Second Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
The stillness of night was broken by loud knocking on a neighbor’s door. Ludwig van Beethoven was trying to sleep, but the repeated, unrelenting insistence of that knocking, stirred his imagination. In his mind that knocking became the most famous musical phrase in symphony history, three quick notes followed by a fourth long one, da-da-da dumm. (It sounds much better when played by violins and trombones!) They are repeated many time in the Fifth Symphony, a persistent knocking announcing a great conflict between good and evil. The first movement of the symphony, so urgent and tense in the face of the enemy, is followed in the second movement by a resolute march of resistance in step with the beating of the four notes. Tension builds in the third movement until it finally explodes in an outburst of triumph, an emotional, joyful ecstasy.
During World War Two these four opening notes of Beethoven’s symphony that equal the letter V in Morse code, became a symbol for “Victory in Europe.” The Allies used Germany’s most famous symphony to galvanize their efforts to defeat the Axis war machine. Even more than World War Two, the Fifth Symphony could be called the history of salvation in music, dramatizing the whole conflict between good and evil from our earliest parents to our last descendants. Every year the liturgy comes knocking on our doors today to enter the struggle, to be saved or to be lost.
It happened one night to a young boy named Samuel. Three times he heard a call, waking him from a restless sleep. The fourth time he said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” A new movement in the history of salvation was beginning, the time of prophets. Samuel became the Lord’s voice, to raise up and to tear down. But the people wanted a monarchy, not the Lord, to protect them from enemies. So, the Lord said to Samuel, “They have not rejected you, they have rejected me from being king over them,” (1 Sam 8:7). In the music of the Fifth Symphony this is a tense moment. Evil is powerful. Will it prevail? What will the Lord do now?
Every year at the beginning of Ordinary Time, the liturgy turns to the Gospel of John to show us the Lord pitching his tent among us; not a tent of fabric as in the days of Samuel, but of flesh and blood; not to speak to us through another, but with his own mouth. The Lord who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve at twilight enjoying the cool evening breeze, once again walks among us looking so ordinary that we needed John the Baptist to point him out. Right here, today, John the Baptist comes knocking on our doors, crying out, “Look! Behold the Lamb of God.” In a culture where lambs were slaughtered daily in the Temple, those words foretold the painful sacrifice God would make to overcome evil, not by the blood of lambs and bulls, but by the blood of his Son.
Two disciples of the Baptist follow Jesus. Unknowingly, they walk with God. In God’s great symphony, the march against evil has begun. The Gospel tells us it was about the tenth hour, the approach of evening, the same hour when God walked with Adam and Eve. Jesus turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” Who are you seeking? Why are you here? That question about our motivation is of the greatest importance in the struggle between good and evil. Are we truly seeking God or ourselves?
The disciples respond by asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” On the surface, it’s the question of students asking a Rabbi where he lives so they might learn from him. But the Gospel of John is uncovering deeper mysteries. God is walking with his people again. Not as he did during the Exodus in a cloud by day and fire by night, nor as he did in the time of Samuel and the Prophets who were his voice, but as he did with Adam and Eve. So, when the disciples ask, “Where do you abide,” they are touching on the mystery of the Trinity, where the Word is with God, dwelling in the bosom of the Father.
Jesus replies, “Come and see.” In this ordinary event, Jesus reveals our Christian vocation: we are called to see God. Come to the Beatific Vision of God in infinite glory. “They came and they saw, … and they remained with him…” Right here, at the beginning of Ordinary Time, the liturgy—by which we participate in Christ’s life—shows us the gift that is at stake in this conflict between good and evil. Christ comes knocking on our doors, calling us to march with him throughout life until we reach the final, rapturous outcome of God’s great symphony, his total triumph over all that is evil that we celebrate on the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It’s all here, and it’s all yet to come. What will heaven be like? This King who knocks on our door, with whom we walk, makes us his spouse so that we may become fully human and fully divine. And it begins now with God’s kiss in holy communion.