Saturday, May 11, 2013

Homily for 7th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
7th Sunday of Easter
Your humble blogger's Scouting outing for this weekend was canceled, and he has no pastoral assignment--and thus no homily. To continue the Revelation sequence interrupted last weekend, here's his homily from 3 years back.

Rev 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.
May 16, 2010                                                             

“Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates” (Rev 22: 14).

The Book of Revelation’s sustained encouragement of the disciples of Jesus to stick it out thru persecution and all the other trials of life ends with the Lord’s promise to come soon (22:12,20) and the prayer of the Lord’s bride, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:17,20).  The Christian’s sole hope is that the Lord lives and will come again, bringing with him the recompense “to each according to his deeds” (22:12), including eternal life for the faithful (22:14) and exclusion for the wicked (22:15, omitted in the reading).

The voice that addresses John the Seer isn’t the same voice that he heard at the beginning of his visions, when he was instructed to write down his visions and pass along messages to the various churches of Asia.  Now it is Jesus himself speaking:  “Behold, I am coming soon” (22:12).  This message is a constant of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters; hence, of Christian teaching, incorporated also in our Creed.  The problematic part is the word soon.  That, of course, is a relative term.  What’s a human lifetime in the scale of human history, or of the age of the earth, not to mention the “length” of eternity?  Even if today our average life-spans—at least in the First World—are double those of the 1st century, they’re short enuf.  If the Second Coming and the consummation of all things isn’t really just around the corner of time, the end of our own individual time is, and if Jesus isn’t “coming soon,” we’re soon going to him.  Be faithful, whether it’s an age of persecution or one “merely” of day-to-day struggle to live virtuously.

“I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.”  Judgment, accountability, reward or punishment follow death.  It’s the ancient Christian message of the Last Things.  Nothing new or shocking there, but a message seldom heard any more, and perhaps one that too many Christians, even priests and religious and bishops, have stuck away in a far corner of their minds.  Why do we do some of the things we do?  “What was I thinking?”  Maybe it wasn’t of eternity.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13).  (If you’ve read Teilhard, you love this line.)  As far as St. John’s concerned, Christ is laying claim to divinity.  He can judge humanity because he’s God, from whom all things have come, to whom all things are going.  The disciples’ loyalty in the face of the demands of the Roman State, or our loyalty today in the face of any earthly authority, is not just to some teacher, to some prophet, but to Jesus Christ the Son of God—not “son” as metaphor of some sort, as when you and I call ourselves God’s children, but Son as an equal to be worshipped, to be obeyed, to be loved unto death, even as he has loved us unto death, to be regarded as the beginning and the end of our existence, as our purpose in life, and to whom we must answer for our lives.

“Blessed are they who wash their robes…” (22:14).  Washed in the blood of the Lamb, as we heard in a reading a few weeks ago (7:14), washed in the waters of Baptism.  Apparently it was a well known refrain among the early Christians, known even to their pagan neighbors.  We read, for instance, in the Acts of the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity that the crowd in the arena chanted, “Washed and saved, washed and saved,” when the beasts drew blood from the martyrs, “giving evidence of a second baptism.”*

Being so washed—by the Lamb, perhaps also by bloody testimony to the Lamb—entitles one to eternal life:  “…so as to have the right to the tree of life” (22:14).  This reverses the penalty of our 1st parents, who were driven away from the tree of life because of their sin.  The Lamb of God leads us back to the tree of life, for he’s the Lord of life (“the first and the last, the beginning and the end”).

Those who’ve washed their robes also have the right to “enter the city thru its gates” (22:14).  The city is the new and eternal Jerusalem, the subject of our 2d reading last week (21:10-14,22-23) and of the last 2 chapters of Revelation.  One who enters thru the gates belongs to the city.  Others have to attack the city, besiege its walls, like Joshua assaulting Jericho, or sneak in thru secret passages, like David capturing Mt. Zion from the Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6-9).  “Whoever doesn’t enter a sheepfold thru the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).  Those who belong to Jesus, however, come and go thru the gate, for he’s their shepherd and calls them by name (John 10:3).  The only way into the kingdom of God is thru the gate, which Jesus opens for his own.

“I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches” (22:16).  The “you” is plural, so it’s not only John the Seer being addressed here but all the disciples of Jesus, all the churches of Asia—and of course all the other churches who’ve received this testimony thru the ages.

“I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star” (22:16).  This is a messianic claim:  Jesus is the Christ.  He’s the son of David, but also his Lord (“root”) (cf. Ps 110:1).  He’s that star which rises out of Jacob in the vision of Balaam who shall smite the enemies of Israel (Num 24:17).  He’s the light that overcomes the darkness, the sun of justice, life arising from death.  Christ’s association with the morning star also explains the orientation of most churches toward the east, i.e., placing the altar at the east end of the church, so that the congregation worships facing east, looking toward him who is our light, our life, our hope, the one to whom we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

And that’s the conclusion, the culmination, of John’s Revelation:  “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’  Let the hearer say, ‘Come’” (22:17).  The Spirit speaks in the Church, the bride of Christ, calling for him to come to her.  She longs for her Spouse.  Every disciple longs for the Master’s return.

“Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water” (22:17)—this echoes one of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies:  “All you who are thirsty, come to the water,” come and feast on grain and wine and milk, all without cost, and have life (55:1-3).  An angel says to John as part of his vision, “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9).  And it’s all a gift; it’s all grace, freely offered by God to anyone who desires it and will come to Jesus, come to Baptism, come receive the Holy Spirit:  “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’  He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (John 7:37-39).  And the gift of the Spirit is the gift of eternal life (cf. John 6:63).

“Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).

        * “Death of the Holy Martyrs of Carthage,” Liturgy of the Hours, 2:1702.

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