Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, our scripture lessons focused on the final coming of Jesus at the end of time and called upon us to prepare ourselves for that moment, the end of history, the fulfillment of the coming of God's reign into our world, transforming it into that reign of God. And throughout Advent, we are also preparing for the feast of Christmas, the time when we remember with great joy the birth of that child in Bethlehem, born of Mary, but later proclaimed son of God in power after his resurrection. So throughout this season, we wait hopefully to celebrate with joy a memory of that marvelous day 2,000 years ago.
The Peace Pulpit
It may seem strange that when we begin this season of Advent and we are looking forward to celebrating once more, the coming of Jesus into the world, his birth at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, that as we look forward to that beautiful feast, we have a gospel lesson that speaks to us about the end of the world, the end of time, the end of the universe as we know it. And yet as we think about it more deeply, it's really not that much of a contradiction because we have the experience, don't we, that so often when something ends, something new begins.
I’m sure when I ask you that question about whether you wish to be confirmed or not, it seems very strange because as Father Schaffer made so clear, you’ve had a good program of preparation and followed it, participated in it, and you’re all here this morning. So it might seem strange to you, but it’s important that I ask that question and here’s why: Think about it -- when you are being confirmed and you answer that question yes, what are you saying yes to? Is it to a ceremony that will be over in 40 minutes or so, then we all leave the church and that’s it?
I presume if we were to choose lessons for the celebration of a peace Mass kind of Eucharist that we are celebrating this afternoon, we probably would not choose the ones we have just listened to. They're not quite the sort of thing we want to think about and pray about when we want to celebrate the gift of peace that Jesus has brought us. Yet if we listen deeply as we can to this word of God today, I think we can find a message that is very important and will guide us on the way to genuinely be the peacemakers we know we're called to be.
We celebrate this weekend and tomorrow, Monday, the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls. We celebrate these two feasts together because there is a deep connection between them, the feasts, and those we celebrate in these feasts and ourselves. When we think of these feasts of course, we have to be mindful of death, the death of those whom we loved and have gone before us into everlasting life, and our own death.
As I reflect on the scriptures today, I can't help but think how patient Jesus is, with the disciples as recorded in the gospel, but also with all of us. Three times along that journey, Jesus has challenged his disciples to follow him, be like him, live according to his ways, his values, follow him, and they really don't seem to get it. But today, kind of as a final attempt, Jesus wants us to try once more -- discover what it means to be a disciple, commit ourselves or at least beg God for the help to commit ourselves -- to be that disciple that Jesus calls us to be.
As we listen to today's gospel lesson, we might be excused if we think, 'Those disciples had to be very dense. They just could not understand what Jesus was telling them.' This is not the first time Jesus tells them about his death and resurrection; it's the third time, and each time, the disciples totally misunderstand or in a sense, reject what he's saying.
It goes back just before Jesus started this last journey of his life to Jerusalem and you probably remember this gospel lesson from a few weeks ago because it's so dramatic.
As we reflect on the readings this morning, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the context within which we are listening. First of all we go back to the fact that over these past weeks, Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for the final events of the life of Jesus, his suffering, death and resurrection. But along the way, Jesus is instructing them.
If you remember last Sunday's gospel, especially at the end of it, today's gospel is rather jarring. Last Sunday we heard about a Jesus who was very gentle. Who took a little child as a symbol of all of those who are vulnerable and suffers or are oppressed in our world and made that child, as Jesus embraced the child, the very presence of Jesus. He said I live in every one of these who are most vulnerable. If you welcome them, you welcome me. But today in the gospel we find a very harsh Jesus.
To listen carefully and deeply to today’s scriptures, it’s important, I think, to remind ourselves of the context in which these lessons are given to us today. A couple weeks ago, Jesus began this last journey of his life in the gospel we heard a couple Sundays ago, and just before that happened, you may remember, Jesus had challenged the disciples about “Who do you people say I am?” and so on, and finally, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the Living God!” Jesus said, “You are blessed.”