Our
Visitor.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

I remember many cars pulling up to the curb in front of the house where I grew up. 

After my dad died, my aunt and grandmother, Busia, moved in to help my mom out. They came out of family love, to help this relatively young widow raise two children. Because we were not your typical nuclear family, but rather a multigenerational family, an extended family, we had many visitors.

Most of the visitors came to pay their respects to my grandmother. She had ten children, seven of which survived into adulthood. So they, and their families, came to see Busia. My uncles, who lived out-of-state, would make days long road trips with their large families who we expectantly waited for at our front window. Large families with lots of kids camped out on our Livingroom floor. The weekly visits from nearby family. All because of love. Sure, it brought work, but mostly great joy and closeness. We wouldn’t have wanted it any differently.

If we love God, if we are following His Son, if we are keeping His word then God is always expected. He comes to remain with us. His car has pulled up. God is not going to just pop-in. His staying is going to take work on our part, but would we want it any other way.

There is a mutuality to Jesus’ instruction. Our action – to love Him and keep His word. His action – to dwell, i.e., to stay. He abides, remains and continues with us. An even deeper meaning of dwell is that He and we will remain in a given state of existence.

And, Jesus doesn’t come alone, but with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to instruct, remind, and prompt us, and to bring us peace in unexpected ways.

If God has pulled up to our curb, if He’s come to dwell with us – He is there because we chose to love Him, listen to Him, and follow Him. He’s come out of love to see to our need. He’s come to lift us. He’s brought the Holy Spirit along as a great and precious gift so that this state of existence endures.

God is our Visitor. He comes to dwell. Would we want it any other way? Invite Him in.

Our
travelogue.

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith… They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord.

Today’s first reading from Acts presents quite the travelogue. Paul and Barnabas had been getting around and welcomed the Gentiles into the Holy Church. In fact, Chapter 14 of Acts covers eight cities where the leather of their sandals really got a workout. The road wasn’t easy. At Iconium they were nearly stoned. At Lystra, Paul was stoned.

Those things are facts. Cities, miles, shoe leather, the number who came to the Lord, the number who turned away. Above the facts of the trip and the numbers in and outside the Holy Church, Paul and Barnabas were carefully laying out a model of behavior. Through teaching and example, they present us with a measuring stick, a barometer, a gauge, standard, and frame of reference by which we may determine how committed we are to travel Christ’s way.

The Gospel and Revelation speak of newness. A new way of life – founded on love, but not any old love. It is the love Jesus walked. A new heaven and earth unknown to anyone before and unachievable except by traveling with Jesus.

This newness is Jesus way of life. He makes all things new, doesn’t He? But to have part of that newness, to be welcomed into the new Jerusalem we have to walk the same travelogue Paul and Barnabas walked.

Jesus is the steps, the map. Paul and Barnabas proclaimed Jesus, the truth of the Gospel told plainly in the face of rejection – because there was those who did come to believe and were saved. They stayed strong! So must we with truth to turn souls to Jesus. They made disciples – we must tell and invite. They lived community by strengthening, encouraging – It is what our community in Mont Pleasant is about. They exhorted – called people to faithfulness, didn’t let people slack – Call that person who has been away. They shared the ministry. Call men to take up the challenge. It is time to hit the road on Jesus’ travelogue.

Expect the
amazing.

And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus appears again resurrected.  He encounters His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. We have all the drama of the encounter with the unexpected. The disciples do not recognize Jesus. He sounds like a sideline commentator; hey you should fish over there. Peter, the nearly naked fisherman runs for cover once John recognizes Jesus.

So much of Jesus’ ministry is an encounter with the unexpected. The widow, bringing out her dead son, sees him risen. Martha and Mary, thinking Jesus too late, see their brother risen. The woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman who went from man-to-man, find the Lord full of both insight and compassionate forgiveness.

Last Sunday, we were asked to share Jesus, His resurrected life, His mercy, His central role in our life. If we did, did we experience an encounter with the unexpected? Did Jesus show up, surprisingly, and give new sight, new freedom, and forgiveness?

The disciples, the nascent Church, found Jesus with them. In spite of locked doors, unbelief, poor fishing, lack of insight, nakedness, and past. He returned and returns, feeding, instructing, forgiving.

