Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, and for much of this and next week, we travel with Paul on his first missionary journey. Acts 13 and 14 make for some interesting historical reading, revealing how the early Church took form, how leadership emerged, and how various congregations sparked the spread of the Gospel.
These passages also offer at least two important thoughts to enrich our faith and spiritual life:
They recount a compact synthesis of Salvation History, the story of God’s faithfulness to Israel and, through Jesus Christ, to us. It is a truly marvelous story. Praying with it can make us amazed and grateful that we are now a living part of its continuing grace.
They clearly establish the Christian life as a missionary life – one meant to receive but also to share the Good News of the Gospel.
In our Gospel, Jesus, by washing the feet of his companions, clearly demonstrates the key characteristic of a true missionary disciple — sacrificial love rendered in humble service.
Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
John 13: 16-17
Jesus commissions his disciples to imitate his love. He promises to be present with them as they minister in his name:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Our service of the Gospel may take us on exciting journeys like Paul. Or we may be missionaries of prayer and charity, like Thérèse of Lisieux who, though she never left her cloister, was declared Patroness of the Missions by Pope Pius XI.
“O Jesus, my Love, my Life … I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach Your Name and to plant Your glorious Cross on infidel soil. But O my Beloved, one mission alone would not be sufficient for me. I would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages.”
Thérèse of Lisieux – Story of a Soul
In our prayer today, perhaps we might ask Paul, Barnabas, Thérèse or another of our favorite saints to help us see more clearly our own call to carry the mission in our lives.
Poetry: HERE I WILL STAY – Sister Carol Piette, M.M., also known as Sister Carla, entered Maryknoll Sisters in 1958. She was sent to Chile, where she was a teacher and a pastoral care worker and continued to serve the poor during Chile’s military coup in 1973. In 1980 she was assigned to El Salvador to accompany internal refugees who were fleeing violence. Piette died on August 24, 1980 while crossing a flooded river in an attempt to help a father return to his family. “Here I Will Stay” was published in her biography, Vessel of Clay: The Inspirational Journey of Sister Carla (2010), by Jacqueline Hansen Maggiore. (from https://vocationnetwork.org/en/articles/show/599-word-as-witness-to-the-word)
The Lord has guided me so far And in His guidance, He has up and dropped me here, at this time and in this place of history. To search for and to find Him; Not somewhere else, But here.
And so HERE I WILL STAY, Until I have found that broken Lord, in all His forms, And in all His various pieces, Until I have completely bound-up His wounds and covered His whole Body, His People, with the rich oil of gladness.
And when that has been done, He will up and drop me again— Either into His Promised Kingdom, or into the midst Of another jigsaw puzzle of His broken Body, His hurting People.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, the image of God’s hands emerges in each of our readings.
There were some …. proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
Each of these images evokes and inspires our trust that God abides with and sustains us – that we are in God’s hands.
We all know what it’s like to place ourself in someone else’s hands. Sometimes we do it willingly, sometimes not. Sometimes it is an act of trust, sometimes fear.
This morning, as I pray, I remember two parallel but distinctly different incidents of being in someone else’s hands.
In the first, I went with friends on a drive to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. It was before the serpentine road was paved in 1999. The driver was the young cowboy nephew of one of the passengers, and he thought it was really fun to scare us out of our wits. He took the many curves and switchbacks at headlong speed. I closed my eyes and started praying. It was uncomfortable being in his hands, so to speak.
The second memory is more recent. Just before my knee replacement surgery, as I lay slightly anesthetized in pre-op, my surgeon came to the bedside. He sat down, took my hand and said, “I want you to know that I will do the surgery myself and be with you the whole time. I am putting my initials on your knee so you can be certain I’ll fix the right one.” He smiled, and I again closed my eyes and started praying.
What different prayers they were! One was begging God to intervene and save me. The other was thanking God for putting me in trustworthy hands.
With God, we are always in trustworthy hands. Indeed, sometimes it may feel like God is flying over the edge of Pike’s Peak with us in the back seat. But here’s the thing: God is in the car with us – and God always lives! If we give ourselves completely to God in trust, we will live too.
