Tag Archives: Resurrection

The Sign of Jonah

The three readings in our lectionary these last days from the Book of Jonah reveal a man who seems unchanged by the amazing things that happened to him. At first Jonah refuses God’s command to call the great city of Nineveh to repentance. He sees no sense to it. Then, thrown overboard by sailors, he’s swallowed up by a whale that deposits him on the beach at Nineveh. 

He finally preaches in the great city and it repents. But here at the end, Jonah’s angry. He doesn’t seem to appreciate what God has done. He’s still a very small-minded, unchanged man, it seems. 

Jesus uses the story of Jonah in the gospel as a sign of the power of the resurrection. The resurrection is God’s power at work. It’s not human power, God’s power is at work. God raises Jesus from the dead, but God also raises up people like Jonah, who don’t altogether grasp God’s plan, they’re not perfect, they’re weak even till the end. 

Pictures of the story of Jonah are common in the Christian catacombs in early Rome, where they’re found over the remains of someone deceased. The whole story is usually there, from Jonah getting thrown off the boat, to being swallowed up by the whale, to Jonah sitting in the shade of the vine.(see above)

The early Christians recognized the wisdom in the stories of the Jewish scriptures much more than we do today, so you wonder if they saw themselves and their loved ones who passed on in the Jonah story. 

Most of the people in the catacombs were ordinary Christians, not all heroic saints. They were conscious of their weak faith as citizens of this great city, but they also recognized the power of Jesus Christ who, in his resurrection, brought life even to those of little faith.

Jonah was their patron saint. 

Reinterpreting the Cross

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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 Resurrection according to Luke

Our gospel reading today and tomorrow is from Luke’s resurrection narrative.(Luke 24,13-35), the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like Matthew, Luke begins with the women at the tomb, but he quickly directs us beyond the tomb to a road where two downcast disciples sunk in disappointment have lost hope. Jesus appears gradually to the two disciples. Slow to see his presence, they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Afterwards, they remember his words on the road that made their hearts burn within them.

In Luke’s account of the Risen Jesus, the two disciples on the road who lose hope are key to understanding the journey of the church the evangelist describes in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. The church is on a journey from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. For the evangelist Rome is the ends of the earth.

But it’s not a triumphant journey the two disciples make, nor is the church’s journey triumphant. It falls and fails along the way. Luke’s narrative is a wonderful corrective to a triumphalist view of the church.

It also reminds us our personal journey of faith is not a triumphal march either. We’re like the two disciples. Yet, Jesus walks with us. He never fails to help us see.

Rembrandt. Disciples on the Way to Emmaus

Resurrection Thinking

On February 11, 2012 the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a highly regarded New Testament scholar, addressed the Conference of Italian bishops on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His theme was “Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” 1 Corinthians.  I found his thoughts on the  resurrection particularly interesting. The theme of the Italian bishops’ conference was “Jesus, our Contemporary.”

He begins with this challenging picture of the Risen Christ.

“ On the one hand, it is precisely because Jesus is risen from the dead that he is alive in a new, unique way; that he is able to be with us as a living presence, which we know in prayer and silence, in reading scripture and in the sacraments, and (not least) in the service of the poor.

“All those things he has promised us, and his promises do not fail. He is, in that sense, truly our contemporary. But at the same time, as our title indicates, in his resurrection Jesus stands over against us. He is different. He is the first fruits; we are the harvest that still awaits. He has gone on ahead while we wait behind.

“What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.

“It’s not enough that Jesus intervenes at the moment of our death. He is the Lord of creation.”

Wright says that our belief in Jesus as Lord of creation has been undermined by the thinking of the Enlightenment, which placed God (if God exists) beyond our world. We are the lords of creation, then. This life and all in it is in our hands to shape and control as we think best.

Our belief in the Risen Christ is influenced by this thinking, Wright believes. The only role we give to the Risen Lord is to save us from death and bring us to heaven. But he is Lord of Creation, present here and now. We must live in him today and continue his work, not in a heavy-handed way, but humbly as Jesus called for in his teaching on the beatitudes.

“This is how Jesus wants to run the world: by calling people to be peacemakers, gentle, lowly, hungry for justice. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks; he sends in the meek, the pure in heart, those who weep for the world’s sorrows and ache for its wrongs. And by the time the power-brokers notice what’s going on, Jesus’ followers have set up schools and hospitals, they have fed the hungry and cared for the orphans and the widows. That’s what the early church was known for, and it’s why they turned the world upside down. In the early centuries the main thing that emperors knew about bishops was that they were always taking the side of the poor. Wouldn’t it be good if it were the same today.”

