A neighbor of mine is trying to sell his comfortable four-bedroom home here in Omaha. It is well built and well maintained, and if the house was located a mere mile further west he could command a selling price of almost double what he is asking. But he is having trouble selling it in the lovely tree-lined neighborhood where it does sit, too close to “that” part of town. In the Real Estate business, I understand that the mantra is “location, location, location.” Analogically, in liturgy we could say that the mantra is “context, context, context.” Where the Church locates a Scripture text within the liturgy in most cases interprets its meaning and identifies its importance to the Church as a text which shapes our faith. Today’s passages from Acts, Ps 16 and Matthew’s Gospel have critical importance for our faith both because of the context of this day in which they are given to us to feed upon, and for what they actually say.
In February, 1969, the Church issued a document called the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar. With this short instruction, the Church responded to one of the most urgent goals of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council by clearly laying out the Church’s law (i.e. teaching) regarding the reform of the plan for the Liturgical year. I would venture to guess that the majority of Catholics have not had the opportunity to read the document (nor have they been encouraged to do so), but embedded in the various brief instructions about what is to be celebrated, when and why, the Church gives clues to some of its richest insights regarding the mysteries of the Christian faith.
Entering more deeply into the mystery of faith is the focus of all liturgy. But the Church makes very clear that today’s liturgy is a special key to understanding the Paschal mystery. The instruction asserts that each of the eight days of this week following Easter is a solemnity of the Lord. Each day is equivalent in liturgical importance to Christmas Day, the Ascension, the Sundays of Lent, Advent and Easter seasons and the Feast of Pentecost; all the most important days in liturgical “weight” after Easter Sunday itself. These eight days are more important than Ash Wednesday or the Sundays of Ordinary Time, or the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ – or even Christ the King. By liturgical instruction, the Gloria should be sung, the censor should be swung and the Church should be full of deliriously happy Christians chanting Alleluias over the good news of Jesus’ victory over death and all evil.
The fact is, however, most parishes are happy if the exhausted pastor crawls out of bed and lifts his hand to the sign of the cross, and if the daily Mass diehards don’t decide to sleep in. The celebration of the Triduum has worn out those who love the liturgy; singers throats are sore, trumpeters lips are cracked, and the neophytes have gone off to work in the secular world with, perhaps, too little sleep and less connection between what has just happened to them and their “ordinary worlds.”
For too many of us the weary work of Monday – just a week before taxes are due in the US, when papers have to be submitted at the University, publishers want manuscripts, the spring crops have to be planted, the laundry has to be done or whatever this moment’s demands are – drowns out this astonishing proclamation: “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses”, and its even more astonishing implication: “my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you [God] will not abandon my soul to the nether world, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.” In fulfilling the Divine promise to David, Peter tells his listeners, God has now made a promise to you in Jesus: you will not see the corruption of the grave, but you will now know the eternal glory of the Lord!
Matthew’s resurrection narrative picks up following the account of the women who went to tend the body of Jesus and had met the angel at the tomb and heard the good news that Jesus was no longer dead but alive. Today’s reading begins as they were rushing back to tell the men of their company this stunning good news and they ran into Jesus who greets them, allows them to embrace him and then sends them with a message to the men to get themselves up to Galilee where he will meet them – back where they first heard his call.
Yes, yes, yes, we’ve heard it all. It is nice that it happened. Easter is such a lovely feast with all the flowers and beautiful music, but it is time to return to the real business of making a living or selling a house – not that either of these is a bad thing to do – but, and here I am speaking most certainly for myself – can we actually believe (act on the conviction) that the resurrection is really true if its meaning is “finished” in a day – or even a weekend? The Church emphatically says NOT!
For those among us who have the demands of daily life, perhaps a week long “soak” in the victory of God seems out of the question. But then, the Church insists, how will we believe? The Gospel goes on to tell us of another way that people responded to the news of Christ’s Victory. Matthew describes the very clever cheat that the religious and political establishment of Jesus’ world engaged: intuiting the truth of Jesus, the leaders paid the soldiers to lie in order to prevent the GOOD NEWS from being believed. (They weren’t prepared to celebrate on that Monday – they had important sacrifices to burn and the poor to trample upon). That route might be practical (certainly it is practiced), but it is deadly.
So how do we engage this week of high spiritual festivity? Perhaps we can join the hardy few and celebrate the Eucharist one day this week (or better – every day!) Or perhaps we can find an hour to enjoy a glass of wine and a rendition of Mozart’s “Alleluia” with a friend; or perhaps a meditative walk in the neighborhood finding the face of the Risen Christ in “ten thousand faces” as the poet Hopkins asserts. