Monday, April 21, 2008

5th Sunday of Easter (A)
Singing A New Song

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
Picture: CC charles chan *

Sisters and brothers, have you ever experienced having your song taken away from you? I’m reminded of someone blessed with a talent for singing. From a young age he was trained in classical piano. He later obtained a graduate degree in music, majoring in voice, and has experience in performing as well as in teaching and in directing choirs. Not only is he blessed with a beautiful voice, but he has also been given the desire to share it with others. And he hasn’t let his gift go to his head. He sees it as a vocation, a way by which he can contribute to the building up of the kingdom of God, a pathway to holiness, for himself and for others.

But then, one day, disaster strikes. Something happens to his voice. He opens his mouth to speak and nothing comes out. He has difficulty making himself heard, let alone trying to sing. When he finally manages to say something, his once-beautiful and powerful voice sounds so thin and rough and hoarse. He waits, but the problem doesn’t go away. He sees the best doctors, and they all tell him the same thing. His is a chronic condition. They are able to give him a name for it, something long and difficult to pronounce. But they cannot give him a cure. He can no longer sing, at least not like he used to before. It’s as if someone has stretched out a cruel hand, clamped it around his throat and snuffed out his voice before it could leave his mouth. His song has been taken away from him. What is he to do now?

Sisters and brothers, have you ever had a similar experience? Have you ever had your song taken away from you? I know, of course, that not all of us have my friend’s talent. Not everyone can sing. But don’t all of us have a song, something we cherish, something that gives meaning and beauty to our lives? Maybe it’s our health or our career, our family or a loved one, our intelligence or some other treasured possession. We may not all be able to sing, but don’t we all have a song? Or, to put it another way, don’t all of us have a building that we call home, or a chosen pathway on which to walk through life?

But what are we to do if, one day, whether it is through illness or betrayal, a freak accident or our own negligence, our song is taken away from us? Where will we live if, one day, the house that we have so carefully constructed for ourselves is torn down? How will we continue on if, one day, the road that we have chosen is somehow obstructed? What do we do then?

The question arises because we find similar situations in our readings today. We reach chapter 14 of John’s gospel, the beginning of Jesus’ farewell discourse. Later, in chapter 18, he will be arrested and tried. And what are the disciples to do then? Over time, they have come to focus all their hopes and dreams on Jesus. They have made him their song. What will they do when he is so cruelly snatched from their side? Thus far, they have followed Jesus on his way. How will they go on once this chosen road of theirs is obstructed by the Lord’s Cross?

We find a similar situation in the second reading too. The people to whom this letter was originally addressed are converts to Christianity. Before their conversion, they had enjoyed full participation in the social and cultural life of their local communities. But since their conversion to Christ, others have begun to avoid them and even to say bad things about them. They find themselves being sidelined and verbally abused, victims of subtle religious persecution. The home that they had made for themselves in their local communities is being demolished by the prejudice of their neighbors. Like the disciples in the gospel, their song is in danger of being taken away.

And isn’t this also the danger that we find in the first reading? Till now, the Acts of the Apostles has presented us with inspiring descriptions of how united the early Christian communities were. But today this song of unity is threatened. For some reason, perhaps again out of prejudice, the widows of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians are being neglected. What are the community and its leaders to do?

The usual initial reaction to such disasters and dangers is very understandable and even necessary. When our song is being taken away from us, all we want is quickly, and at all costs, to get it back. When the road ahead is blocked, all our energies are poured into trying to find a detour, a way to bypass the obstacle. We try to get a handle on the situation, to find a quick solution to the problem. Isn’t this what is happening in the gospel? Finding his way obstructed by the rock of his Master’s Cross Thomas indirectly asks Jesus to draw him a map. Perhaps he can find an alternative route. And Philip goes one better, not content with a map, he wishes for Jesus to bring him straightaway to their destination. Lord, let us see the Father.

But God often has other ideas. Instead of simply restoring to us our old song, God wishes instead give us a new one. Rather than removing the obstacle along the road, God forges for us a path through it. When our house is demolished, God actually transforms the wrecking ball into a foundation stone upon which a new home can be built.

Isn’t this what Jesus means, when he tells the disciples to trust him because: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life… No one can come to the Father except through me? Isn’t he saying that the way to the Father cannot bypass the Cross? The building of the kingdom cannot but be founded on the cornerstone of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Exactly what this means for us will depend, of course, on the circumstances. For the disciples in the gospel, it implies walking with Jesus to Calvary. For the Christian converts of the second reading, it means holding firm to their faith in the Lord, despite the pain and the inconvenience, the initial feeling of homelessness. For those in the first reading, it means being willing to thrash out their differences in a big meeting and then having the leaders delegate some of their authority to Greek-speaking Christians.

The actual details may vary from case to case, but the essentials remain the same. Three of these essentials are highlighted for us today. Whether it be at the meal table or at the table of the Lord’s Word, the first reading reminds us that the Way of Christ is a way of humble service, just as the second reading reminds us that it is also a way of obedient sacrifice. And it is only in following this way that the kingdom is built up, that a way is forged from death to life. It is then that we find ourselves receiving the very thing we prayed for in our opening prayer just now. There we said that the Father has filled all ages with the words of a new song. And we asked him to give us voice to sing his praise throughout this season of joy.

Service, sacrifice and joy: these are the characteristics of the Way of the Lord. These are God’s marvelous gifts to us especially when our song is taken away from us. And this is also the reason why we continue to celebrate Easter.

Sisters and brothers, how are we being invited to sing a new song today?

1 comment:

  1. In the noisy babble of daily life, my new song is this:

    "The opposite of talking is not listening.

    The opposite of talking is waiting"


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