Eventually, our practice of trust grows enough to comfort us in all things. We realize God is always sitting beside us, taking our hand, assuring us of that Loving Presence Who always abides.
A great freedom comes with that realization, steeped in years of trust and understanding that God’s Will for us is our eternal good. The preachers in Acts today, and the disciples in John rejoiced and acted in such trust. May we too be strengthened, blessed, and impelled by it.
Poetry: Reconciliation – Renee Yann, RSM
The hands of God love me when I cannot see God’s face. Like salve, they warmly run over, in, and out of me, pausing where my hurt is knotted, barbed to their approach… mother’s hands, lover’s, friend’s, my own hands held in God’s hands, healing self-estrangement.
I come to God’s hands like broken earth stretches for redeeming rain. Even in the deep night, where God will not speak, those loving hands are words which I answer in the darkness.
Music: Into Your Hands – Ray Rep
Into Your hands we commend our spirit –Ray Repp
Into Your hands we commend our spirits O Lord, Into Your hands we commend our hearts. For we must die to ourselves in loving You, Into Your hands we commend our love.
O God, my God, why have You gone from me, Far from my prayers, far from my cry? To You I call and you never answer me, You send no comfort and I don’t know why!
You’ve been my guide since I was very young, You showed the way, you brought relief; But now I’m lonely, nobody’s by my side: Take heed, my Lord, listen to my prayer.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our three readings make one thing very clear – we are ALL invited to membership in the Body of Christ. We are ALL welcome in the Beloved Community.
In our first reading, Paul and Barnabas preach to Jews, converts to Judaism and to Gentiles – to the effect that:
All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.
In our second reading:
John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb.
And in our Gospel, Jesus says:
My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
These readings describe the family of God to which every human being has been given entrance through the Death and Resurrection of Christ.
Think about that:
when you look into people’s eyes today
when you see their stories on the news
when you people-watch at the airport or the mall
when you drive by a cemetery where lives are remembered in stone
when you look at your children, your friends, your foes
when you take that last look in the mirror tonight before you fall asleep
This person has been invited, with me, to the family of God. How might that thought influence my choices and actions each day?
All of us – ALL OF US- are welcome; all of us, equally loved.
Poetry: O Shepherd of Souls – Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)
O Shepherd of souls and o first voice through whom all creation was summoned, now to you, to you may it give pleasure and dignity to liberate us from our miseries and languishing.
Music: Come Worship the Lord – John Michael Talbot
Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia
And come, let us sing to the Lord And shout with joy to the rock who saves us Let us come with thanksgiving And sing joyful songs to the Lord
Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia
The Lord is God, the mighty God The great King o’er all other gods He holds in his hands the depths of the earth And the highest mountains as well He made the sea, it belongs to him The dry land too, was formed by his hand
Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia Come, worship the Lord For we are his people The flock that he shepherds Alleluia
Come, let us bow down and worship Bending the knee for the Lord our maker For we are his people We are the flock that he shepherds
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Peter is a headliner in both our readings.
I really love Peter. Can’t we relate to him on so many levels as he stumbles and shines through his growing relationship with Jesus?
Some of my best prayers with Peter have been:
when he tries to walk on water to meet Jesus in the sea
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Mk.14:28
when he gets slammed for trying to stop Jesus from talking about his death
Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Far be it from You, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” Mt. 13:41
when his name is changed to Rock and he’s foretold his future
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Mt. 16:18
when he cowers in denial outside Jesus’s trial
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mk. 14:72
when he recognizes the Resurrected Jesus on the shore and swims to him
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. Jn.21:7
In today’s first reading, we see Peter in his full authority as the Vicar of Christ.
