During the Easter season, we go to Calvary to reinterpret what we saw there. Reinterpretation is at the heart of the Easter mystery. Listen to the 4th century Saint Ephrem the Syrian:
Glory be to you, Lord,
You raised your cross like a bridge to span the jaws of death, that we might go from the land of death to the land of the living.
Glory be to you, Lord,
You took on a human body that every human being might live.
You are alive. Those who killed you sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, and it sprang up and brought forth an abundant harvest of human beings from the dead.
Come, brothers and sisters, let’s offer our love. Pour out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered himself on the cross to enrich us all.
In our Mary Garden here at the monastery, Mary stands with her Son on the stump of a cedar tree. A tree of life stood in the garden at the beginning, the Genesis account says. The Cross of Jesus brought life to the world, a “Faithful Cross” it’s called in an ancient hymn. And it is.
The Easter readings tell us Jesus Christ is the light of the world, who shines in our darkness. Mary comes to the tomb while it’s still dark. The dark of evening comes as the disciples hide in the Upper Room. The disciples fish all night, in the dark, and catch nothing. Then, Light comes.
Listen to Maximus of Turin’s reflections on Jesus Christ, “Light from Light.”
“Yes, we have the light of Christ, but it is a light that shines in darkness. The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall… This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.
And so, my brothers and sisters, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?”
I like sitting on the porch this morning watching the light come in the morning. It always comes, sometimes muted, sometimes bright and clear, but it always comes.
Today, the feast of St. Athanasius, I was thinking of the Word proclaimed by the heavens and the earth.
“When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
Monday: Acts 2:14, Octave of Easter22-23; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15
The weekday readings at Mass for the next 7 weeks of the Easter season come mainly from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of John. Read the introductions and commentaries to these books in the New American Bible, available at the US Bishops’ site. (www.usccb.org )
The Acts of the Apostles, which continues St. Luke’s Gospel, is an important reading in the Easter season because it describes how God’s promise of salvation to Israel was brought to the world under the guidance of the Holy Sprit. Acts describes the beginnings of our church and also offers insight into how our church develops today.
From its Jewish Christian origins in Jerusalem the church gradually incorporated the gentiles, non-Jews, and steadily spread throughout the Roman world, eventually reaching Rome itself. The church today is growing globally. Its early growth described in the Acts of the Apostles can help us understand its growth in our time.
We’re slow, like the apostles, to understand the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand–all of them were. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read in the easter season. And we are slow too.
Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was slow to understand. He speaks forcefully at Pentecost, forty days after the Passover when Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the days before he’s speechless. It took awhile for him and for the others who came up with Jesus from Galilee to learn and be enlightened about this great mystery..
Mark’s accounts of Jesus resurrection appearances, read on the Saturday of Easter week, stresses the unbelief of his disciples. They were not easily persuaded.
It’s the same with us. Each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. Like the disciples, we need time to take it in, and so we have an easter season of forty days.
The disciples also were slow to understand the mission they were to carry out, a mission that was God’s plan, not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it. The fiery winds of Pentecost had to move them to go beyond Jerusalem and Galilee to the ends of the earth.
The Holy Spirit also moves us to a mission beyond our understanding. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)
“You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel. We see things that way too.
Like the others, Peter is slow to understand God’s plan after Jesus is raised from the dead. He doesn’t see why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s completely unexpected. Only gradually does he embrace a mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him; God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.
One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they would experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they find wisdom.
I think I know where this gospel took place– Tabgha, a quiet, wooded area on the Lake of Galilee just south of the ancient town of Capernaum. Easy walking distance from the town that was the center of Jesus’ ministry.
The name Tabgha comes from the seven springs of water flowing into the lake there. When I visited some years ago, flocks of birds were singing in the trees and drinking from the streams of water.
For centuries fishermen must have pulled for fresh water from the springs, and perhaps fry some fish over a fire on the beach. It’s a likely place where Jesus would come to pray. Tradition– two centuries-old churches are on the site–says he met his disciples here after his resurrection.
John’s gospel says that Peter and other disciples of Jesus came to Galilee after the Lord’s death and resurrection and went fishing. Through the night they caught nothing, but at dawn they heard a call from the shore to cast their nets out again.
“… Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.”
They caught of large catch of 153 fish. Jesus then called from the shore to come eat some fish at a fire he had started and he gave them bread and some fish to eat and revealed himself to them.
Peter has a leading role in this story. He jumped into the water to get to the shore. Then after they have eaten, Jesus takes him aside and three times asks the disciple who denied him three times, “Do you love me?” A beautiful statue (above) marks that moment.
Three times the apostle who cursed and swore in the courtyard of the High Priest that he did not even know Jesus answers “Yes, I do. I love you.” And Jesus tells him “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”
A great example of forgiveness . No scolding words or recriminations. No “I told you so.” No warning, “You do that again and …” No demotion, no putting on parole. Rather, Jesus gives Peter new responsibility. “Feed my lambs” as I do. A beautiful picture of God’s mercy.
Instead of punishing him, God calls Peter to new things. The mercy of God always calls us to something new, some new life.
Tabgha, along the Lake of Galilee where Jesus met his disciples, is a wonderful place to visit. I wonder if Jesus prayed here during his days in Capernaum and called his disciples to rest awhile. Here he communed with God his Father; here he prayed and forgave. His memory lingers at this lovely place besides the Sea of Galilee.
Prayer and forgiveness go together Jesus taught. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Today’s gospel tells us to pray and forgive. Maybe someone has hurt us, maybe there’s some situation we’re facing now. A job we don’t like, a home situation we’re angry about, something in society that upsets us.
On this Friday in the Easter season the poetic St. Ephrem the Syrian has this beautiful description of Christ conquering death:
“Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.
” Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.
“Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.
The yearly feast of Easter is a celebration, not of one day, but of fifty days, from Holy Saturday till the feast of Pentecost. We also celebrate Easter each Sunday of the year.
Why this extensive celebration? Because we’re so slow to realize what it means, and need reminding over and over.
Some things — like telling time or tying our shoes — we learn once, but the resurrection of Jesus is a mystery not learned at once. Never grasped completely, it unfolds as life unfolds, day by day.
That’s why Thomas, the apostle, whom we remember on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, is such an important figure. Far from being a lonely skeptic, an isolated dissenter, he represents the slowness of heart and mind, the recurrent skepticism, that affects us all.
Yet, Thomas is still a sign of hope. He reminds us that the Risen Jesus offers, even to the most unconvinced, the power to believe.
the Thomas in us all
needs the wounds in your hands and side,
to call us to believe
you are our Lord and God.
Risen, present everywhere,
bless those who have not seen,
blind with doubts
and weakened faith.
Bless us, Lord,
from your wounded hands and side,
give us faith
to believe in you.
El Tomás Dentro de Todos Nosotros
Juán 20, 19-31, Segundo Domingo de Pascua
La fiesta anual de Pascua florida es una celebración, no de un día, sino de cincuenta días, desde el Sábado Santo hasta la fiesta de Pentecostés. También celebramos el Domingo de Pascua cada domingo del año.
¿Por qué esta extensa celebración? Porque somos tan lentos en realizar lo que significa, y también necesitamos ser recordados una y otra vez.
Algunas cosas – como leer el reloj o amarrarnos los zapatos – las aprendemos una sola vez, pero la resurrección de Jesús es un misterio que no se aprende de una vez. Nunca comprendido completamente, se revela gradualmente mientras la vida se despliega día por día.
Por eso es que Tomás, el apóstol a quien recordamos el Segundo Domingo de Pascua, es una figura tan importante. Lejos de ser un escéptico solitario, un disidente aislado, él representa la lentitud de corazón y mente, el esceptisismo recurrente, que nos afecta a todos.
Sin embargo, Tomás sigue siendo un signo de esperanza. Él nos recuerda que el Jesús Resucitado nos ofrece hasta el menos convencido de nosotros, el poder de creer.
Señor Jesús, el Tomás en todos nosotros
necesita las heridas de tu costado y manos,
llamándonos a creer que eres nuestro Señor y Dios.
Resucitado, presente en todas partes,
bendice a los que no han visto,
ciegos con dudas y fé debilitada.
Bendícenos Señor; a través de tus heridas manos y costado,
danos fé para creer en Tí.