believing. In the first story, Jesus appears to the disciples and reveals his wounds. These disciples, eyewitnesses to Jesus’ earthly ministry, don’t know the risen Jesus. They come to faith and rejoice because they recognize continuity between Jesus’ pre-resurrection and post-resurrection words (“Peace to you”) and actions (fulfilling the gift of the Paraclete/Spirit). This story speaks to those in John’s communities who believe because of the testimony of living eyewitnesses.
  • Seeing but not believing. In the second story, the disciples tell Thomas that he should believe because they “have seen the Lord.” Thomas, an eyewitness to Jesus’ earthly ministry, requires more than just the word of others about the resurrection. He wants the risen Jesus to meet his criteria. Jesus invites Thomas to probe his wounds. Thomas comes to faith because he personally encounters a Jesus who knows him. Thomas knows Jesus as Lord (messiah) and God because he recognizes Jesus through his words (“Peace to you”) and actions (inviting Thomas to touch him). This story speaks to those in John’s communities who believe because they experience a deep, personal encounter with the risen Jesus.
  • Not seeing but believing. In the second story, Jesus blesses future disciples who never knew Jesus in his earthly ministry or in his resurrection appearances. This story speaks to the many in John’s communities (and to us) who come to faith because they (and we) encounter the risen Jesus in the believing community though his remembered and written words (scripture), in his remembered actions (sacraments), and in the community’s living witness.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season lasts six weeks, allowing us time to reflect on this cosmos-changing event. For Thomas, seeing is not believing. Only a personal encounter with a Jesus who knows Thomas allows Thomas to see and know the resurrected Jesus. We encounter the resurrected Jesus present in his words (scripture) and actions (sacraments) as well as through the witness of other disciples (historical and living). What are our criteria for belief? Where and how does Jesus personally encounter us and call us to belief?

—Terence Sherlock

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21 April 2019: Mass of Easter day

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Acts 10:34a, 37-43   Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23   Col 3:1-4 or
1 Cor 5:6b-8
RCL: 1 Cor 15: 19-26
  Jn 20:1-9

RCL: Jn 20:1-18

Seeking the resurrected Jesus

White_gold_banner_sm The Easter day readings bring every believer face-to-face with his or her own discipleship: where do I see the resurrected Jesus?

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles recounts Peter’s preaching to the gentile Cornelius and his household. “God raised this man (Jesus) and granted that he be visible to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it contains a very early resurrection formulation of how the disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus.

The Lectionary offers a choice of second readings:

  • The letter to the Colossus ekklesia describes our own share in Jesus’ resurrection. Through baptism we have died and have been raised with Christ, but our resurrection is incomplete; our glory remains “hidden in Christ” until his parousia (second coming).
  • Paul’s letter to the Corinth ekklesia contains the earliest reference we have to the Christian reinterpretation of Passover. Jesus, through his transformative death, is our Passover lamb. Just as in Jewish practice, Passover is followed by the Unleavened Bread feast; in Christian practice, Paul urges his believing community to celebrate its newness with “sincerity and truth.”

John’s Easter story describes not an appearance of Jesus, but his absence. The post-resurrection gospel stories tell us that disciples come to believe in Jesus’ resurrection in different ways:

  • Jesus appears to a group of disciples. Most disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus in a group (Mt 28:8, Lk 24:36-37, Jn 20:19-20), often during a meal (Lk 24:30-31, Jn 21:1-13). Sometimes Jesus uses Hebrew scripture to teach about his death and return to bring the disciples to faith (Lk 24:27, Lk 24:32, Lk 24:44-45).
     
    As disciples, we encounter the living Jesus most often within the ekklesia, that is, within the believing community or “church.” Through the believing community, we meet Jesus in his words (in scripture) and his actions (in Eucharistic meals and other sacraments) and through the daily witness of other disciples.
  • Jesus and a disciple share a personal encounter. A few disciples come to believe in Jesus’ resurrection when they encounter him one-on-one. Jesus calls Mary Magdalen by name (Jn 20:15-17) or invites Thomas to examine his death wounds (Jn 20:24-28).
     
    Some of us meet the living Jesus in a physical or spiritual encounter. We might recognize Jesus in the person of another disciple, or a stranger, or while serving someone in need. We may find Jesus in a moment of transcendence that changes our self-understanding.
  • Jesus is absent. Only one disciple (the beloved disciple in today’s gospel) believes because he sees Jesus’ empty tomb (Jn 20:3-8). All other disciples who see the empty tomb are afraid (Mk 16:8), uncertain (Lk 24:11), or amazed (Lk 24:12), but not believing.
     
    We also may encounter the living Jesus in his absence. We may be called to search for the risen Jesus in people and places where Jesus is hard to see or not found. We may find faith by bringing Jesus’ presence to outcasts or refugees, or to places of war or famine.

The Easter readings invite us, today’s disciples, to examine our belief in Jesus’ resurrection. What do we believe about Jesus? Do we experience the living Jesus in the believing community’s words and actions? Do we recognize the resurrected Jesus in personal experiences? Do we seek Jesus’ presence in absences in our lives? What is our Easter faith made of?

—Terence Sherlock

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14 April 2019: Palm Sunday

Entrance with palms Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Lk 19:28-40   Is 50:4-7
RCL: Is 50:4-9a
  Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24   Phil 2:6-11
RCL: Phil 2:5-11
  Lk 22:14– 23:56

 

Palm Sunday: transformative stories and songs

Red_banner_sm As Lent draws to a close, the Palm Sunday Lectionary readings give the believing community many images to reflect on for Holy Week. Today’s four readings include two songs and two stories.

The two songs are Isaiah’s Suffering Servant song in the first reading, and Paul’s Song of the Christ in the second reading.

