The Fifth Sunday of Easter at St. Benedict’s Abbey, Snowmass
[Scripture Readings: Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12]
Last Sunday Fr. Theophane welcomed the novice directors to St. Benedict’s Abbey. Today, we want to thank all of you for hosting our meeting. It is wonderful to be here. Over seven hundred years of monastic experience are represented at this Eucharist. We rejoice and are grateful for the gift of our monastic way of life. But even more, we rejoice in the grace of belonging to the Christian community gathered here in thanksgiving for all the blessings God has lavished upon us. We are Christians because the risen Christ dwells within our hearts.
Years ago, a four year old girl heard that Jesus lives in the hearts of those who love him. One day she climbed into her mother’s lap and pressed her ear tightly against her side. Her mother asked, “Honey, what are you doing?” The little child whispered, “I’m listening for Jesus inside you,” and made a sign to be quiet. Enjoying the feeling of closeness, her mother let her listen for awhile, and then asked, “Well, did you hear Jesus within me?” Her little daughter replied, “Yes, I did. It sounds to me like he’s making coffee.”
What a delightful way to image Jesus’ love for us. It is as normal as sharing a cup of coffee with someone close to you. When the great German theologian, Fr. Karl Rahner, spoke about intimate love for Jesus, someone said to him, “That’s all right as long as you don’t become sentimental.” Rahner replied, “You are really dealing with Jesus only when you can hug him.”1 Jesus expressed his desire for intimacy with us in his parting words at the Last Supper: “I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. … Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him”. In the book of Revelation he says, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.” . Imagine being at a meal and having a cup of cappuccino with three divine lovers who want us to be swept up into their intimate romance, a passionate love affair with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The more time we spend with Jesus in our hearts, the more his love and friendship will radiate in the sanctuary lamps of our eyes and faces. His divine indwelling can make our spirits soar, our hearts dance, and our flesh tremble with excitement because heaven is not so much up as in.
Eight years after that little four year old girl heard Jesus making coffee, she, or someone like her, was crossing the street with a friend. An intoxicated driver speeding down the street did not see them until it was too late. Both were killed. Their parents were out of their minds with grief. In the face of such tragedy must they say like holy Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” is this what friendship with God demands?
After the Last Supper when Jesus was faced with the horror of his approaching crucifixion he prayed with great abandonment in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” But when he actually suffered the agony of crucifixion his prayer was very different: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That loud cry is far from the detachment expressed by Job when he said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not evil?”
A common response to suffering throughout centuries of Christianity is abandonment to God’s will modeled on holy Job, or on Jesus during his agony in the garden. Does this mean suffering and death is the Father’s desire for us? What did Jesus teach us about his Father’s love?
At the Last Supper Jesus said, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father”. At other times he said, “He who sees me, sees him who sent me” . “I and the Father are one” . “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” . Every action and word of Jesus reveals the Father. This is so important for understanding the Father.
For example, when we see Jesus praying, “Let this chalice pass from me, yet not as I will but as you will,” he is showing us the Father saying, “If it be possible let this chalice pass from you, yet not as I will but as you will.” When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsake me?” he is revealing the Father crying out, “My Son, my Son, why have you left me?” Or, to use the prophetic words of King David mourning the death of his son, Absalom, we may hear the Father saying, “O my son, Jesus, my son. My son, Jesus. Would I had died instead of you. O Jesus, my son, my son.” There is no difference between Jesus and his Father. To see one is to see the other. Both Jesus and his Father are infinitely grieved by suffering and death which entered the world through sin. Jesus and his Father are not engaged in a struggle with each other. Rather, together, they are struggling against evil and all its consequences.
They have one Spirit, one Heart. When Jesus grieved over the death of the widow’s only son or over the death of Lazarus, the Father grieved with him. When the parents of those two girls who were stuck down by a car wept in deepest agony over the death of their daughters, Jesus and the Father wept with them. The girls died as a consequence of evil, not as a consequence of God wanting them to suffer and die.
Fr. Karl Rahner writes, “Wherever we find the idea of a … God who has to be conciliated by great effort on the part of Jesus, we have an unchristian, but popular notion of redemption that is incorrect.”2 Jesus reveals that the Father does not cause our grief. He shares our grief.
The Dominican theologian, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, explains it this way: “By creating human beings with their own … free will, God voluntarily renounces power. That makes him to a high degree dependent on human beings and thus vulnerable.”3 Suffering, death and evil make God angry, angry enough to die. Abandonment to divine providence means falling into the arms of a compassionate, vulnerable, loving God who weeps with us, who died for us. Our Father’s desire is intimate love, a divine romance, a promise to bring good out of our suffering and death, because in everything God works for good. May our love for him be as comforting, intimate and supportive as having a cup of coffee with our best friend who shares all our joys and sorrows, because Jesus is not so much up, as in.