One thing we see out around us is John 3:16. We see it on signs, at sporting events and other places. People seem to use it to remind us of Christ’s presence and his life and death. God gave his only Son so that those who believe might have eternal life. What we must remember, is that in John’s thought eternal life was the age to come, an age begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Of course, no idea of the age to come is possible without the Holy Spirit and his coming as the new age dawned. In this way, we can see that the gospel is meant to reflect the idea of the Trinity. I think we are all acutely aware that we believe in One God, three persons, but explaining it is beyond what is possible for us. It is hard for us to conceive that God is not material and who and what He is will come to light at some future time of our existence. What we do have is an experience of three persons, Father(or a parental being), Son and Holy Spirit. We know the Son at an appointed time entered the world to give his life so that creation could be restored to union with the Trinity. At the end of his time, the Son left(sent) his Spirit to keep alive his Word and to aid and inspire his followers as they proceeded to walk in the new life given by the Son. This is why we always invoke the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Theologians for centuries have written and speculated about God and Theology including the Trinity. Yet Thomas Aquinas after a lifetime of writing and after a mystical experience concluded his work was straw.
Faith is what is needed. We come to know God by faith and experience by opening ourselves to him. Christ physically comes in the Eucharist, but the Spirit abides in us if we permit and helps us form an intimate and positive relationships as we walk the path and the way of the new life given to believers.
We are all part of an age unaccustomed to waiting. We get instant news from the far ends of the earth and can even view it on television. Even a soldier today in Afghanistan can actually call home on the phone or even make a video call. This is far different from families at home in past wars waiting for the mail person with that letter with “free” written instead of a stamp from a loved one in a war zone. Today we get impatient in lines we meet everywhere, always being in a hurry to be someplace. Today our readings are Jesus’ farewell to his disciples and the return to his Father. Remember the Ascension is the very last part of the Easter event of Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and return(Ascension) to His Father. They know they are to go out to the world and preach, but they have many questions and much unbounded enthusiasm. But, what does Jesus tell them? He tells them they must wait for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who will teach them and inform them of their mission and how to carry it out. It is the Spirit who is the Father’s gift to us that enables Christ’s church to continue, to keep alive his Word and work through the centuries. Yet, in all their enthusiasm, Jesus said wait, don’t do anything until the Spirit comes.
For us, I think there is a lesson to consider in what Jesus said in telling them to wait for the Spirit. Often times in our lives, things arise whether a crisis or some other situation or event that we need to pray over and consider. As Jesus told his disciples to wait a few days for his Spirit, it would certainly be good if we allowed time for prayer and the Spirit to help with our decision. The Spirit has been given to the Church and also to each of us to help and enable us to discern and continue to follow Christ in every time and century. The Spirit guides and helps the Church as it marches through the centuries, assisting as humanity itself grows in knowledge and advances hopefully to the age Christ has prepared for his followers. So, we need to live our life in the church with his Spirit, waiting for his return and our own ascension to the Father.
Today’s first and third readings bring up the idea of Resurrection or rising from the dead. In Ezekiel, we see the “Dry Bones” passage maybe best known from the song “dem bones goin’ to rise again”. Ezekiel is not addressing resurrection directly, but is addressing a people captured and enslaved and dragged off to Babylon. The prophet was reminding the people that God had not abandoned them and would restore them and bring them home. From lost hope, God will give them a new life.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus is in no hurry to run to Lazarus’ side when he hears he is sick. Instead he waits three or four days until he travels to Bethany. At this time, he knows Lazarus is dead, yet he knows what he is about to do. In the middle east, Israel included, it is the custom to bury someone immediately after they die, usually before sundown. Obviously, the climate and the lack of embalming and other means of preparation of the body makes this a bit of a necessity. It was a culture, where family and friends prepared the grave and carried the person out and buried them. The reality of death to them was stark and harsh. Even for us today, death is a hard and stark reality even if we in some ways deal with it in a much different manner. With death there is a finality that all people must confront. As Christians we see it in light of Jesus. In John’s gospel, we have seen Jesus raise a little girl, a widow’s son, and today Lazarus. The little girl had just succumbed, the widow’s son was being carried to his grave, and Lazarus was four days in his grave. Here are three instances of the dead coming back to life. Such a happening had reverberations in Jesus time, but surely raises the question of what is death, what happens after death even today in our time. We know Jesus said we will live forever, but what could this mean. It is not something easily answered or even understood, and only truly know by faith.
