Second Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31 

Today the church shifts our attention from the object of hope (God’s fidelity shown in the resurrection of Christ) to the ones who hope.

On Palm Sunday, I forgot to give the homily…. In it there was an image of community that I like very much. It is appropriate for the community of disciples in today’s gospel. A community is like the spokes on a wagon wheel. The further members are from the center, the further they are apart; the closer they are to the center, the closer they are together. The center is their savior.

The community of disciples was hiding “for fear of the Jews.” They were at the rim of the wheel. As individual spokes they were probably feeling guilty, confused, and perhaps angry at the others for having done what self did: deserting their master. They were far from each other. They had no center to go to, nothing to hope in.

Then it happened: Jesus appeared at the center, “in their midst”, and said “Peace be with you.” “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” Immediately they had hope. They had a center and they were at the center and they were together. It was His presence that united them and made them a community with a center. Unity at the center makes the wheel go round. I know of no greater manifestation of mercy than the experience of the presence of God.

Still at the rim, though, was Thomas. The others showed him their joy and wanted him to join them at the center. But being at the rim, apart from the others and far from the center, he had worldly criteria he wanted met. Jesus humbly accommodated him. To see the wounds, Thomas had to be in the presence and quickly joined the fellowship of the disciples at the center and spoke for all of them when he exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God!”

Thomas illustrates another point. Even when all spokes are at the center each is separate, it’s own self. Although all seem the same when coated with paint, as we do with monastic habits, underneath the grain varies according to life experience, temperament, and the way Christ’s Spirit touches each. They do not become clones of one another. What unites them is not uniformity or correct behavior, but the center, the presence of Jesus Christ and each one’s love for Him. Knowing and respecting that will keep them gathered at the center. Again, unity at the center makes the wheel go round. 

Each is nuanced by her own personality, but the center develops each one’s character by giving them a common and dominant intention. As Jesus tells Thomas, the intention is founded on belief. An intention is what one cares about; it is put into action by striving. “Striving” is what wheels do. Striving is always forward.

Thus the gospel shows us that the spokes not only go inward and gather around the center, but they are sent out on a mission…Jesus’ mission.  “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” He gives this mission that He died for to a group of men who are clearly not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier of life! One scholar has described them as “twenty-five watts and dimming.” Fortunately they will not do this by their own power. So, He tells them “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He breathers upon them as the Father had breathed upon Adam, and they receive newness of life.

So, what happened to them when they received the Holy Spirit for the purpose of mission? I would say it is the same thing that has happened to me and to every woman in this room.

Dom Bernard Bonowitz described it well in one of your refectory books, Truly Seeking God. “Desire”, he writes, “is only possible as the consequence of experience. We can only desire what we have already tasted in some way.” This desire—what we most care about—burns as something ultimately real and not mere fashion or excitement. It is from the Holy Spirit. It directs striving and directed striving is commonly called “a journey.” A journey has a destination and that destination shapes the kind of person we become. For the apostles in today’s gospel that desire took them to foreign lands and cost them their lives (That is the measure of their hope in the resurrection). For we contemplative monastic’s it costs us the lesser desires of life as we have known it. And though we are sent out at Solemn Profession, we stay close to the center.

So, what happened to the disciples and to each of us is Faith. Faith is the bond of spirit among the spokes at the center. It unites and, (yet again) unity at the center makes the wheel go round. The faith we see today is complete fidelity, complete abandonment of self to God. It is more than any one of us can do alone, when we are at the rim. We either have faith together or we don’t need to be together.

Spokes can end at the rim or they can end at the center. We are shaped by the end we live for.


Second Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31 

A story is told of a rabbi whose disciple asked him about the way to God. The rabbi replied, “There is no ‘way to God’ for God is not other than here and now. The truth you seek is not hidden from you; you are hiding from it.”

The disciples today are indeed hiding. From the perspective of the disciples they have closed and locked the doors of the heart to hide from the One Who said, “I am the truth.” From Jesus’ perspective it is to show His power to enter through such closed doors. Experiencing that power changes a person’s life. It does that because the heart is the core of a person; when it is deeply affected as only this power of Christ can do, one’s whole way of thinking and feeling about the world—and her life in it—is profoundly and permanently affected. The call Jesus gave at the beginning of His mission is fulfilled: “Repent and let the good news affect you!” It has affected them and now they are in need of a resurrection of the heart.

Jesus appears to them as the scapegoat. Scapegoats are invented by restless hearts that seek the peace the world gives by finding someone to blame and eliminating him or her. It is hiding from the truth.John the Evangelist addresses that misguided search for peace.

John mentions three things about the appearance of Christ. First, he tells of the way Christ showed Himself: He stood among them. He stood there as the object of their hearts and yet as the one they had abandoned at Gethsemane. His very presence in the heart gave forgiveness and the forgiveness brought about a love more important than all else and the recognition of a truth that was literally to die for.