In our Gospel, we see Peter’s unequivocal confession of faith, voiced for the Church, voiced for all of us:
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Poetry: Simon Peter – John Poch
There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Yes, four which I do not understand. The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the heart of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid –Prov. 30:18, 19
I Contagious as a yawn, denial poured over me like a soft fall fog, a girl on a carnation strewn parade float, waving at everyone and no one, boring and bored There actually was a robed commotion parading. I turned and turned away and turned. A swirl
of wind pulled back my hood, a fire of coal brightened my face, and those around me whispered: You’re one of them, aren’t you? You smell like fish. And wine, someone else joked. That’s brutal. That’s cold, I said, and then they knew me by my speech. They let me stay and we told jokes like fisher- men and houseboys. We gossiped till the cock crowed, his head a small volcano raised to mock stone.
II Who could believe a woman’s word, perfumed in death? I did. I ran and was outrun before I reached the empty tomb. I stepped inside an empty shining shell of a room, sans pearl. I walked back home alone and wept again. At dinner. His face shone like the sun.
I went out into the night. I was a sailor and my father’s nets were calling. It was high tide, I brought the others. Nothing, the emptiness of business, the hypnotic waves of failure. But a voice from shore, a familiar fire, and the nets were full. I wouldn’t be outswum, denied this time. The coal-fire before me, the netted fish behind. I’m carried where I will not wish.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Gospel is serious business. In it, Jesus reveals the lynchpin of our sacramental faith.
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
John 6: 53-54
It is a stark and shocking statement. The listening Jews “quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?’.”
Down through the ages, struggling believers have grappled with the same question. Or, perhaps less preferable, complacent believers have never even considered it.
I think Jesus wanted us to consider it, absorb it, be changed by it, live within it, because “unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you.”
As Catholics, we believe that Christ is truly and fully present in Eucharist and that, by Communion, becomes fully present in us, the Church.
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and “the work of our redemption is carried out”. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived. (ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA, Encyclical of John Paul II)
For me, it is a truth only appreciated when approached with more than the mind. It must be apprehended with the heart and soul. God so loves us in the person of Jesus Christ that God chooses to be eternally present with us, and in us, through the gift of Eucharist.
Praying with this truth over the years has led me to read authors like Edward Schillebeeckx (Christ the sacrament of the Encounter with God), Diarmuid O’Murchu (Quantum Theology), and Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (Hymn of the Universe).
Still, despite all the Eucharistic theology, every time I receive the Eucharist, I let this simple hymn play in my heart – one I learned for my First Holy Communion. It still unites my heart to my desired faith which is, at once, both cosmic and intimate.
Poetry: “On the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar” by St Robert Southwell
Saint Robert Southwell (1561 – 1595) was an English Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order. He was also a poet, hymnodist, and clandestine missionary in Elizabethan England. After being arrested and imprisoned in 1592, and intermittently tortured and questioned by Richard Topcliffe, Southwell was eventually tried and convicted of high treason for his links to the Holy See. On 21 February 1595, Father Southwell was hanged at Tyburn. In 1970, he was canonized by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. (Wikipedia)
His poetry, written in Early Modern English, demonstrates deep devotion to the Eucharist. Although most of us can interpret the English of the 16th century, the translation below is modernized for convenience. It’s a long poem, but it is well worth your time.
“On the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar” by St. Robert Southwell From The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), edited by Fr James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown
In paschal feast the end of ancient rite An entrance was to never ending grace, Tips to the truth, dim glasses to the light, Performing deed presaging signs did chase, Christ's final meal was fountain of our good: For mortal meat he gave immortal food.
That which he gave he was, O peerless gift,
Both God and man he was, and both he gave,
He in his hands himself did truly live:
Far off they see whom in themselves they have.
Twelve did he feed, twelve did their feeder eat,
He made, he dressed, he gave, he was their meat.
They saw, they heard, they felt him sitting near, Unseen, unfelt, unheard, they him receiv'd, No diverse thing though diverse it appear, Though senses fail, yet faith is not deceiv'd. And if the wonder of the work be new, Believe the work because his word is true.
Here truth belief, belief inviteth love, So sweet a truth love never yet enjoy'd, What thought can think, what will doth best approve Is here obtain'd where no desire is void. The grace, the joy, the treasure here is such No wit can with nor will embrace so much.