Faith tells us God is love, and that love embraces and lifts us all up. As we are joined to him in life through his spirit and his love, that union and joining is one that continues through life, passing us through that passage of death into the love-filled life of eternity. The raising of Lazarus was an important act before Jesus’ own death and resurrection to point out his power over life and death. Our lesson is to see that God’s love is always with us and even in sorrow and loss, he is there. Life as well as love itself continues in some way we will only know when we experience it ourselves.
Today, we hear the beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the mount. We must be careful of how we consider the beatitudes. Sometimes people look at them almost as rules or a set of commandments Jesus is giving. Some how they say Jesus is condemning wealth, etc. However, Jesus is expressing how we are blessed to be seeking out God. Just look at the first one, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Those would be those who know and reach out to fill up their lives by coming to know God and what is the real fulfillment in life. Blessedness comes not from worldly fulfillment, but from our inner self, our soul reaching out and being filled up by the love of God. More typically, those seeking God and his love are often times the real poor, the people on the fringes of life and society, the neglected, the humble, the persecuted, the outsider. Those who have found comfort in life and action, have either found God or replaced him with “things”. Those blessed to live a life challenged by love and seeking God in all stages will in one way or another be comforted or find the kingdom of heaven. Living in poverty, seeking meekness, mourning, and the other blessings of the beatitudes are not
rules for living but blessings bestowed to prepare us to hear the good news Jesus will give in his preaching to come. His message is for all, but first a person must be ready in one way or another to be disposed to hear and live the word Jesus speaks. In Jesus time, society was divided in so many ways, it is hard to realize what all those divisions meant in learning the Good News. Jesus spoke mostly to Jews, but there were priests, pharisees, elders, and all kind of people plus Romans, slaves or other visitors from the Roman world. Ultimately, Jesus knew that not all were ready and he would die. He knew that some would hear and believe and his good news would carry on. But the beatitudes remain to remind us of the disposition we need to hear and follow the Word of Jesus.
In the gospel today, Jesus learns John the Baptist has been imprisoned and goes from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee to live. From now on he starts to preach, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” With John in prison and with him soon to be executed, his mission was finished and Jesus began his. But, unlike John, who was the stark figure living in the wilderness and luring crowds out to him, Jesus was in Capernaum and we see he started by looking for some followers, some men like-minded and ready to band together. This was not an unusual thing in that place or time as Mediterranean culture is family and relationship oriented. What stood out most likely was the power and magnetism of Jesus to attract followers. Ultimately, his message and his power and healing made him to become known with crowds coming to see him.
But lets step aside a moment and think, what drew the apostles to him and what kept that bond. It is clear that it was not a one time permanent thing, as we know that along the way they had doubts and failings in their relationship, even to running away and denying knowing Jesus. Even Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit led to complete and total uniformity and agreement among them. With their beliefs, backgrounds, their prejudices, their own relationship with Jesus, they had to learn to get along even when Christ was with them, and most importantly when He was gone. Those who have followed the Apostles have the same flaws and problems as the Apostles had. One thing has kept the church going, and Paul
alludes to it in the second reading. What he says is we belong to Christ. We are not disciples of anyone else, we belong to him. Are we reformers or traditionalists, or conservative or liberal, or in one school or another, and were we baptized into any of them?
Each of us has experienced God as he came into our lives. Our relationship is personal as is any other relationship we have. That relationship with God is centered on Jesus and how we relate to him. We hear his call and message and work to live it out as best we can. Like the Apostles we need to interact and work it out by trial and error. Error yes, because no one is perfect and we all fall short of perfection, some more, some less. The Apostles were not unlike us, although probably less educated than us. They were simple men, but then centered on Jesus. His mercy and love did the rest and will for us also.