Secondly, John mentions the greeting he gave them: “Peace be with you.” It is not the peace that the world gives, the self-generated peace of “us vs. them.” It is the peace that comes from letting our hearts be broken …and then, instead of fixing them, we listen to them. The disciples—and we—learn that the way to find our heart is to return to our most haunting moments, those times when all the things we have kept hidden from ourselves seem on the verge of breaking through our long, laborious avoidance of them. To do this, we have to be alone. Monos; monastic.

But it is precisely when what haunts us presses in on us most intimately that we flee solitude most quickly. It is a kind of death. It is what happens to us when something we have centered our lives on, something most precious to us, is lost. 

To help us face this fear of this kind of death John mentions a third thing about Jesus’ appearance: the way Jesus gave them definite evidence of his real presence. He showed His wounds. He did this because what He means by the word “God” is a being that deserves to be worshipped, and the one thing worship cannot be is half-hearted. Worship has to be extravagant. To love God requires one to spend one’s self completely and without reservation. Given our inherent self-centeredness, to know this in any measure is a gift of Divine Mercy.

Now the effect of his appearance is mentioned: this was the joy in the hearts of the disciples when they saw the Lord. This joy and this complete self-giving is best expressed by the skeptic, Thomas, when he beholds the wounded Jesus and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”

At the resurrection Christ breathed on us and we were given a resurrection of the heart. Now, this is the good news that affects us and that we must spread: Life lasts longer than death!



Second Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Acts 5:12-16, Rev. 1:9-11a, 12=13, 17-19; Jn 20:19-31 ]

“… [E]ven though the disciples had locked the door for fear of the Jews … Jesus came and stood before them.” Imagine that. We are all locked in a room and suddenly someone we all know to be dead is standing there before us. Spontaneously we all cry, “Whoa!” Now, as any Texan knows, “Whoa” is horse for “Stop!” And “stop” is a key idea in today's gospel. “Whoa” is a key experience in what this gospel is telling us about what it is like to be a Christian… on the inside.

The moment the disciples and we encountered the Risen Christ, life-as-usual stopped. And it has not been the same ever since.

We know it is the Risen Christ we encounter because one raised from the dead to NEW life is not merely a resuscitated corpse. Because He was raised to NEW life, Jesus Christ not only was, but He is.

There are two important aspects to this encounter. First, our encounter with Him was like Abraham's encounter with the three men at the oak of Manre. He knew at once, deep within that “It is the Lord!”

“It is the Lord!” The disciples and we knew deep within that what we encountered was a true human and was truly God. Thomas, touching the human wounds, exclaims from deep within, “My Lord and my God!”

This exclamation leads to the second aspect of this encounter: that this appearance as risen was critical to the disciples recognizing His life and His teaching as authoritative for how life is to be lived. It had the authority of GOD. All religions try in some way to “lift the veil on the future” and show the path to be taken. So the Risen Christ is confirmed as the new Moses. The first Moses talked with God familiarly, as with a friend. He was shown the back of God. The new Moses talks with God even more intimately, as a Son, and He has seen the face of God. When He appeared as risen it made clear that everything He had exemplified and that He had taught, He had “taught as one having authority.”

What we encountered was One Who had given Himself entirely FOR the good of others: Pro-existence. He gave Himself entirely for the Father and for those the Father loved. And He commanded His followers to do the same. He had entirely given Himself before He died. He did that as a live human being like any of us… except …

…Except Jesus was born without Original Sin. Unlike us, He was free of self-centeredness. This rattled the cage of our selfishness. Yet, because He was, He is the measure of what humanity was meant to be as the image and likeness of God. And because He is and because He is for, He is the power for us to live this new life of self-donation.

Like the disciples, we know we are not the source of power for self-giving; rather the desire to be self-giving is written on our hearts and gives us the feeling that life could be worthwhile. Thus, the first thing Jesus does when He appears today is to bid us peace, our highest good. This good being given us by God, if we receive it in faith, can give us the security that makes self-seeking and defensiveness unnecessary.

Then He gives the disciples and us a mission. His very presence is experienced as forgiveness of self-seeking. Indeed, the first thing the disciples do upon seeing Him is “rejoice.” The transformation from guilt for abandoning Jesus and “fear-of-the-Jews” to rejoicing is a very significant change from life-as-usual.

And our mission is to pass on that forgiveness. It is here that we experience the joy of Easter: it is the joy of effective love, of freedom from the bondage of self, and the freedom to live for others. Christ gives the power to us through our faith in Him and His resurrection.

In a few minutes this pro-existence will take the form of Christ giving Himself to us entirely in our consumption of bread and wine. This will give us the power to grow in self-giving. We may not be able to love with the extravagance of Jesus Christ, but we find that, as a way of life, it is worthwhile to die trying.

Pro-existence, the joy of living FOR, powered by faith in the Risen Christ is the essence of what it is like to be a Christian… on the inside!