Self-love here cannot crave more than it finds, Ambition to no higher worth aspire, The eagerest famine of most hungry minds May fill, yea far exceed their own desire: In sum here is all in a sum express'd, Of much the most, of every good the best.
To ravish eyes here heavenly beauties are, To win the ear sweet music's sweetest sound, To lure the taste the angels' heavenly fare, To soothe the scent divine perfumes abound, To please the touch he in our hearts doth bed, Whose touch doth cure the deaf, the dumb, the dead.
Here to delight the wit true wisdom is, To woo the will of every good the choice, For memory a mirror shewing bliss, Here all that can both sense and soul rejoice: And if to all all this it do not bring, The fault is in the men, not in the thing.
Though blind men see no light, the Sun doth shine, Sweet cates are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it, Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine, Each truth is true, though all men do not try it: The best still to the bad doth work the worst, Things bred to bliss do make them more accurst.
The angels' eyes whom veils cannot deceive Might best disclose that best they do discern, Men must with sound and silent faith receive More than they can by sense or reason learn: God's power our proofs, his works our wit exceed, The doer's might is reason of His deed.
A body is endow'd with ghostly rights, A nature's work from nature's law is free, In heavenly Sun lie hidden eternal lights, Lights clear and near yet them no eye can see, Dead forms a never-dying life do shroud, A boundless sea lies in a little cloud.
The God of Hosts in slender host doth dwell, Yea God and man, with all to either due: That God that rules the heavens and rifled hell, That man whose death did us to life renew, That God and man that is the angels’ bliss, In form of bread and wine our nurture is.
Whole may his body be in smallest bread, Whole in the whole, yea whole in every crumb, With which be one or ten thousand fed All to each one, to all but one doth come, And though each one as much as all receive, Not one too much, nor all too little have.
One soul in man is all in every part, One face at once in many mirrors shines, One fearful noise doth make a thousand start, One eye at once of countless things defines: If proofs of one in many nature frame, God may in stranger sort perform the same.
God present is at once in every place, Yet God in every place is ever one, So may there be by gifts of ghostly grace One man in many rooms yet filling none. Sith angels may effects of bodies shew, God angels' gifts on bodies may bestow.
What God as auctor made he alter may, No change so hard as making all of nought: If Adam framed was of slimy clay, Bread may to Christ's most sacred flesh be wrought. He may do this that made with mighty hand Of water wine, a snake of Moses' wand.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Gospel gives us the sense of Jesus claiming his inheritance from the Father.
He makes it clear that the Father’s Will is the Redemption of all Creation. This is the divine charge given to Jesus. This is his mission.
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.
Jesus continues to use the symbol of bread to teach the forming community.
Bread sustains life. God’s Word is eternal life.
Sharing bread is an act of community. In the Body of Christ, we are made One with God and with one another.
Bread can stale and disintegrate. Within the Body of Christ, we become eternal and will be raised up unto the Last Day.
These are such BIG thoughts, amazing teachings! I always wonder how simple shepherds, milk maidens, fishermen and housekeepers were supposed to understand! I wonder how we, in our human limitations, could begin to comprehend the infinitely loving design of God revealed in Jesus Christ!
And I think that’s just the thing — we will never comprehend the Mystery of Jesus’s Presence with us. And we don’t have to!
We will never comprehend a lot of things: love, suffering, time, death, kindness, beauty. Yet we live within and savor these mysteries when we open our hearts in vulnerability to them. They are the dynamisms that can sanctify us!
So it is with the mysteries of our faith. While we can use our minds to explore them, our minds will never comprehend them. Only our hearts and souls can fully receive these mysteries in trust and faith.
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.
Prose: The Legend of St. Augustine – from augnet.org
The scene is the seashore, where there is a small pool, a little boy with a seashell, and a sandy beach on which St. Augustine, clad in his religious robes, is walking, pondering with difficulty the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. “Father, Son, Holy Spirit; three in one!” he muttered, shaking his head.
