Archives for category: Easter Season

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 Photo by Community Photography ‘now & then’ at Flickr.com

Mysterious Presence

Since the artist/author of this “painting” crafted it so carefully, let’s look at it closely milking it of its meaning.

One stroke of the artist is the phrase “Jesus showed himself.”  If I visit someone, I don’t say, “I showed myself to my friend.”  We say I went to be with my friend.  So this is the language of a mysterious presence.

A major theme of the painting invites us to identify with the disciples.  They are frustrated in their work.  Pause, and take this in.  Making a living is difficult.  Maintaining a family is difficult.  Building a community of faith is difficult. We can all identify with people working long hours, being tired, and having nothing to show for it.

So the painter wants us to step into the painting by putting ourselves in the boat.  Then Jesus “shows himself” to us.  But notice that even when Jesus “shows himself,” it is hard to determine that it is really Jesus.  (“The disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” John 21:4  And see vs. 12 where they know but don’t know who this is!) So we have a mysterious presence with a mysterious identity.  These are clues the artist is painting into the picture.

This Gospel Crafted Seventy Years Later

Remember that this painting was fashioned somewhere around 70 years after the time of Jesus.  That would be like Jesus dying and rising in 1943 and the gospel being authored today.  The author is using stories that have been told and retold and eventually written in some form over a period of  70 years; and then our creative author injects his own creative genius into process.  The author interprets this story through the prism of his own experience of the church.  How does the mysterious presence of Jesus “made known” to people in the author’s time?  How mysterious is the identity they barely grasp?  One answer is the weekly communal celebration of the Eucharist, for which they have been by now gathering for decades.

Elements of the “Painting” Borrowed from Chapter 6 on the Bread of Life

Pay attention to the over-abundance of fish.  Notice that bread is present.  Notice that their “knowing” that it is Jesus is in the context of his distributing the bread and the fish.  All of this for the careful reader of John takes us back to the 6th Chapter which is devoted to the Bread of Life.  Here we have the superabundance of bread and fish.  Here we have the long explanation of the meaning of the Bread of Life.  And here interestingly tucked into that story we have another moment in a boat where fear, instead of frustration, fills the disciples.  Only the mysterious presence of Jesus on that occasion brings them “to shore” (i.e., to a safe place).

So we are in the painting, Jesus “makes himself know” however mysteriously; we have more difficulty identifying him than we do one another; and symbols of the Eucharist are present.  In other words the evangelist (author/artist) is sharing his experience of the resurrected Jesus, an experience his community has regularly at the Eucharist.

While we know that the early church clearly believed that Jesus rose from the dead, their descriptions of the Risen One’s presence all display an element of mystery.  And—this is my point—the mysterious way that Jesus is present with us at our communal gatherings for the Eucharist is not different from the experience of the early church.  Sometimes our experience of the week, both individually and as a church, leave us feeling frustrated or frightened.  Our time together at the Eucharist is a chance to re-center on the One who brings us to a safe place and a place of abundance. 

One More Detail

There is one more touch of the artist we should notice.  The last time Peter stared at a charcoal fire in John’s telling was the night he claimed he didn’t even know Jesus three times.  Now, in this experience, Peter has the humbling experience of repeating three times that he loves Jesus.  And that too is what the Eucharist is sometimes like for us.  Sometimes we need to re-center our fidelity.  In this mysterious meeting, Jesus says to Peter what he said to Peter at the beginning: “Follow me.”  The Eucharist reminds us every week that we have been called and that we have been sent.

Mysterious doesn’t have to mean “spooky.”  For us it means deep, so deep we can’t really take it all in.

Homily by Frank Krebs
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19 (focus text)

Imagephoto by bricolage.108 on flickr.com

Focus text: John 20:19-31 (Jesus appears in the locked room)

                As I gaze out across the group gathered here this evening I can only imagine what you all are thinking about at this moment.  It may be something about the readings, it may be about something you forgot to do today or it may be a concern about tomorrow.  If you are a visitor, you may be thinking about what you got yourself into!  I bet, however, nobody is sitting there thinking about their breathing. But tonight I need you to think about your breathing for a few moments.  So let’s take 2or 3 deep breaths and focus on how it feels.  That’s it.  Well done!