  • A Suffering Servant song. Isaiah’s song describes the prophet abused by his people because they reject God’s message to them. Despite their rejection, the prophet remains faithful to God who continues to support him. The Lectionary editors match the Suffering Servant reading to the passion reading to show the role of Jesus’ suffering and death in fulfilling God’s saving plan.
  • Song of the Christ. The Carmen Christi (Latin: “Song of the Christ”) is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Scripture scholars agree that this hymn predates Paul and his ministry, but Paul uses the well-known hymn as a teaching tool. With Paul’s additions, the song gives the full context for Jesus’ transformative death: at his incarnation, Jesus empties himself of divinity and becomes fully human; in his full human obedience, Jesus accomplishes God’s saving work; God raises and exalts Jesus as redeemer and Lord.

The two stories are Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, read during the procession with palms, and Luke’s gospel passion narrative.

  • Jesus enters Jerusalem. With this story, Luke begins Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem before his death and resurrection. Jesus’ entry is a prophecy-in-fulfillment: the colt recalls Zechariah’s prophecy of the savior’s arrival (Zech 9:9); and the disciples’ acclamations of peace and glory echo the angels’ song at Jesus’ birth (Lk 2:14). The peace Jesus brings is the saving act that he will complete in Jerusalem.
  • Jesus completes his prophetic mission. Luke’s passion narrative is a story of a prophet and a martyr (suffering servant) who continues to minister and eo forgive up to the moment of his saving death. Luke’s passion story opens with the Last Supper, which provides the background and context for Jesus’ saving act. Jesus reinterprets the Passover meal, the remembrance of God’s saving act to free the Israelites from Egypt’s slavery, as a Eucharistic meal, remembering God’s new saving act to free all humans from sin’s slavery. Luke then recounts Jesus’ sufferings at the hands of religious and political leaders, and his humiliating walk to this death. Throughout his passion Jesus continues to care for those in need, such as healing the high priest’s servant, comforting the Jerusalem women, and forgiving the good criminal.

Palm Sunday introduces the most important feasts in the liturgical year. The passion narrative, the story of our salvation, is rich and deep, and deserves a full and careful hearing. The Suffering Servant, the prophet of the Exile, meditates on the place of suffering in God’s plan; Jesus, the prophet of salvation, fulfills these meditations as prophecy-in-action. Jesus’ sufferings give meaning to all human suffering. Do we see Jesus’ glory in both his entrance to Jerusalem and his exodus on the cross? Do we hear in the suffering servant’s song and the Carmen Christi our own mission to serve? Does Jesus’ final earthly ministry offer us a transformative view of our own and of all human suffering?

—Terence Sherlock

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7 April 2019: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 43:16-21   Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6   Phil 3:8-14
RCL: Phil 3:4b-14
  Jn 8:1-11
RCL: Jn 12:1-8

Lent: change, change, change

Purple_banner_sm During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, tells parables, forgives, and arrives in Jerusalem. This week’s readings ask us to see the “new thing” God is creating: an invitation to encounter God and to change.

The first reading from Isaiah imagines the Jewish people’s return from exile in Babylon as a new Exodus. The exiles’ return is God’s “new thing;” Isaiah uses images of crossing water and rivers in the wilderness to connect this new Exodus with the first Exodus. For Christian hearers, God’s “new thing” is Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism uses similar “passing through water” imagery when initiating catechumens; Eucharist is the new drink God provides “for the people in the wilderness.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading to highlight the water and baptismal imagery used throughout Lent.

The second reading is from the letter to the Philippi ekklesia. Paul writes to the Philippians to correct some recent visitors’ instructions. These visitors (possibly gnostics) taught that in baptism the Philippians have already achieved resurrection or salvation, and they are already perfected (complete) Christians. Paul restates his teaching about the already and not yet. As a Jew, Paul believed that following the Law made him “righteous.” When he came to know Jesus, he realized that righteousness came only from “faith in Christ.” By conforming to Christ’s life and death, Paul may attain resurrection; he is not yet perfected or complete, but “continues in pursuit of that goal.” Conforming to Christ requires constant change on our part: we’re not there yet.

The gospel reading seems at first to be a conflict story, but turns out to be an invitation to metanoia (change of mind/heart):

  • Conflict and test. While Jesus is teaching in the Temple area, the scribes and Pharisees present a woman caught in adultery. They ask Jesus to judge her according to the Law (Dt 22: 22-24, Lev 20:10). The Torah calls for both the woman and the man guilty of adultery to be executed. But where is the woman’s partner? Jesus recognizes he is being set up. Doodling on the ground, he shows no interest in their trap. When he responds, Jesus affirms the Law (Dt 17: 6-7), which says accusers and witnesses must begin the stoning. Jesus reframes the accuser’s testimony by pointing out their own guilt before God. The accusers withdraw silently. If this were a simple conflict story, the story would end here. But the real point of the story is Jesus’ personal encounter with the woman.
  • Relationship and invitation. When she and Jesus are alone, Jesus now addresses the woman. Her accusers treated her as an object to further a debate about the Law, but Jesus recognizes the woman as a person. His question “Is no one judging against you?” gives her a voice and offers an opening to a relationship. Jesus’ closing words to the woman pinpoint the life-giving nature of their encounter: she must change (metanoia) to avoid a path that leads to death. Jesus forgives but does not condone her sin; he looks forward to the sinner eradicating her sin.

The Lenten Lectionary readings call us to walk with Jesus as he prepares for his transformative death. Today’s readings are about God’s new things and our need to forgive and change. God’s changes in our world are all around us, in opportunities of presence, engagement, and forgiveness. Are we seeking God’s “new things”? Are we conforming ourselves to Christ daily? Do we treat those who have hurt us with loving kindness, and as people to be engaged and forgiven?

—Terence Sherlock

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