Dear parishioners of St. Philip Neri Parish,
In the midst of this world-wide pandemic do you have hope?
Scripture Reflection for: the Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020
Readings: Acts 85-8,14-17 / 1 Peter 3.15-18 / John 14.15-21
We do not maintain hope by denial of reality, by refusal to see or understand the scope of suffering all around us. That is clearly not hope. Hope is clear eyed. It sees reality in some measure as God sees reality. “Always be ready to give an explanation for your hope,” says Saint Peter in the second reading. Be prepared to testify about your hope. Can I give an explanation for my hope? Do I have any hope to explain?
In the suffering of the multitude of the sick, the bewilderment of we who may not attend Church, the fear of those put out of work, the anger of those who feel that they have lost control over their own lives, in the confusion of students and professors trying to understand how to learn in a new environment, and in the anxiety of university administrators or restaurant owners who can’t even imagine where the money needed to continue their good work or business will come from . . . in the middle of all this, I am to be ready to give a reason for my HOPE?
Peter who writes, “Always be ready to give an explanation for your hope,” is not a man who had his eyes closed to suffering, ignorance, greed, violence and oppression. Like Christ, he was rejected and crucified, but upside down. “If it is the will of God that you suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong”. In ways we can’t imagine, he had multiple reasons to despair. Where did his hope rise that enabled him to suffer for the good he did?
He encountered his best friend Jesus alive after he had been crucified, for revealing the truth about God as His Father. Peter experienced a love that washed his guilt of betrayal more deeply than the washing of his feet. The hope that Peter talks about is grounded in the experience of encountering Jesus face-to-face. When he was forced to look into His eyes, around a second fire, not in the courtyard of Pilate, but on the beach where the risen Christ was cooking fish, then washed in a forgiving glance of mercy, Peter knew that there could never be a reason for despair. Christ’s tender love enveloped him as fully as the dawning sun.
And that gaze remains in the Person of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate in our hearts. Isn’t it interesting that this is how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel? The Greek word for “Advocate,” parakletos, also means defense attorney. Someone who will assure us all that we have been acquitted and forgiven. Someone who sees our sins and failings but who also sees the true desires of our hearts and never gives up on us. When each of us can be asked again the question, “Do you love me?” Always remember the Holy Spirit, your defender, especially when you start thinking that you’re no good or that God has given up on you. Spend time listening for the Holy Spirit. Let him convince you over and over again that you belong to Christ and that no one can snatch you out of his hands.
The promise of Christ is that even as he goes to the Father, He will not leave us orphans, but that we will be in Him and He will be in us. If we love Christ, we must keep his commandments. What are the commandments of Christ? Are they merely the commandments of God given to Moses? Did He not say, “A new commandment I give to you, “Love one another as I have loved you.”? “Wash one another’s feet” If we love one another, we love Christ, for “Whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Christ.” But we are among the least. We are the Christ who heals. We are the Christ who suffers today. “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
I leave you with a beautiful poem that captures that communion of life and is the basis of our hope. As a preface to the poem, Malcolm Guite, poet, theologian and songwriter wrote, “I think it’s harder to weather this strange time as a priest than it is as a poet … the priest in me feels strongly called to be out there holding hands with the very people from whom I must be distanced, but the poet in me knows that if the muse is kind and I am faithful to her, then my words will do the touching for me.” Here’s his challenging poem:
And where is Jesus, this strange Easter day?
Not lost in our locked churches, anymore
Than he was sealed in that dark sepulchre.
The locks are loosed; the stone is rolled away,
And he is up and risen, long before,
Alive, at large, and making his strong way
Into the world, he gave his life to save,
No need to seek him in his empty grave.
He might have been a wafer in the hands
Of priests this day, or music from the lips
Of red-robed choristers, instead he slips
Away from church, shakes off our linen bands
To don his apron with a nurse: he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.
On Thursday we applauded, for he came
And served us in a thousand names and faces
Mopping our sickroom floors and catching traces
Of that corona which was death to him:
Good Friday happened in a thousand places
Where Jesus held the helpless, died with them
That they might share his Easter in their need,
Now they are risen with him, risen indeed.
Fr. Ken Forster OMI
St. Philip Neri Parish