Easter Monday

Holy Sepulcher

Tomb of Jesus, Jerusalem

Readings here

“God raised him on the third day,” Peter says at Pentecost, “and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10, 37) In simple, concrete ways, eating and drinking with them, Jesus showed he was alive, but it took his disciples time to believe and then time to witness to their belief.

Belief and disbelief occur at his tomb. The tomb of Jesus was empty. (Acts 2,29)  Where is his body, Peter asks in today’s readings as he speaks to the people of Jerusalem?  David’s tomb was nearby and the great king’s remains lie there. Why is Jesus’ tomb  empty?

The tomb of Jesus even then, in Peter’s day, must have been a place pointed out and contrasted with the tomb of David. Later it was destroyed when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, but the tomb still seems to be known and honored as the centuries passed.

Today there’s almost a unanimous agreement by archeologists and historians that it’s found in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, recently restored, but it’s still a sign that’s questioned.

 

Matthew’s gospel, also read today, speaks of stories circulating after Jesus’ death that his body was stolen from the tomb. (Matthew 28, 8-15) For those who believe, though, it was not stolen. “God raised this Jesus, of this we are all witnesses, ” Peter says, a trustworthy witness.

 

The Bread of Life

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All four gospels say that Jesus fed a great crowd near the Sea of Galilee by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s an important miracle.

John’s account (John 6), read at Mass on weekdays from the Friday of the 2nd week of Easter until Saturday of the 3rd week of Easter, indicates the miracle takes place during the feast of Passover. Like the Passover feast, the miracle and the teaching that follows occur over a number of days.

The Passover feast commemorated the Manna God sent from heaven to sustain the Jews on their journey to the promised land. Jesus claims to be the “true bread,” the “living bread” that comes down from heaven.

Jesus is a commanding presence during the miracle and the days that follow in John’s account. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” he asks Philip as crowds come to him. He then directs the crowd to sit down, feeds them with the bread and fish, and says what should be done with the fragments left over. Unlike the other gospel accounts that give the disciples a active role in the miracle John’s account gives them a small role. Philip and the other disciples are tested during the miracle and the teaching that follows it.

As they embark on the Sea of Galilee to return to Capernaum after the miracle, a sudden storm occurs and Jesus’ rebukes the wind and the sea, the forces of nature, so that the disciples reach the other shore. He has divine power.

The crowds to whom Jesus speaks at Capernaum after the miracle are also tested as well as his disciples. They want to make him king after a plentiful meal and only look for a steady hand out instead of “the true bread come down from heaven.” Their faith is limited and imperfect after the miracle. They miss the meaning of the sign.

The disciples also are tested; some walk with him no more.

The miracle of the loaves and the fish remind us that Jesus is Lord and we are people of limited faith. We only see so far. The Risen Lord leads us to the other shore. He is the Bread of Life. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter says to Jesus at the end of John’s account. And so do we.

Friday Thoughts: Simple Awe

Picasso, The Blind Man's Meal, 1903

Picasso, “The Blind Man’s Meal”, (1903)

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The ear that hears, the eye that seesthe Lord has made them both.

—Proverbs 20:12

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It is the simple times. It is when we are doing life one dirty dish, one utility bill, one ordinary errand at a time that deepened faith creates an awe-filled stir.

For much is said of the bells and whistles of supernatural faith—but what is most supernatural is the presence of “all”, of “everything”, of “heaven and earth” in each dirty dish, each electric bill, each trip to the dollar store. What is most supernatural is the acknowledged presence of God in day-to-day life.

The deeper our trust, the more complete our surrender, the less “exciting” the external signs need to be. Or to express it differently: The least “exciting” times become so overwhelmingly profound that bells and whistles are hardly noticed.

We are told that we need an ear that hears and an eye that sees.

But what is it to have them?

Is it being still within God’s presence while the sponge soaks, the envelope seals, the cash register line slowly shortens?

The skeptic may see such a man as confined by complacency, dangerously satisfied, or simply numb. The skeptic may even call such a man “blind”.

That is certainly one way to look at it.

There is another:

Or is it that the mighty awe of a salvaged life has finally taken hold?

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Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

—Luke 10:23-24

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—Howard Hain

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