Sunday, May 18, 2014
"This Is the Way: Walk In It"
In the midst of a personally trying space of time three years ago -- a death in the family; the ongoing terminal illness of my close friend, Fr. Leo Joseph; some family concerns; yes, and even mixed emotions surrounding the announcement of Osama Bin Laden's death -- it was tremendously comforting for me to meditate one morning during that time on texts from the liturgy of the feast of SS. Philip and James. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was Isaiah 30, where he says: "The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him...He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry...your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"
Then, in that feast’s Epistle from St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (4:1-6), the message continued with the comforting words: "...we do not lose heart", immediately going on to speak of "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" found in our hearts in "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
The Gospel reading for that day happened to be the last half of today’s Gospel, John 14, wherein Jesus echoes Paul's theme in Corinthians of “the glory of Christ”, “the image of God”, “the face of Jesus Christ”, by reminding Thomas and Philip how he, Jesus, uniquely images the Father: "If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him...Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?" Jesus tells them that, if they're having difficulty setting their hearts on him, which is one way of describing the meaning of faith, at least "believe me because of the works themselves" because "the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these..." It resonates with the assurance which John gives in his first Letter (1:1-10): "...We declare to you...what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands...we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us...his son Jesus Christ."
Sitting awhile with those Scriptures that day brought me at least a modicum of peace, knowing that in the face of Jesus you and I come to recognize the One who is the bearer for us of God's graciousness, mercy, and wisdom, the One who speaks a loving word behind us: "This is the way; walk in it."
Amazingly, today’s liturgy bears similar reminders for us who have often sung Kathleen Thomerson's hymn, "I want to walk as a child of the light", which urges us to “walk as a child of the light”, to “want to follow Jesus”, to “see the brightness of God”, to “want to look at Jesus”, and to “want to be with Jesus”. St. Luke, in the reading from Acts (7:55-60), says that Stephen, as he faced being stoned to death in witness to his faith, “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” In the Epistle St. Peter (1 Pt 2:2-10) describes us as “chosen”, “royal”, “holy”, “God’s own”, “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…” And in the Gospel (John 14:1-14) Jesus responds to Philip, “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?...I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
However it is that you and I "see", especially in light of all that bothers us, frustrates us, depresses us, particularly the burden of our own personal brokenness, we still find ourselves capable of doing for ourselves and for others "greater works", greater generosity, greater understanding, greater love, than perhaps we ever thought was possible. For the way we’re walking, the truth we’re seeking, and the life for which we’re yearning each and every day all constitute the “narrow path” which, Jesus indicates, his followers must take. It’s the path which evolves in ever deepening stages of awareness and consciousness for us of the wholeness and holiness of life, beginning with the quickening moments, the stirrings of love, the fleeting flashes which you and I experience from time to time: in nature; in our times of intimacy; in solitude; in music, poetry and art; in the experience of birth; in observing children; in helping others; and finally, even in experiencing death, our own or that of another. Every such moment is a revelatory moment, in which God in Christ becomes the gate which was spoken about in last week’s Gospel, his voice awakening you and me to God already within the person that we are; awakening us to see that you and I possess the capacity to live and move and have our being in habitual awareness of God giving Godself away.
Every moment of our existence is the sheer reality of God’s compassionate love. Infinite Love is always in charge, despite all human failure, shortcomings, tragedy, illness, death, and all that is evil around us. Regardless of how things ultimately play out, that Love always has the last word. Through God’s mercy which we receive, “new every morning”, in “the glory of Christ”, “the image of God”, “the face of Jesus”, we see revealed the utter powerlessness and meaninglessness of any of our failures, sufferings, or other negatives in our lives to name or define who we are. “In him there is no darkness at all, the day and the night are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.”
How can we who John 14:1-14 encounter and share in the Eucharist of Christ’s body and blood “the face of Jesus”, “the image of God”, and “the glory of Christ” not go forth renewed, like newborn infants to which St. Peter alludes, longing more and more for his presence in our lives, that we may continue to “grow into salvation”? How can we but be more attuned and sensitive to the Body of Christ in our own environments of family, friends, school. community, parish: becoming ourselves “living stones”, letting ourselves be built into a community of compassionate love and servanthood and mercy, heeding the voice of the Teacher who walks the path with us, the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry...when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"