As he approached the little boy who was running back and forth between the sea and the pool with a seashell of water, Augustine craned his neck and asked him: “Son, what are you doing?” “Can’t you see?” said the boy. “I’m emptying the sea into this pool!” “Son, you can’t do that!” Augustine countered.
“I will sooner empty the sea into this pool than you will manage to get the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity into your head!” Upon saying that, the boy, who was an angel according to legend, quickly disappeared, leaving Augustine alone with the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we read about miracles and Light. These are good things, right? It would seem that we shouldn’t be slow to acknowledge the miracles around us, nor to open our eyes to the Light.
Well, let’s see….
In our reading from Acts, we read about a miracle:
The high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the Apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.”
Acts 5: 17-20
Still when the Temple guards and the High Priest discover God’s miraculous action, they re-arrest the disciples and try again to stop the spread of the Light!
When I read this I say, “Come on, guys! Take a hint! Maybe there is something to this preaching!”
But the truth is that it can be really hard to take that hint — to wake up, to acknowledge the miracles around us, and to choose Light over darkness. Why? Because miracles and Light get in the way of our agendas, our lazy choices, our indifference to others’ needs and our own excesses.
Most of us don’t want to live completely bereft of blessings and inspiration. We’d like a miracle now and again, but not enough to demand our deep conversion. We’d prefer a little shade and shadow, a little spiritual oblivion in our lives.
In our Gospel, John will have none of it! The Light demands our conversion to the fullness of the Gospel.
Listen to John’s astonishment that people choose darkness over Light.
And this is the verdict, that the Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
And yet, we see it all the time, don’t we? Even, unfortunately, sometimes in ourselves?
Let’s pray today for the strength to always choose God’s stunning yet healing Light. Let’s pray that strength for our terribly shadowed world – that we may open our prisoned hearts to the miracle of Light God has planted in each one of us.
Poetry: The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem) Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we meet two towering figures of the early Christian story, Barnabas and Nicodemus.
In our first reading, Barnabas is cited as a devout member of the community of believers which …
… was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.
Our Gospel brings us Nicodemus who “came to Jesus under cover of the night”. Nicodemus, obviously Ph.D. material, has a long exchange with Jesus in the attempt to come to intellectual comfort with Jesus’s message.
Nicodemus wants his faith to make logical sense before committing to it, to the point that Jesus sounds a little astounded at the effort:
You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand what I am saying to you?
I think a little bit of both Barnabas and Nicodemus lives within each of us.
Like Nicodemus, we do believe, but we would like to understand more. We grapple with concepts of “God’s plan”, with the problem of evil, with what seems the random mercilessness of nature, and myriad other inexplicable realities.
Still, like Barnabas, we trust and are willing to lay our lives at the feet of Christ to be his agents in the world.
That balancing of trust with anxiety is the story of faith for most of us. And it’s OK. Both Nickie and Barnie turned out to be giants for Christ. And so will we with God’s help.
Poetry: The Night – BY HENRY VAUGHAN John 3.2
Through that pure virgin shrine, That sacred veil drawn o’er Thy glorious noon, That men might look and live, as glowworms shine, And face the moon, Wise Nicodemus saw such light As made him know his God by night.
Most blest believer he! Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes Thy long-expected healing wings could see, When Thou didst rise! And, what can never more be done, Did at midnight speak with the Sun!
O who will tell me where He found Thee at that dead and silent hour? What hallowed solitary ground did bear So rare a flower, Within whose sacred leaves did lie The fulness of the Deity?
No mercy-seat of gold, No dead and dusty cherub, nor carved stone, But His own living works did my Lord hold And lodge alone; Where trees and herbs did watch and peep And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.
Dear night! this world’s defeat The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb; The day of spirits; my soul’s calm retreat Which none disturb! Christ’s progress, and His prayer time; The hours to which high heaven doth chime;
God’s silent, searching flight; When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all His locks are wet with the clear drops of night; His still, soft call; His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch, When spirits their fair kindred catch.
Were all my loud, evil days Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent, Whose peace but by some angel’s wing or voice Is seldom rent, Then I in heaven all the long year Would keep, and never wander here.
