Sunday, April 8, 2012

Celebrate the Day: The Feast of Faith

First of all, a little Easter jingle before I proceed to the profound stuff!

There once was a proud young priest
Who lived almost wholly on yeast.
“For,” he said, “it is plain we must all rise again,
And I wanted to get started, at least.
One of the great Fathers of Christian history in the 4th-5th century is St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. The name “Chrysostom” is the Greek Xrysostomos = golden-mouthed, because of his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, much of which was directed toward abuses of authority by Church and political leaders. He’s also known as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs (i.e., significant church leaders), along with SS. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus, and he’s honored by the Orthodox, the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches, and many Anglican, Episcopal and Lutheran provinces. In a homily for the Great Vigil of Easter, John Chrysostom had this to say:
If anyone be devout and a lover of God, enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!
If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord.
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, today receive your just reward...
If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay.
For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first.  He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first;... He both honors the work, and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Imagine yourselves, for a moment, standing among those gathered in the magnificent basilica of Santa Sophia and hearing those words of John Chrysostom for the first time. What joy, what gratitude, what immense reassurance you’d undoubtedly feel!
John Chrysostom could say what he did because he was steeped and grounded in the unshakeable Resurrection message and faith of Scripture, the same message and faith which you and I have been celebrating all this Holy Week and particularly today, the Sunday of the Resurrection, and will continue to celebrate for the next 50 days!
Ironically, if you read the five testimonies or accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection, including Paul and the four Gospel writers, you find that the details of what happened after Jesus was buried are all different. But once we acknowledge that what they finally recorded in writing didn’t appear until 25-60 or so years after the event, we begin to realize that none of them could have known exactly what happened when Jesus was raised from the dead. What they all do report to us is this:
  1. Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.
  2. Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea (whose only mention in Scripture is in this regard) with reverential care. The tomb is sealed with a stone.
  3. Mary of Magdala and several other women came to anoint Jesus’ body the next morning, Sunday, and discovered that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.
  4. After that disciples and friends of Jesus experienced visions and sightings of him as alive and present to them.
  5. Eventually, those visions and sightings ceased.
After centuries of serious reflection on the person, Jesus of Nazareth, and on his teachings and healings, first by his Apostles and disciples, then by succeeding generations of those who came to believe what he proclaimed, you and I have come to realize that faith in Jesus as the Christ, God’s Anointed One, isn’t a matter of the past but of the present. You and I, thanks to our forbears, have come to experience and be in relationship with Jesus who is alive, completely transformed, even though his existence, through human bodily life as you and I experience it now, ceased through his death over 2000 years ago. We’ve come to set our hearts on Jesus, God’s Son, alive and “present to our present” (Donald Spoto, The Hidden Jesus, p. 253.
In an utterly amazing move God broke into human history in the particular life of Jesus of Nazareth. “The Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.” Through Jesus, God became no longer mysterious and aloof from human beings, but completely involved in human nature in every way. Fr. Karl Rahner writes that: “...[Jesus] has transformed the flesh. Ever since that event, mother earth bears nothing but transformed children...[and] his resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection of all flesh.” (The Eternal Year, p. 94) When we encounter Jesus, we encounter God; we become beloved and befriended by God; we’re saved: not just in the past, but right here, right now.
Our faith: the setting of our hearts on, the staking of our very lives on, Jesus begins with the conviction that, at some point, after his death and burial, in a way that we can never know or describe, Jesus was raised up, taken into the very life of God. As man, this man Jesus, with whose being God had already identified Godself, is lifted, “glorified” as we say, so that he is Lord and Messiah of the universe in a timeless “now”. Precisely because Jesus died as a human man and was buried in the earth, he is raised up as the heart of this earthly world, “the divine heart in the innermost heart of the world”. (Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., The Eternal Year, p. 91)
The central message of Easter, of the Resurrection, for you and me goes back to what John Chrysostom said earlier: “...celebrate the Day!...Let all partake of the Feast of Faith!” And how in the world are you and I to do this in the face of what we see taking place in our world today?? Is all this some kind of pious rhetoric, because this is what we do on liturgical feastdays?? Where do we even start in listing the ills and evils which plague us in the today’s world: a 10-year war continuing to claim the lives of innocent people and our fellow-citizens; the wrangling and disunity among, not only the Churches, but even within denominations, as to what Jesus actually taught; grinding global hunger, poverty, and displacement; disastrous neglect, misuse and abuse of the earth’s resources; increasing threats to the economic, political, physical, and psychological stability and wholeness of nations and individuals, including our own; abductions of young children; senseless killings on the streets of our cities and, now, on school campuses; not to even mention the immediate personal tragedies, illnesses, and deaths which you and I experience in our personal lives? 
Perhaps these comments from Fr. Rahner, mentioned above, can give us some perspective:
..Because the waters of grief and guilt still flow on the surface where we stand, we fancy that their source in the depths is not yet dried up. Because evil still carves new marks in the face of the earth, we conclude that in the deepest heart of reality love is dead. But these are only appearances, which we take for the reality of life.
...What we call [Jesus’] only the first surface indication that all reality, behind what we usually call experience...has already changed in the really decisive depth of things. His resurrection is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that God’s fire already burns in the innermost depths of the earth, and that everything shall be brought to a holy glow in his light...Christ...having risen, ...has kept this innermost center in his control, and he continues to preserve it...” (The Eternal Year, p. 92)
...[The Risen Jesus] is in the ineffable yearning of all creatures who, without knowing it, yearn for a share in the transfiguration of his body. He is in the history of the earth...He is in all the tears as hidden joy, and in every death as the life that conquers by seeming to die. He is in the beggar, to whom we give a coin, as the secret rich reward that returns to the giver. He is in the miserable defeats of his servants as the victory that belongs to God alone. He is in our weakness as the strength that dares to let itself seem weak, because it is invincible. He himself is even right in the midst of sin as the mercy of everlasting life that is prepared to be patient to the end. He is present as the mysterious law and the innermost essence of all things -- the law that triumphs and succeeds even when all order seems to be crumbling...he is there. He is the heart of this earthly world and the mysterious seal of its eternal validity.” (The Eternal Year, p. 93)
The fact that you and I have come together today is probably the best indication that we’ve already realized some of this. Because Jesus the Risen Christ is present and active in our daily lives and struggles, especially through one another, you and I have been able to cope and to keep going. It’s only in the Risen One’s bursting forth from the grave of our hearts and rising from the core of our being that you and I dare to have this hope: the genuine hope of unending glory. Even as Mary of Magdala recognized Jesus only when he called her by name, so you and I know the Risen Lord as he calls each of us by name even as we suffer, as we search, as we rejoice, as we pray. He goes before us,and we see him, just as he told us. He LIVES! Alleluia!

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