                Tonight we find the disciples fearful and in a locked room. Jesus comes to them and gives them the Spirit by breathing on them.  By doing so Jesus adds more pavement to a highway of revelation on the breath of God going back to creation.  Tonight we explore the tradition of God’s breath to see if this highway intersects in any way with our own story.  Perhaps in doing so we can rediscover the role our own breath plays in our awareness of God.

Waiting To Exhale

                The metaphor of “breath” begins in the first pages of the Bible.  God sent a wind to dry the earth which the Psalms describe as God’s breath.  God then breathed “life into Adam’s nostrils.”  When Israel was at a dark hour, Ezekiel offered a vision that God breathed new life into a valley of dried up bones and there was a great noise as the bones rattled together and came to life.  Jesus comes to us from the breath of God as God’s Word.  (John 1:1).  Could it be any clearer that God is as close to us as our very breath?

                Even if we did not know all these references in Scripture, our experience would tell us our breath is a doorway to God.  Henri Nouwen was fond of saying we experience God like we experience our breath – we do nothing to create it and we do not control it.  The vast majority of the time we are not conscious of our breath and most of the time we are not conscious of God.  We, unfortunately, often only find our breath when something disrupts it, and we likewise find God more palpable when our lives are disrupted in some way.

                So, it makes total sense that if we can become conscious of our breath, we will become more conscious of God.  We find the present when we find our breath and the present is where God is.  Our breath is a doorway to prayer.  Mystics are constantly telling us it is very difficult to pray when our minds are travelling to the past or the future (recall how many spiritual books have the word NOW in the title).  Conscious breathing is a doorway to now, to where God’s breath is.

                It gets better – the inhale and the exhale of breathing mirrors the filling and emptying required in the spiritual journey.  “Waiting to Exhale” is the name of a popular movie, but it is often what we do in the spiritual life.  We hang on to stale beliefs and concepts about ourselves and God and create no space for God’s breath.  We hang onto hurts and worries.  Thomas in our gospel does the opposite- he is an example of a great Exhaler.  He gets only a few lines in the gospel, but each is a great exhale.  He does not hang on to stuff.  (“Come let us go die with Him…”; “How will we know the way?”; “I will not believe until I put my hand in His side…..”).  Because Thomas emptied himself, he could be filled with God’s breath and he was given the honor of the Mount Everest exhale in the whole gospel when he declared to Jesus “My Lord and my God!.”

Breathing Under Water

                So, if God is as close to us as our very breath, why doesn’t our experience of God reflect this more often?  I am grateful for Richard Rohr’s recent book entitled “Breathing Under Water – Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.”  He points out that so often our life experience is like trying to breathe under water as there are so many things in life that work to suck the spiritual oxygen out of the room.  In addition to the addictions, compulsions and wounds of our own particular history, there are waves of false messages washing over us every day: we are constantly told there is a treatment for every pain, technology for every problem, that having more of everything faster is the goal and violence is appropriate to preserve all this.  Our wounds and cultural messaging can put our spiritual journey under water.

                Richard takes us through each of the 12 steps as breathing exercises for anyone on the spiritual journey.  He argues that through these exercises we can learn to name the addictive aspects in ourselves and the culture, detach from them, build a coral castle with air pockets and learn to breathe under water.  Several of the exercises involve the support and engagement with others and that is certainly my experience here.  This is a place to learn to exhale, to breathe.

                The disciples in our text today were holding their breath underwater – fearful behind locked doors.  Jesus came to them and helped them breathe.  That is the faith we proclaim: we are not alone and God is as close to us as our next breath.  Let’s breathe.

Amen

George von Stamwitz
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Second Sunday of Easter
Saturday Evening, April 6, 2013