The Common Good
April 2004

With Our Whole Lives

by Michaela Bruzzese | April 2004

"Only in our doing can we grasp you, only with our hands can we illumine you....

"Only in our doing can we grasp you, only with our hands can we illumine you.... When I go toward you, it is with my whole life." In Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, poet Rainer Maria Rilke affirms the truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose to fulfill: Our journey with God is not a matter of intellectual understanding, but of living. In the next four weeks we will walk the greatest mystery of our faith - the journey from passion to resurrection, from control to surrender. Only when we surrender to the absurdity of faith can we hope to live the life that Jesus lived and to which he invites us now. Like Isaiah, we will follow God's invitation without question: "The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward" (Isaiah 50:5). We will say yes like Jesus, who, despite his fear, surrendered willingly to God.

And if we say yes to this mystery, we, like Rilke, must journey toward God with our very lives. Then, even in the midst of horror and death, we can proclaim with the faith of the psalmist: "I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord" (Psalm 118:17). By taking the journey as Jesus did, we will be able to recognize the new life when we see it, and not continue to "look for the living among the dead" (Luke 24:5). When our whole lives are an offering, we can believe without proof, and be among those "who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 20:29).

Michaela Bruzzese is a freelance writer living in Chile.

APRIL 4
Your Will Be Done
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

According to Luke, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, "the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen" (Luke 19:37). Unlike Mark and Matthew, who describe Jesus' acclamation by crowds, Luke credits the disciples who (uncharacteristically) recognize Jesus' authority and bless him as "king." Though their words of praise are lifted from Psalm 118, it is not clear whether they understand Jesus' true kingship or still cling to their own notions of who he is and what he will do. Jesus, however, makes his mission more than clear when he begins a "cleansing" of Jerusalem after the triumphal entry. Starting with the temple and concluding with religious leaders, he confronts the abuse of religious authority wherever he sees it. The clashes bring Jesus increasing opposition, eventually leading to his arrest, imprisonment, and death. The words of the psalmist could be Jesus' own: "I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. For I hear the whispering of many...as they plot to take my life" (Psalm 31:12-13). Luke also gives voice to Jesus' fear when Jesus prays, "'Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done'" (Luke 22:42).

Despite his fear, Jesus maintains utter faith in God. This, states theologian Richard Rohr in The Good News According to Luke, allowed him to accept the full forces of evil and death, and "liberates and redeems him and us, even more than his action." Jesus' passion is thus intimately linked to our own, for since Jesus confronted, accepted, and finally defeated death, we are assured that life will always triumph over all forms of death. According to theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson in Freeing Theology, the passion is not "Jesus' necessary passive victimization divinely decreed," but a means by which "the gracious God of Jesus enters into solidarity with all those who suffer and are lost."

APRIL 11
He Has Risen!
Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Jesus' female followers, who accompanied him in his arrest, imprisonment, and death, are the first to discover the unbelievable news; in the words of the angel who guards the empty tomb, Jesus "is not here, but has risen" (Luke 24:5). The women are shocked, despite the fact that Jesus himself had promised the resurrection "while he was still in Galilee" (Luke 24:6). The other disciples are just as incredulous, for the news "seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them" (Luke 24:11). Luke's account ends with Peter's gaze into the empty tomb, "amazed at what had happened." The psalmist is also a speechless witness, testifying that "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23).

If the disciples and prophets are incredulous, what about us? Can we really believe, 2,000 years after the event? More important, can we integrate God's resurrection into our lives as something alive and present, not just the commemoration of a historical event? For Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara, the empty tomb itself is the key to both our understanding the resurrection and to living the resurrection in our own lives. In her essay, published in Searching the Scriptures, she writes that the empty tomb "returns us to the manger, the place of the child, the place of the rebirth of hope. The empty tomb returns us to ourselves, women and men capable of giving birth and rebirth to the divine, the essence of our own flesh."

Like his birth, Jesus' resurrection is an event that is ultimately beyond the confines of our ability to understand or reason. As mystery, the only way we can hope to "get" the resurrection is to live it. The empty tomb is thus not an ending, but a beginning, an invitation to each of us to birth and rebirth the divine in the confines of our own lives and histories.

APRIL 18
Do Not Doubt
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Despite the joy of the resurrection, Jesus' followers remain confused, and "the doors of the house...were locked for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). Jesus walks amidst their fear, bringing the first gift of the resurrection: Peace. With the breath of the Spirit, Jesus also gives the disciples the power to create community: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23). His actions recall both God's first, life-giving breath to Adam and Eve and God's restoration of the dry bones in Ezekiel. All three readings bear witness to the new life brought by God's holy breath. For the disciples, the Spirit is both the initiator and sustainer of the first community, and it remains so for Christian churches to this day.

Meanwhile, John assures us that the resurrection is as difficult for the disciples to grasp as it is for us. Listening to accounts of Jesus' resurrection, Thomas remains doubtful and demands proof, insisting that "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). He not only needs to see Jesus physically, but to ensure that his death was not a fabrication. Only by probing the wounds that killed Jesus will Thomas be satisfied. Jesus' response to Thomas is not condemnation but peace, and an invitation: "Do not doubt but believe" (John 20:27).

Thomas' need for tangible evidence of the resurrection highlights what might be another reason why Jesus chose uneducated people, instead of learned religious scholars, as his closest followers. The mysteries of his birth, death, and resurrection are completely beyond comprehension, and as such they are to be lived, not understood. Beneath Thomas' apparent doubt is a profound desire to know the resurrection in flesh, to know its incarnate reality. Such desire can be a model for us all. We too will bring peace and new life by accompanying one another, physically and spiritually, through fear, isolation, and all forms of death.

APRIL 25
Mourning Into Dancing
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Jesus' journey through his passion, death, and resurrection are reflected in the conversions of Peter and Paul. Paul, who began life as Saul, a zealous Jew who persecuted members of the early Christian community, was converted after Jesus confronted him, asking "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4). Early Christian and Gnostic sources testify that post-resurrection experiences of Christ took place up to 18 months after Jesus' death, which could place Saul's conversion around 34 C.E. God issues the invitation to discipleship not intellectually or spiritually, but physically, throwing Saul to the ground and blinding him to get his attention. After recovering his sight and strength, Saul, now Paul, is ready to witness with his lips and life that Jesus "is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). In true disciple form, he chooses to walk Jesus' passion, the process of surrender to a new life dedicated to God alone.

In John's record of Jesus' last appearance to the disciples, Peter is promised the same outcome as Paul. After being asked three different times, in three different ways, if he loves Jesus, Jesus commands Peter to care for the community. In case he doesn't understand what this entails, Jesus assures him that the kingdom requires total servanthood. Like Paul, Peter is guaranteed that, though the first half of his life was spent planning, controlling, and going wherever he wished, discipleship means that "someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go" (John 21:18).

Though the text claims that this was meant to foreshadow the way in which Peter would die, it actually says much more about the way Peter would live his life in Jesus: in full obedience to the gospel. Rather than enslavement, Paul and Peter found new life and freedom in their willingness to be bound by discipleship. Like the psalmist, they praise the one who has "turned my mourning into dancing" and who has "taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy" (Psalm 30:11).

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