Thursday, May 9, 2013

Easter is a Growing Season

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, 2013

This coming Thursday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord.  It’s hard to believe, but yes, it will already have been 40 days since Easter this Thursday.

The season of Easter is 50 days long, continuing beyond the Solemnity of the Ascension, it continues on until the celebration of Pentecost, 10 days later – but there is a different tenor, we might say that our observance of Easter takes on a different flavor in the last 10 days of the season.

For the first 40 days of Easter the Church follows the life of the apostles who celebrated the resurrection of the Lord and then were taught by him as he appeared to them and explained the scriptures to them, broke bread with them, and spoke to them about the mission that would be entrusted to them.  It is a time of rejoicing and savoring the revelation of the empty tomb: that Christ has returned from the gates of hell to bring new life to his people, that in Christ, God has given us the promise of immortality and happiness with him forever.  In a sense, it is a youthful time, a time of exuberance, a time to sit at the feet of the Lord, to listen and be instructed by him as he shows us his wounded hands and feet and tells us of his love.  To be as lambs gathered around our good shepherd, to watch, to listen, and to be fed.

Sacramentally, we might look to Baptism and the quintessential sacrament of these days, the Sacrament that manifests the paschal mystery and opens to us the life of grace.  The white baptismal garment is reflected in the white liturgical color of the season, the paschal candle from which we all received the light of Christ stands before us, and the priest is encouraged to replace the penitential rite with the sprinkling rite, reminding us of the waters of baptism.

But there is a transition that we begin to sense even in our readings today.  Easter matures in these days.  And we are reminded that Christian initiation, the full life of a Christian is not exhausted in Baptism, that there are three sacraments of initiation that are required to bring the Christian to full maturity in Christ.

In a sense, the Solemnity of the Ascension marks the end of the childlike phase of Easter and the entrance into Easter’s adolescence.  Jesus Christ our Lord will ascend to heaven, to be with the Father, and we, the Church on earth, will find ourselves in a somewhat awkward situation: no longer able to sit at the feet of the Lord as a child, and yet not fully mature in faith that has been enlivened by the Spirit.
It is kind of like that time when your voice changes as a young man – when you go from singing full soprano to a few croaky notes.  Or as an athlete, when the limbs all of a sudden shoot out, you grow that 6 inches in the summer, and then proceed to trip and stumble over every inch you’ve gained.

Yet this awkwardness of Easter’s adolescence is a beautiful time.  And is a beautiful movement in the season of Easter – it is a season of anticipation, a season of longing, a season of intensified prayer as we wait and ask for Christ to bring his Church to full stature, to raise us through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the full maturity and dignity that we have been promised as Sons and Daughters of the living God.  Christ tells us in the Gospel today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

This is not lent, this is not a season of penance, fasting, and abstinence.  We are within the season of Easter, the season of new life in the resurrected Lord.  Yet we are reminded today that new life means new growth, and growth sometimes has awkward moments, transitions that are not due to sin but are due to the fact that for us human beings, unlike the angels who are mature from the day they are created, maturity is a process that requires time and grace.

As we mature in the life of grace many times we are given capacities that we don’t immediately understand how to use.  We are given desires that cannot be immediately fulfilled, standards that initially are beyond our reach.  And so a sense of suspension, of wanting to do or being called to do something that we are not capable of doing - a spiritual awkwardness - often results.

This is a common experience for many of us when we begin to explore the gift of mature prayer. It can feel incredibly dry and distracted.  Or when we begin to seriously study the scriptures and teachings of our faith and we begin to realize how little we know and so many doubts arise.  Or when we reach out in service to others - maybe bringing communion to the sick, or dropping food off at the homeless shelter, or working on a community service project - and at first perhaps feel awkward and out of place.  Or when we attempt to bring up a conversation about spiritual or moral matters that needs to happen with a spouse or a child or a friend or coworker or neighbor, and wonder if we said a thing that made any sense or if we just upset the other person.

These last 10 days of Easter help us each year to remember something very important: that new life in Christ is not a moment of salvation received and celebrated, but a dynamic life of grace that is continually renewed and deepened within us, prompting us to ever-greater intimacy with Christ and with one another.  And that means persevering through the disconcerting moment of the Ascension, not once, not a few times, but constantly: passing through a periods of longing, of feeling dry and distant, of feeling awkward and incapable, of even feeling frustrated and overwhelmed as we seek to make progress.

Grace is never static, salvation is not instantaneous.  Growth is required for us to come to full stature, to be built up into that splendid city of Jerusalem that we hear of in the 2nd reading, to become those living stones that can form the dwelling place for the most high God.  Easter is a growing season, a season that is meant to help us deepen our commitment to living according to the new life we have received in Christ.

May we embrace the spirit, the tenor of these final days of Easter, not fleeing from, but persevering through the disconcerting seasons that accompany genuine growth in faith.  May our willingness to enter into the adolescence of Easter prepare us for the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, prepare us to receive the full mantle, the full mission entrusted to the adopted sons and daughters of God.

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