Today’s liturgy offers us the paradox of God’s intimacy or nearness, and the overwhelming power of God’s glory.
In the memorial of Anne and Joachim, which tradition identifies as the parents of Mary and Grandparents of Jesus, we recognize the Church’s affirmation of Jesus’ humanity and his location in history. While the biblical witness gives legal testimony of Jesus’ location in Israel’s families through his paternity in Joseph, the New Testament is silent about Mary’s ancestry. Written late in the second century, the apocryphal “gospel of James” mentions Anne and Joachim as saintly parents of Mary. While the gospel itself, and its flowery legends, was never accepted in the canon of Scripture, the Eastern Church especially continued to remember the parents of Mary and sought to honor them. In the Franciscan-inspired renewal of appreciation for Jesus’ humanity during the 13th Century, the long-held Eastern tradition of Mary’s parentage was brought forward into the Latin Church.
Grandparents are often thought to have the privilege of loving unconditionally (without having to punish), and handing on the wisdom of the community in a way that children can not always hear from their parents. It is not hard to imagine Jesus being formed in the prayer traditions of Israel by holy grandparents who had lovingly raised their daughter in the Covenant. It is perhaps this impulse – this desire to anchor Jesus firmly in the human experience of loving family and in the context of human history that has led the Christian community to honor Anne and Joachim.
But it is the readings for today that provide the paradox of intimacy and Glory that the feast only hints at. After leading the people out of Egypt, God chooses to remain close to the people that he rescued from slavery and is forming in the desert “womb.” The first reading – woven together from chapters 33 and 34 of Exodus – gives us a picture of God being intimately available to the people. At divine command the people set up a tent where God’s presence (in cloud and fire) can be experienced and where those who want to speak to God can do so. When Moses goes there to talk to God “face-to-face” the people stand at the entrance of their own tents and experience God’s powerful presence at a slight distance. Those who know the scriptures, of course, know that experiencing God face-to-face is sure death (no human can survive that and live), and yet, God makes an exception for his friend Moses – and Moses’ followers share in that experience at a modest distance!
The good news for us, who believe in the Incarnation of God in human flesh and human history, is that we too can experience God intimately without being destroyed because Jesus’ humanity mediates the Kabod – the power and glory of God that is so overwhelming. Jesus himself becomes our “tent” wherein we can stand face-to-face and know God and God’s loving desire for us.
But today’s Gospel warns us that the power of God’s
glory remains and brings all of human history to accountability.
God has sown the seeds of goodness and glory within our world. Those
seeds come to fruition in the children and grandchildren of the
friends of God and prophets – those who hear the word, hold
it in our hearts and live it in our daily lives. Will we stand face-to-face
and be destroyed as chaff or will we reflect the glory of God, and
“shine like the sun”?
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