Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.
We ask of our loving God in our Collect this week something extraordinary. We ask that He grant us so perfectly to know Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life. I say this is extraordinary for two reasons. One because the claim made herein about Jesus—He is the way (and there is no other); He is the truth (and there is no other), and He is the life (and there is no other). We need to have this clarity about our loving Lord Jesus—clarity about who exactly He is, and clarity about what His mission was in becoming Man in the Incarnation. Jesus is the definitive revelation of ultimate reality, and He chose to be born, to live, to minister, to die, and to rise again so that the whole world could join Him with the Father in eternal bliss.
And that is the second way that our Collect is extraordinary—the clear articulation of Hope. Hope that in following in His steps, we ourselves will live in glory everlasting, united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other. Hope that through our lives in the Church Militant anchored around Formation, Sacraments, and Prayer, having begun the process of being reformed into the likeness of blessed Jesus, in the next part of life in the Church Expectant, our intimacy with Jesus grows unfathomably close.
“If you love me,” the Apostles and disciples remembered Jesus teaching them—“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Another word for commandments is “words.” If you love me, you will keep my words. Keep His words, treasure His words, ponder His words, savor His words—regard His words as the most special things there are, and ever will be. The words of Jesus, the commandments of Jesus, are words from heaven, every one of them. Jesus’s sinlessness means nothing He ever did or said was ever separate from His Father in heaven.
Saint Peter captured this when the disciples started to peel away from following Jesus’ teaching that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” They thought that a particularly hard teaching. “Do you also wish to go away?” he asked those that remained. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It was in the days, weeks, months and years after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus that the Church, through her Apostles and disciples, found increasing resonance in the words of Jesus that we remembered and passed down through oral tradition, and eventually written down in the Christian Scriptures. The words of Christ had power in them, had a mystique about them, a fragrance of divinity, a fragrance of glory.
And the beauty of this resonance was seen as consonant with the Sacred Scriptures of their time—consonant and harmonious with the prophets Ezekiel, Micah, Isaiah and others. And also ringingly consonant with the Law, the books of Moses, such as in the Book of Deuteronomy and passages such as we have this week. Moses asked the people of Israel—“Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, and still live?” The Apostles and disciples of Christ, were able to respond with the children of Israel—Yes, we did! Or to Moses question, “Has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and outstretched arm?” The Apostles and disciples profoundly recognizes, these were the great and mighty acts of Jesus, who hung on the Cross, stretching out loving arms to those who hear His voice. What greater trial was the Cross, or greater sign and wonder? What greater war was there than the battle against Satan and his evil than the battle Jesus has permanently won for all time? And what hands are mightier than the hands of Jesus? Hands wounded from the nails, yet so strong and sturdy as to hold all His people so close to His sacred and loving heart? And hands supple enough to present to His people the food of angels—the delicate Body and precious Blood in the Sacrament?
And when Moses taught his people, “To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might disciple you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire.” Yes, yes, yes—the Church was lit up in recognition, lit up like a roman candle, that this is exactly what Jesus had done. The invisible, mysterious maker of all things, seen and unseen, had revealed Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ; that all may know that this, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Yes, yes—out of heaven God let us hear His voice, the sweet words of Jesus, even His first word of glory on Easter: “Peace be with you.” And yes, yes—Jesus let us see the great fire of His love, and the words we heard came out of that fire, as the words of heaven came out of the burning bush to the ears of Moses—words of redemption, words of salvation, words remove captives from their captivity.
Brothers and sisters, let us savor the early Church savoring the words of the prophets and savoring the words of the law. The prophets and the Law, that is, Isaiah and Moses, together with the sacred, heavenly words of Jesus, transfigure our souls. Let us keep these words, not only because Moses taught that with them, life will go well for us and for our children. But because without these transfiguring words, we are in the dark.
But Jesus did not come that we would walk in darkness, but walk in the light. And not only walk in light, but be the light of the world for others. And not only be the light for the world, but be fire, a holy fire. In the teaching of Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast day on the calendar is today—Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.