Do we perceive or understand this resurrected Lord? Are we ready to really get what’s going on? If we truly saw, if this empty tomb, the glory of Easter morning hit us full on, life would be so different. Why?

Because we have a life of unexpected encounter in Jesus. We have been changed. Hit with this power, Revelation tells us: the elders fell down and worshiped. Knowing what we have this minute, knowing what we will receive, knowing the power of our baptism and our sealing with the Holy Spirit, we would be out those doors proclaiming like the first apostles: “We must obey God rather than men.” Jesus was killed and is raised. Jesus is exalted. Jesus offers you opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. I am His witness. We are His witnesses, here in Schenectady, and Scotia, and Glenville, Rotterdam, across New York, and everywhere we go. We would be constantly in awe. But we are afraid.

Peter was afraid, naked in his betrayal – until the unexpected. Jesus was there telling Him as He tells us: Let go. Be unafraid. Follow me. Feed and tend. Expect the amazing.

We
share.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

On the Sunday following His resurrection, in the evening, Jesus appears once again. These appearances of Jesus fulfill many purposes. They perpetuate and reinforce the teachings He had provided over the course of His ministry. They obviously show His resurrected body and its physicality (He eats and drinks with them) – the promise for our resurrection in the body. Today, we see Him also strengthening the faith of Thomas and leaving direction for all who doubt (doubt is never wrong, rather it is the outcome, how we overcome our doubt that matters). We also see a commissioning of the disciples with power, sending with the right to loose and to bind.

In jumping between Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples and the encounter with Thomas, we tend to miss a nuance. The nuance is that we share. As disciples, we share. Christianity is about sharing.

This sharing begins with the fact that we are sent. Consider that Jesus had no reason to send us, nor do we have any reason to go, unless we have something to share. 

He asked that we go and share His word, we share His life-giving sacrifice, we share the promise of this – His empty tomb. We share both as empowered individuals and as a community.

It is so nice to share – great to share but sharing also has a cost. We have to be ready to accept the cost. What would we give up to share Jesus today? Tomorrow? 

St. John the Evangelist declared in Revelation: I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus. That captures it so well. John starts introducing himself, calls himself our brother, and starts sharing. He sees that he shares in all things – the good and the bad. What a perfect model of what Jesus wanted of us told through the disciple He loved. What a perfect model for us.

The week ahead – share. Let us introduce ourselves, be a brother or sister, share with each person so they may share also in the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance. Share to grow the community. Share Jesus because we share.

Getting done
what had to be done.

For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

What a weird thing to say. John, in writing this gospel, is recalling that moment at the tomb. As he is recalling, he interprets the scriptures to say that Jesus had to rise from the dead. A weird thing to say because this writing and interpretation of scripture is directive to God. It is telling God what He must do.

Would we ever presume to tell God what He must do? Oh, by the way God, You have to do this. Yet this is what we read about Jesus today. Jesus had to rise from the dead.

On the morning of the resurrection John, and Peter by inference, did not yet understand. Later they would all realize that Jesus had to do this. Jesus had to get done what He had to get done.

Jesus mission to us is an eternal arc. This narrative, this historical account, begins from eternity and goes to eternity. His work is completely directed to and for us.

Easter, the Solemnity of the Resurrection, all the joy and celebration we feel today, is about this. It is about celebrating what God wiled Himself, required Himself, to do for us.

God’s work is never incomplete, it is never pointless. Each aspect of His work has purpose and effect. Every moment of Jesus life was about and for you and me, each of us, no one excluded.

Is there any point where Jesus’ arc was just good enough? Should He have just sent word through the prophets and left good enough alone? Should He have stopped at the stable in Bethlehem, giving us only a glimpse of what might be possible? Perhaps after His preaching and miracles? After all, we would have had wise words to live by, a nice example to follow. Should He have stopped at the cross, gotten down to show His power? Could we say enough, all right, at His death and burial. Should that have been it? No! We, by Jesus’ eternal arc, have the fulness of God’s life in us. We have the examples of the prophets. We have Jesus’ incarnation and coming for us. We have His life – God among us showing us how to live God’s life. We have freedom from all sin and freedom from eternal death by the cross. Life forever in the resurrection because Jesus did what He hadto do.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 

you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Tonight, Jesus gave us the gift of the ministerial priesthood, the power therein to serve and forgive, His holy words and example, and His body and blood. He gave all that is needful for right praise and worship. He gave us all we need until He comes again. He gave it this very night.

