Sunday, April 8, 2018

Easter Two Year B 2018

Fr. Dale Matson

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Bighorn Ewe With New Lamb Near Bishop CA

Who Is This Jesus?

     Today we celebrate the continuing feast of Easter which lasts for fifty days from Holy Saturday to the feast of Pentecost. Additionally, we celebrate Easter each Sunday of the year.  Why do we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection so extensively?  Because we are so slow to realize what it means.  We need reminding over and over again. The bodily resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ is the central feature of the Christian faith and also distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. In Christ we have hope that we too will be raised from the dead to eternal life. In Christ we already are assured of eternal life as we live out our present life.
     This is the very first year, however that I really connected the resurrection of Jesus to the annual cycle of life around us. Last year I was too weak to attend Easter Vigil but this year I again sang the Exultet at Easter Vigil. This wonderful ancient hymn was God renewing a right spirit within me too. This week I had my first sighting of a Robin, which I located by the Robin’s distinctly cheerful voice. There is the fresh smell of Jasmine in the air reminding me of my first trip to Fresno to interview for a job at Fresno Pacific University 26 years ago. Spring is a hopeful time. I photographed a newborn bighorn lamb walking on unsteady legs behind the Ewe and eagle eggs in a nest. Sharon and I photographed two Great Horned Owl chicks in a nest watched over by their mother from a branch above the nest. God is reminding me in so many ways that as Christ rose from the grave, our world is coming back to life also. The foothills are green and Millerton Lake is filling with water from the San Joaquin River. Praise God!     
     Our Gospel reading is from John. The Gospel of St. John is my favorite, and important in forming my “Christology”, that is, my understanding of who Jesus really is.  This is because John’s Gospel speaks to the deity of Christ.  While Matthew generally deals with “Christ the King”, Mark deals with “Christ the Servant” and Luke deals with “Christ the Man”.
As I read St. John’s post resurrection account of Jesus appearing to the disciples again the humanity of the apostles is very evident. Even though the disciples were familiar with Hebrew Prophesy, even though Jesus had told them what would take place, even though they had seen the empty tomb and even after Mary Magdalene had reported seeing and talking to Jesus, the disciples were still gathering behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. The fact that Jesus could walk through a locked door probably frightened them but they should have realized that Jesus had already walked out of His tomb before the huge stone that covered the doorway was rolled away. Then Jesus appeared to them in the room. Jesus told them to be at peace. St. Luke notes in his account that the disciples were terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost.  Jesus showed them His wounds and breathed the Holy Spirit on them.  This is both a looking back to when God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam and a looking forward toward Pentecost. After breathing on them He commissioned them as he had commissioned Peter following Peter’s confession.  Yet even after all of this, where are they one week later? They were still meeting behind locked doors.  Jesus did not bother to knock on either occasion because He knew they would be too afraid to answer the door.  So, He simply walked through the door on both occasions.  The disciples still didn’t get their game face on until the day of Pentecost.  It seems like it takes a mission and a repeated push from God the Holy Spirit to get all of us going.
Much is said of Peter’s confession in Matthew (16:16) “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”. In Matthew, Jesus commends Peter for his confession and claims that his understanding came not as a revelation of flesh and blood but as a spiritual revelation from God the Father.  Because of this, Jesus commissioned him and offered him the keys to the kingdom based on his confession.  In John’s Gospel Thomas states, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my fingers in the mark of the nail, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  In the case of Thomas, flesh and blood did reveal who Christ really was.  The response of Thomas commands our attention.  After seeing and touching the wounds of Christ, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God”. Christ’s divinity was revealed to Thomas by his humanity. Christ is not only the way of salvation, He is not only our salvation, He is our God.
 If Christ is our God then what kind of Gospel is being preached when some say today that there are other paths to God than Jesus? Doesn’t this diminish who Christ really is?  This also must grieve the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Christ as God the Son.  2,000 years of church history also bears witness to this reality. 
We refer to Mary as “Mother of God”.  We reflect on Jesus Christ as both man and God when we recite the Nicene Creed every week.  The response from Christ to Thomas finishes with, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That statement is also addressed to us.
The big question for many is not whether God exists or not. For me the big question was, “Is Jesus God or not?  For me making the connection was absolutely crucial.  I could fear but I could not love God if God was not Jesus the Christ.  If one has only a fear relationship with God, it will always be a relationship of appeasement.  Our last verse from today’s Psalm (Psalm 111, verse 10) states that the fear of the Lord is [only] the beginning of Wisdom. I could love a God who was like Jesus for He never refused help to those who asked.  I could love but I could not trust a Jesus who was not also God.  What was the starting point for me?  I wanted to believe that Jesus was God. The Holy Spirit was now free to bring me to belief.  The Holy Spirit did this through the Gospel of Saint John and presented Jesus Christ as my Savior, Lord and God! 
     Today’s readings and Gospel message deal with the person and finished work of Christ, the ongoing work of the church in proclaiming this. It is also about this only being made possible by empowerment from the Holy Spirit. Why then are we behind locked doors ourselves? Why, when the opportunity arises do we not say, “Yes, I know this Jesus. Let me tell you about Him.” Christ continues to offer Himself both for us and to us, yet our fears continue to keep us behind locked doors.  What are we waiting for?  Rev. 3:20. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." Who is this Jesus? Paul tells us in Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.
     In our second lesson from 1st John, I was struck by the simple but elegant way that the apostle states things. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.” If you say you are a “believer”, some will ask what it is that you believe. I believe the same thing St. Peter confessed, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. Think about that for a second. “His commandments are not burdensome”. I think I am still in the process of overcoming the world. The correct ESV translation uses the word “everyone” not “whatever” which is used in some translations. What could be more comforting and hopeful that believers overcome the world with all its temptations, disappointments and frightening events. This phrase is a real elixir and ointment for my daily aches and pains. This reminds me of the verse from Romans 8:31. “If God is for us who can be against us?”   
     Bishop Menees stated in his Thursday note on Easter week, “The Paschal Season’s worship asks us to live lives that reflect the faith that we profess. My hope and prayer for each and every one of us in the Diocese of San Joaquin is that we, and every Christian, will live lives worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice; that we will rededicate ourselves to Christ and his teaching, and redouble our efforts to share that love with an aching world.
     The last words of Christ from the cross were, “It is finished.” His work was finished but the work of the church was just beginning. It is the good work of the church to proclaim the finished work of Jesus Christ. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church if it obeys this commission. He has also commanded us to love one another. These two things constitute the Gospel message. 
As we accept Him again today in the mystery of the Eucharist let us take seriously the words we include in our final prayer. “And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Amen.

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