Saturday, May 16, 2015

An Open Mind: Listening to that Unsettling Voice

Reflections: 7th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts  1:15-17, 21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19;

The gospel for Ascension Day is always from Luke (24:44-53) – the prequel to the book of Acts – where (after the appearance on the Emmaus road) the resurrected Jesus again appears among the frightened but excited and joyful disciples, convinces them of his physical reality and then disappears from their sight.
  Before that disappearance he does something to prepare the church for the future which Luke expresses in a very particular way, namely this: “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”

We understand of course that Luke is not being literal here – no craniotomy is involved!  He is however describing one of the most exciting, intoxicating but alarming experiences that human beings can encounter: that point in time (be it of long or short duration) when what might have been an unimagined or barely considered idea takes hold and the way we see the world changes.  A pale reflection of that might be the exhilaration of the academic researcher when a theory evolves that holds the data; or that of the writer, when the narrative form finally holds intractable material; or, greater in scale one imagines, that moment for Galileo when it became clear that the sun did not orbit the earth and the heliocentric way of thinking of the universe collapsed.

Luke records the moment when, for what we imagine would have been the inner circle of Christ’s followers, the world changed: at last the pieces of the puzzle now fit together – the Jewish scriptures and their baffling experience of Jesus and the resurrection are connected.  To see at last what they had never quite seen before is a moment of liberation, exhilaration and empowerment.   All the readings of this Sunday follow from that moment of revolutionary understanding; from this moment the church prepares for the future that the Spirit will bring at Pentecost.

·        1,  Acts tells the story of the first step in preparation: the gap left by Judas must be filled – they need someone who witnessed with them all that happened; and so the lots fall on Matthias and he joins the twelve apostles; these are all to be the primary bearers of the story.  They are the witnesses and they must testify to the truth of what they have seen, touched, experienced and discovered. 

·         2. Our gospel text from John, part of the ‘high priestly prayer’ as we have been accustomed to call it, dispenses with an orderly chronology of events and in a passion narrative anticipates the Ascension and looks toward the church that has yet to come. Christ has given his disciples all that he can give – and they are now to be bearers of ‘The Word’ – and they will bear the word – carry it – to the ends of the earth in themselves; in their lives; in their unity; in their joy.  They will be the extension of the incarnation – bearing Christ in their life together.

·        3.  The fragment from that first epistle of John is all about apostolic testimony to the world-changing reality of Christ.  This barest summation of their testimony condenses everything to a creedal formula: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.   He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life.”

And at that bright textual diamond of John, so densely and brilliantly compounded, condensing a whole world of faith and reflection, we pause.  That summary of the apostolic teaching, of the faith that formed the early church and that was to turn the world upside down, can seem so remote from us.  We are so used to keeping a comfortable distance between ourselves and this voice, this presence, that whispers through the scriptures and so persistently unsettles us … ‘this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life.” 

We relegate this to another proposition among many.  We hesitate to stake all on it: what would our friends think; what would our colleagues in the Staff Club think?  Here, in these weeks after Easter we may be in something like the situation that the poet Auden (in For the Time Being) saw Christians like us after Christmas:
Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

So we hedge our bets, keep our options open, stay moderately uncommitted; we tend to prefer that our ideas stay unchallenged and that the way we have come to understand the world remain similarly settled.   After all, do we really want to “have our minds opened” and see reality differently?  Yet, an echo in our memory, we may still hear “He who has the Son has life.” 

Hold onto those words in your heart: “He who has the Son has life.”  As we turn now into the Eucharist, we are called deeper into union, deeper into the mystery we name as God.

Post a Comment