Jesus left these wonderful things this night, not just because, but so that in them He would remain fully present and available to us. We are able to confess our sins in honesty and are reconciled to the community. We hear His words and see His example illustrated and taught so that we might live likewise. We have His body and blood, and through them unity with Jesus, oneness with He who only wishes to be one with us. He provided all this, this very night.

Jesus provided the ongoing and living opportunity for the faithful to encounter, learn from, praise, and worship Him. He left us the preeminent model of worship that his disciples are to follow this very night.

Jesus told us to gather – and here we are. He told us to learn from Him, to take up His yoke – and so we are ready. He told us to serve one another – and so we do. He told us to eat and to drink – and we partake. We gather, enter the Holy of Holies as one, and come into His presence. We find a unity with God that is at once comprehendible and similarly mysterious.

No matter where we worship – from a glorious looking church, to an auditorium, to a jungle hut – In this re-presentation of what Jesus did and modeled this night, Jesus pulls us into heavenly existence. This is what He left us this very night.

No matter how many people we see worshiping and praising together, from thousands to a handful – – Jesus wanted us to know that we are worshiping with the entirety of the Church throughout the world and the entirety of the heavenly host – all the angels and saints joined with us every time we come together. This is what He called us to do this very night.

In this memory, this remembrance of Jesus we are joined with Him in His eternal being. It isn’t just a photo or video from the past, but an entry into the eternal present. We touch our eternity with Jesus, and in that encounter find comfort, joy, and glory. We get a taste of what is to be for us, His disciples, this very night.

Jesus left us the gifts of this night so we would not remain stagnant. He gave us gifts to get us from where we are to where our possibilities are. 

Jesus moves us, in this worship, through these sacramental realities:

from sin and death / to eternal life

from corruption / to wholeness

from brokenness / to healing

from ignorance / to knowledge

from mere habits / to His way of living

from apartness / to presence

from aloneness / to community

from fear / to courage

from ordinary existence / to extraordinary glory

from earth / to heaven

This very night.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Not the
Conclusion

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Through Lent we encountered Dismas. We learned who he was and what brought him to the life he led.  

We discussed the issue of his equality and possibility; our call to rightly measure both; to recognize inherent human dignity. The image of God is in all. We are all provided the same possibility all those around Jesus have. 

Like Dismas, we are called to come to Jesus and be saved. We, like Dismas, must set aside the fear we have in the face of God’s honesty. 

As we heard today, Dismas, on the cross, examined his life, asked questions, saw his innate dignity, the possibility before him, overcame fear, and grabbed the chance to grow and become, even in the last moment of his life. 

From the cross, Dismas proclaimed his faith in Jesus, confessed his sin, and allowed Jesus to take hold of him.

Today, we walked with Jesus, from the supper table, to the garden, through arrest, questioning and torture, prison, conviction, the journey to Calvary, crucifixion, and this encounter with Dismas and Gestas. Seemingly the end.

There is so much here but reflect on the words of Dismas: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Isn’t that what we all want. Isn’t that what touches us so deeply.

We, who await the supper of the Lord, who have joined ourselves to Him, who are dedicated to Him, have come to realize that all He did, His finishing of the work the Father sent Him to accomplish, was exactly for this reason. God remembered us.

As we reflect on what Dismas asked and what Jesus did, what His sacrifice promises us, let us give thanks. Jesus indeed remembers us eternally. Our life is now, like Dismas, without conclusion.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared.

They came, so sad, with faces stained;
Behind them the rays of a new dawn flamed.
All about them heaven with glory began to open…

The partial stanza above is from the poem The Resurrection by Fr. Walter Hyszko. This and other poems by Fr. Hyszko can be found in his book, Ode to Great Men and Great Things in Poetry and Prose.

This poem is so appropriate to us. It reflects on the early morning walkMary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women took to the tomb. They were deeply saddened, faces tear stained from prolonged crying. Their hearts were broken.

In their sadness, they set out to commit a final act of love toward Jesus, to anoint His dead body with spices. He was dead.

