Acts 7, 55-60
- This reading begins with a confrontation and ends with violence.
Stephen the deacon speaks directly. His opponents scream at him and kill
him. Perhaps my listeners carry their own fears, stemming from memories of violence. Or perhaps they back away from confrontations by instinct, as do I. Can I help us all hear and benefit from this event, repeated often among Christians from the beginning?
- Stephen looked up
intently to heaven and saw the glory of God. In today’s first two readings we are presented with visions, and I can act as an eyewitness to them
both. Visionaries sense the foundations of things, the deeper realities behind
appearances. They remind us to look more thoughtfully and prayerfully. I can read that way, as someone who has glimpsed inner truths now and then.
- They cried out in
a loud voice. They threw him out. They
began to stone him. The crowd seems to act compulsively, out of control,
while Stephen keeps his eyes fixed on God and Jesus. Their mad rush seems to
dominate the reading, but that allows me to offer in contrast the heroic composure of Stephen.
- Listen: Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit. Do not hold this
sin against them. Now where has Luke used these words before? The deacon acts with a focus: he said, he called out, he cried out.
I repeat his words in an orderly and calm way.
- The witnesses laid
down their cloaks. Let me
not discard these words. Just exactly are they “witnessing” to? And I don’t think they “laid down” their cloaks but rather tossed
them, at the feet of Saul. (Listeners,
remember this man.)
- Central point: Do we hear how Stephen carries himself? He acts to the very end in the mold of Jesus.
His words repeat those of Jesus in the crucifixion. He sees Jesus. His falling asleep is one with that of
- Message for our assembly: Where do we stand? Is our faith also credulous? Or do we also accuse? Or are we just modern agnostics?
- I will challenge myself: To deliver the words with frankness and with
focus on Stephen’s last moments.
Revelation 22, 12-14, 16-17 and 20
- These concluding words of Revelation sound very much like those we heard
a month ago (the Alpha and the Omega, which we also heard on Vigil Night).
- Behold, I am coming soon.
It is repeated at the beginning and end of today’s passage, too. I
nearly whisper it the first time, because the message comes privately to the visionary rather than in a loud voice to the
world. Then I declare it firmly the second time because he gives the testimony for the churches.
- I hear no shouts and see no vast throngs today. The Lord reveals his message
personally to the visionary: I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony. I speak with a note of confidence, almost with a sense of routine, looking over my
work plans for a day: I bring with me the recompense.
- So Revelation is a summing up, in which we are encouraged
to look not backward but forward. Blessed
are they who wash their robes: these are memories of what will come, because they have happened and will happen again. The right to the tree of life, in which
God restores the happy days of Eden.
- Let me pause briefly after each separate thought, inviting the congregation to reflect with me, and to be drawn into
the final call and response.
- Climax: Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! I say it with a sense of relief, of completion, knowing that Jesus is here among us
even as I express my wish.
- The message for our assembly: As Christians, are we ready to leave our material pride behind and enter the city through its gates? Do our hearts ring to the promise
fulfilled in Jesus?
- I will challenge myself: To speak the Yes with conviction that this is
all happening. This is our destiny, our calling.
Gospel. John 17, 20-26
- This is Christ’s prayer for the unity of his followers, those who will
believe in me through their word. He meant us! We are overhearing a Lord who is looking forward to us. Walt
Whitman once wrote thankfully of ‘those who look back on me because I looked forward to them.’ How much more appropriate to celebrate a Lord who is not absent from our assembly, but who constitutes
it! And we have believed from the word of those who preceded us in the faith. Let me give great gravity to this first sentence, as Christ seeks to unite times as
well as places.
- That they all may be one.
I should say this with longing, if I really seek companionship and support for my life in this communion. What is so different about Jesus’ ‘one’? Remember
his ‘peace’ and how it differs from the world’s peace. This
‘one’ is unique: full, giving, bearing up, as you, Father are in me and
I in you. That is the model, not the conformity of society or the false uniformity
of political systems that comes from coercion. The Byzantines pray constantly
to ‘love one another so that with one mind we may confess.’ That
is the kind of longing I strive to achieve in my rehearsals and my ministry.
- That the world may believe.
I hear it twice today and I remember Hans Küng’s book of meditations with that title. It is a humbling call, to make Jesus’ mission from God depend on our lives together.
- All my life I have been confounded as I read the circular arguments put on the lips of Jesus by John. I have to discard my linear expectations and approach this passage and others in a repetitive mood. Let me recall the breaking of waves on the Pacific shore which I have just visited,
or verses of the wisdom literature.
- Or I can keep in mind the persons mentioned: the Father, Jesus, the disciples (and those they will evangelize). The Gospel portrays all of us in relation to each other and to the world in which
we live. All prayers are built on relationships, in which we sense the presence
of those we love.
- I have made known to them your name and I will make it known.
I will build to a strong finish,
to indicate that Jesus will accompany us always.
- Climax: That they all may be one, and my eyes will prove that I mean it.
- Message for our assembly: The burden of carrying the love of Jesus to others is ours. This will not be found in Denzinger or catechisms or some other
archive of official doctrines but in our personal consummation of union with each other.
- I will challenge myself: To read the verses in a deliberate way, allowing my listeners to connect the thoughts.
From Word to Eucharist: Let
me look on our assembly that soon will walk to the table of the Eucharist. The
old and infirm among us once had bounce in their walk. The young and untried
will soon need to grow into the challenges of their age. And those others not
in our procession today will also accompany us. Once more, look around and draw
inspiration from the stories you see on their faces.