But living where the sun Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire Themselves and others, I consent and run To every mire, And by this world’s ill-guiding light, Err more than I can do by night.
There is in God, som say, A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here Say it is late and dusky, because they See not all clear. O for that night! where I in Him Might live invisible and dim!
Music: Ye Must Be Born Again – sung by The Sensational Nightingales, a beloved Black Gospel Quartet that, with several membership changes, has been popular for over seven decades. (Lyrics below)
Ye Must Be Born Again written by William T. Sleeper in 1877
A ruler once came to Jesus by night, To ask Him the way of salvation and light; The Master made answer in words true and plain, “Ye must be born again!” “Ye must be born again!” “Ye must be born again!” “I verily, verily say unto thee, Ye must be born again!”
Ye children of men, attend to the word So solemnly uttered by Jesus, the Lord, And let not this message to you be in vain, “Ye must be born again.”
Oh, ye who would enter that glorious rest, And sing with the ransomed the song of the blest; The life everlasting if ye would obtain, “Ye must be born again.”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we wait, entombed with Jesus. The waiting has a surreal sense every year as we commemorate this day with no liturgy of its own. Within our Holy Saturday prayer, there is a depth of meaning that eludes words. So, let us turn to poetry as we daily do:
Here are two poems that may help us explore the spiritual dimensions of Holy Saturday.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, Yahweh is very clear with Abram that he is now in a life-changing situation:
My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations. No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations.
Genesis 17: 3-4
Having witnessed how young fathers are upended by the news of impending fatherhood, I can’t even imagine what Abraham felt like when he heard this:
I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you.
But aside from the practical ramifications of God’s promise, what Abraham is invited to is a whole new outlook on the world. God lays out before him a vision of the ages, infinitely beyond the confines of Abraham’s current understanding.
It is an existence beyond time and human definition. It is the infinite place of God’s timelessness, where we all exist, but forget when we are born. Our lifetime is a spiritual journey back to remembrance.
In our Gospel, Jesus uses a rather cryptic phrase as he challenges his listeners to look beyond their circumscribed perspectives:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death…. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.
By fully embracing his covenant with God, Abraham saw beyond death. The vision of heaven was opened to him and he lived his life by its power. He lived then within the Day of the Lord, not within any small confined perspective.
Jesus offers us the same invitation. We can choose to see with God’s eyes, or with only our own. We can choose to live within God’s infinity, or in only our own earthbound borders.
In our current global situation, where some humans have lost the sense of anything beyond themselves, it may be a good time to remember the eternal character of our heart. It may be time to have a sit-down with God about our covenant, like the conversation God had with Abraham.
Poetry: The Unwavering Nomad – Jessica Powers
I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten unwavering nomad; when God called to him no tender hand wedged time into his stay. His faith erupted him into a way far-off and strange. How many miles are there from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie, or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait? How could he think his ancient thigh would bear nations, or how consent that Isaac die, with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?
I think, alas, how I manipulate dates and decisions, pull apart the dark dally with doubts here and with counsel there, take out old maps and stare. Was there a call after all, my fears remark. I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you, are you my father? Come to me in pity. Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.
Music: In the Day of the Lord – M.D. Ridge
Refrain: In the day of the Lord, the sun will shine like the dawn of eternal day. All creation will rise to dance and sing the glory of the Lord!
1. “And on that day will justice triumph, on that day will all be free: free from want, free from fear, free to live! Refrain
2. Then shall the nations throng together to the mountain of the Lord: they shall walk in the light of the Lord! Refrain
3. And they shall beat their swords to plowshares; there will be an end to war: one in peace, one in love, one in God! Refrain
4. For Israel shall be delivered, and the desert lands will bloom. Say to all, “Do not fear. Here is your God!” Refrain
5. And on that day of Christ in glory, God will wipe away our tears, and the dead shall rise up from their graves! Refrain
6. O give us eyes to see your glory, give us hearts to understand. Let our ears hear your voice ’til you come! Refrain