Third Sunday of Easter at Mepkin Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19 ]
Jesus said to Matthew, a tax collector, “Follow me.” Immediately, he left everything and followed Jesus. Matthew began by celebrating his love for Christ, by throwing a party, a great feast for Jesus, who ate and drank with him in the company of Matthew’s fellow tax collectors and other sinners. What does it mean for us sinners to follow Jesus today? How can we celebrate our love for Christ? Here are three ways I have learned in the monastery to follow Christ.
The first is service. Fifteen hundred years ago St. Benedict wrote a rule for monks. It is the way of life we vow to live as monks. St. Benedict calls the monastery a school of the Lord’s service. In this school I served many years as librarian, electrician, and finance officer. But Christ was never any of those things, so in what way am I following him? Jesus was not a librarian, but he gives us the Words of life; he was not an electrician but he is the Light of the world; he was not a financial administrator but he offers us Treasure in heaven. Whenever we serve the needs of our sisters and brothers we are following Christ who came not to be served, but to serve.
A second way to follow Jesus is to enter into the mysteries of his life:
Are you tired and weary? Christ who carried the cross invites you to follow him.
Are you angered by injustice? Christ who preached Beatitudes to the persecuted asks you to follow him.
Are you filled with joy and gratitude? Christ transfigured with glory on the holy mountain says, “Follow me.“
Are you unwilling to forgive an insult? Christ slapped and spit upon calls you to follow him.
Are you caught in habits of sin? Christ nailed to the cross says, “Your sins are forgiven, rise up and follow me.“
Are you fearful of martyrdom? Christ who sweat blood asks, “Will you stretch out your hands and follow me?“
Are you approaching the end of life? Christ who ascended into heaven says, “Follow me.“
This is how the Church follows Christ, entering into his mysteries throughout the liturgical year.
A third way to follow Christ is to leave everything. But what does that really mean? The apostles James and John, Simon and Andrew, left everything and followed Christ. Yet, after the Resurrection they still had their boats and fishing nets when Jesus appeared to them on the sandy beaches of sea of Tiberias and asked if they had caught anything. It took awhile before love of Christ led them to walk down the long dusty roads of the Roman Empire proclaiming the good news in far off places.
Matthew got up and left everything when Jesus called him from the custom’s post. But afterwards he still had his large home and could afford to throw a great party in honor of Jesus, and invite all his fellow tax collectors and sinners to the celebration. It was awhile before Matthew wanted to do nothing more than take up his quill and parchments to write a love-story about Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew.
I once left everything to become a monk at the age of 19. Or, so I thought. But I took selfishness with me. To leave everything does not mean primarily physical things. It means to leave my own self-centeredness. It is a Christian-Hebrew way of saying with St. Benedict, “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” To do that I need a divine physician who is able to heal my sinfulness, my selfishness, my self-will, my self-centeredness from the inside out. By baptism, Jesus, the divine physician is already at work within our hearts. And in the Eucharist Jesus gives us his own body and blood, his embodied love, to heal us from within.
Today we have left everything else to be with each other here at this Eucharist. That’s Christ’s love working within our hearts, calling us together to celebrate a great feast, to express the joy of being in love with Christ and one another. “Throughout each year we live in this great collective life of the Church, uniting ourselves with the joys and sorrows experienced by Christ in his compassion for the whole world, joining our feeble prayers with his fervent prayers, our weak voices with his powerful voice. It is sweet to relive our Savior’s life, from his birth to his death and Ascension, to tell him of our faith and love, to adore him in company with others and with those who have adored him throughout the centuries, to be a living cell in the great union of Christ’s Mystical and Eucharistic Body, to follow so many who have gone before us, and to precede so many who will follow after us, offering our love to the infant God, the suffering Christ, and the risen Lord.“1
So, let us follow Christ. First, by serving others generously and continuously with love. Second, by uniting ourselves with Christ in all the mysteries of his life, by a life of interior prayer from the heart and by a life of exterior prayer together, the great work of praise that we offer every day in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Sacraments. And third, by preferring nothing to the love of Christ and his will for us, letting go of our self-centeredness and self-will. Then Jesus will bring us all together to everlasting life when we ascend to meet the Lord.
1. Elisabeth Leseur, My Soul Rejoices: The Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief, Sophia U. Press, 145.