Thursday, December 28, 2006

Feast of St. John, Apostle & Martyr
The Way of John

Readings: 1 John 1:1-4; Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12; John 20:1a and 2-8

Yesterday, on the Feast of Stephen, we spoke of our need for the eyes of Stephen, to be able to see the manger in the stoning and the stoning in the manger. For since Christ has come in the flesh, all human experience is shot through with the presence of God. We just need the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Today, on the Feast of John, we are invited to meditate even more deeply on this mystery. Consider the story in the gospel. The beloved disciple enters the tomb of his beloved Master. He finds only several pieces of cloth, yet he sees and he believes. He enters an empty tomb and sees the resurrection. He enters a place of sadness and of loss and finds new faith, new hope, a vision of new possibilities. Isn’t this what we seek as well?

For that empty tomb is not just to be found in the Holy Land. More likely than not, we all have our empty tombs, don’t we? We all know those places in our own lives where we may have experienced pain or loss, disappointments or even betrayal. And sometimes, it’s difficult for us to leave those places. It’s almost as if we were compelled to continue returning to them even when we know, deep down, that there is nothing left for us there. Except that we don’t always admit to ourselves that we are really still stuck in the tomb. We try to distract ourselves by keeping busy with other things, by desperately acquiring new experiences, all the while harboring the nagging suspicion that we’re not really living but only escaping. What we need is the grace given to the beloved disciple: to recognize in the tomb a vision of new life.

This is not something we can do for ourselves. It is a gift from God. Even so, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves to receive it. We can, for example, follow the way of John. We can go with the beloved disciple into the empty tomb and there consider the things that must have filled his mind and heart.

For empty though the tomb may be, it is often filled with memories – memories of that which has been lost. Isn’t this what must have preoccupied the beloved disciple as he stood gazing at those burial clothes in that cold dark space? Painful though it must have been was he not recalling that which he had heard and seen and touched with his hands? And isn’t it precisely in recalling his experience of the Word, who is life, that the beloved disciple receives the ability to recognize new life even in the face of death?

And isn’t this way open to us too? Although we may not have experienced Jesus in exactly the same way the first disciples did, haven’t we, in our own way, also heard and seen and touched the presence of God in our lives? And in recalling that which we have lost, will we not also be led to recognize the ways in which Christ continues to usher us out of the tomb into the newness of life?

For although this journey might begin in the tomb it doesn’t end there. As we heard in the first reading, the grace of the empty tomb leads the beloved disciple to give his testimony beyond it, to tell others of his own experience of the eternal life that was with the Father and has been made visible to us. And with this telling comes communion and the fullness of joy.

Sisters and brothers, as we continue to celebrate Christmas, as we continue to pray for the eyes of Stephen, how might we also walk the way of John today?

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