Fr. Hyszko paints a picture in words. They reflect what we may be experiencing Easter Sunday morning if we have walked with

Jesus throughout Lent, if we actually spent time in church from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday. The weight of Jesus betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and the ensuing silence after burial weighs heavy on us. Our sinfulness, our failures, our unwillingness to be there for Jesus, presses on us. We feel death’s press and we miss it.

As Fr. Hyszko points out, the Marys, Joanna, and the other women missed it too: Rays of a new day flamed / heaven with glory began to open. All those things that weigh on us, all the tears and regrets in our lives have been covered in the redeeming blood of Jesus. We have been washed and made new. That day burned forth as new – a new era – rebirth into a time where heaven is open. The doors have been unbarred. Death has been crushed by death. He lives!

The last line of the poem’s first stanza says: Yet the thrall of grief remained unbroken. Do not let your grief remain unbroken this Easter for we are made new. Rejoice!!!

Join us this April for the conclusion of our Lenten and Passiontide journey. Join us in our Lenten retreat on April 6th. Join in directed giving. Palm Sunday is April 14th, then Holy Week – a full schedule of events taking us on a journey through every emotion – by which we grow so close to Jesus. In the end, grief will not win.

Read more in our April 2019 Newsletter.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 5

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

We have to wonder if Dismas, as he was encountering Jesus on the cross, thought back to the words of the prophet Isaiah: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

As one who encountered death so often, and who perhaps murdered, who likely saw his criminal colleagues similarly crucified, he was certainly seeing and experiencing something new. In the midst of this horrific tortuous death, he found freedom and forgiveness. Outside himself, he saw Jesus take care of His mother and he saw the executioners also pardoned by Jesus.

Paul’s words to the Philippians would have therefore rung true for Dismas, for this is what he experienced. I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus… I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession.

What happened to Dismas was beyond his comprehension. Dismas’ sinful and failed life was not his final testament. Rather, his testament is that of mercy, of a new way of life. It was something he had missed, he could not posess, yet here it was.

Dismas, just like the woman caught in adultery, was taken possession of by Jesus and was given the chance to respond. They were both set free by meeting Jesus. Neither had a claim on mercy and freedom. They had no possession they could claim. Yet, they allowed themselves to be brought into the something new Jesus provides. They both allowed Jesus to fill their lives with His newness. 

As we enter the Passiontide, the Holy Church offers us the great reassurance that is so apparent in these readings. Jesus is ever near to us, ready to take hold of us. He has new life for us – the past is no more. All we need do is respond as Dismas and the woman did. 

In these two weeks, let us reflect on how unready we are, how lacking in perfection, and despite that, how much we want to draw ever closer to Jesus. We are His possession. Because of this, let us press forward growing in our discipleship and witness to Him

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 4

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation

Three Sundays ago, we met St. Dismas. We learned who he was. We considered what brought him to the life he led. We began considering questions about those times when we, like Dismas, turned from God, let temptation win. Then we set on the road to repentance. We set to take the same opportunity Dismas had; to ask ourselves questions and use those questions to grow into better and better images of Jesus.

We discussed the issue of equality and possibility; our call to rightly measure both.

We recognize inherent equality in human dignity. The image of God is in all. Dismas, like every other person around the cross, is us. None deserves hatred. None is less than we are. In our equality we acknowledge that we are all presented with the same possibility Dismas and Gestas had. Like Dismas, we are called to come to Jesus and be saved.

While we have that ability to come and be saved, we tend to get caught up in our weakness and fear. Fear is compounded when we face God’s absolute honesty. Dismas wasn’t strong enough and lived a sinful and destructive life even in the face of God’s truth. Until. Like Dismas, we must have the courage to grab the chance. We must not forego the chance like Gestas did. We are called to see the full honesty of God – truth and mercy that provides each of us the chance to grow and produce even in the direst of moments.

Dismas, on the cross, examined his life, asked questions, saw his innate dignity, the possibility before him. He overcame fear without neglecting Jesus’ truth, and grabbed the chance to grow and become, even in the last moment of his life.

Dismas, in his encounter with Jesus, spoke the prayer of faith. He spoke to be saved. In this short moment, Dismas acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus, admitted his sin, and asked for salvation. Dismas lived the parable of the Prodigal by coming back and received eternal life. We are called to do exactly the same. Our Lenten journey with Dismas is a model to be followed. If we follow it, take hold of Jesus’ promise, and live in Him, we are recreated as disciple ambassadors, ever new.