22 April 2007

Obey. Worship. Love. Follow.

3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5.27-32, 40-41; Rev 5.11-14; John 21.1-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


The Four Basics. Absolutely basic to the life of the Christian is this defiant declaration made by Peter to the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men.” Absolutely basic to the life of the Christian is the blessed working of the Holy Spirit in all creation, gifted to those who obey God rather men. And absolutely basic to the life of the Christian is the triple salvific confession of Peter to Christ: “You know that I love you, Lord.” (Is this Peter’s tripled anguish over a regretful, tripled doubt?—“No, I do not know him!”) It is basic that we obey God, receive the Holy Spirit, love Christ, and follow him. Four Basics.

These Four Basics correspond to Four Outcries that shout back at despair, disbelief, nihilism, and death. The disciple whom Jesus loves says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” The four living creatures answer, “Amen,” and the elders fall down and worship. Then Jesus asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?” and Peter says to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And the apostles rejoice at being found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus. It is the Lord! Amen! I love you, Lord! We are worthy to suffer for Christ’s name! Then, and only then, can we follow him.

Obeying God rather than men is fundamental to Christian holiness. The elders of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, had previously ordered the apostles to stop preaching and teaching in Christ’s name. They are afraid of the Romans. Peter tells the Sanhedrin that they, the apostles, have been ordered by Christ to spread the Good News in his name. They can do nothing less than obey the one who died for all of creation. The Jewish elders order them again to be silent. But the Holy Spirit has moved the apostles to speak the Word to the world and they do. They disobey man and obey God. Here we have the Way of Recognition, the means by which the apostles come to understand that the true ruler of creation is God not man. With the beloved disciple they can declare, “It is the Lord!” Preaching the power and glory of the Risen Christ is possible only when we hear and obey God, recognizing his providence by naming Him Lord.

Obeying our Lord rather than men means hearing Him first, listening to Him first and understanding everything else in terms of Who and what we hear. Peter tells the Jewish elders that the Spirit is a witness to the life, death, resurrection of Jesus and that our obedience to God, our “holy listening,” brings to us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Who is this Spirit? The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. This mutual loving, this exchanging of boundless creating power, ancient wisdom, and Revealing Breath is the Spirit; a holy spirit overflowing into and flooding creation, giving life and growth, purpose and cause. The Holy Spirit witnesses, strengthens, inspires, builds up, intercedes, guides, sets ablaze in zeal, purifies, glorifies, and most essentially, loves. And for this gift of Trinitarian passion, we say everything when we shout, “Amen!” So be it! Yes, it is! “Amen” is the Spirit talking to the Spirit out of our mouths. Your “amen” then must show the passion of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. Your “amen” must strengthen and inspire, glorify and praise, set fire to hearts grown cold and guide the lost in obedience to God. A weak, mumbled, half-hearted and distracted “amen” is worse than a curse! At least a curse never claims to invoke the Spirit, while a mewly “amen” is stingy praise from an ungrateful heart. So, when you say “amen” say, “AMEN!” Amen?!

If we obey God rather than men, we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the Love btw Father and Son, and we proclaim our gratitude for His Love by lending our voices to the one word that commits our hearts and minds to the love that amazes all creation: amen! And when we shout our amen with passion and conviction, with trust in the promises of God, we step closer to the living ideal of love that is the Father’s Son, Christ Jesus. In other words, we come closer and closer to the kind of death that will glorify God, the death of sacrificial love that Christ died for us. Given this, how do we not say, “I love you, Lord”? Like Peter, no doubt, we said in the garden, “Jesus who? Don’t know him. Sorry.” Like Peter, no doubt, we have denied him and heard the rooster crow at sunrise. No doubt, like Peter, we sit here now in anguished regret about each time we have said “no,” each time we said “later,” each time we said “Jesus who?” But Jesus shows us the power of mercy, the strength to be found in forgiveness, by asking Peter three times, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Three times for each denial in the garden. Three times to confess and repair his fear, his betrayal, his cowardice. Like Peter, no doubt!, we too are given one time to repent for each time we have sinned against God’s love for us. Where is there room for anguish in a life stuffed full of trust in God’s mercy? Where is there room for distress in a life where Christ himself looks you in the eye and asks, “Do you love me?” What else do you say but, “It is the Lord. Amen! I do love you, Lord.”

And surely you know by now, having been through Lent, Holy Week, the Triduum, and Easter morning, you must know by now that loving Christ and being loved by him is a gift, a freely given passion for your life, your holiness, your final end. But what sort of gift is this love? The apostles rejoice at being found worthy to suffer dishonor for his name’s sake. What does it mean to suffer for Christ’s name? Pain is not suffering. Pain is pain. Suffering is how we choose to understand pain. Suffering is how we come to define, to make us of, to “stand under” physical hurt and give it meaning. The apostles here are coming to “stand under” their injuries, the injustices done to them, in the spirit of Christ’s redemptive suffering for all of us. They are not simply being persecuted by political/religious enemies. They are walking the Sorrowful Way to the Cross as Christ did. And freely accepting Christ’s love IS freely accepting his death. We are not called to love alone but to follow as well. It is not enough to praise, to preach, to heal, to love in his name; we must die too…in his name. “Follow me,” he says, and then he walks closer to the Cross. Can you suffer this well? Can you “stand under” his love for you and rejoice on the way to your Cross? Will you be found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of his name?

Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. So, Peter feeds us his trust, his honor, his repentance and contrition. He also feeds us his life in love when he is martyred in Rome. We are constantly fed by the Body and Blood of our Living Christ, fed in and through his Church with and through his apostles and priests; we are fed at the altar of sacrifice, the banquet table of God’s infinite bounty. He shows us His love at this altar and demands our repentance at our family’s table. It is not enough to praise, to bless, to preach, to work in mercy; we must love, we must repent of our disobedience, and we must follow him freely to a death, to a life that glorifies God in all things. Every word, every movement, every thought—given wholly, freely, thankfully to God.

Worthy is He to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing! Amen!

1 comment:

  1. I'm a linguist. I had to tell you how much I enjoyed the sentence:

    So, when you say “amen” say, “AMEN!” Amen?!

    I always love reading your homilies, but that really jumped out at me this week.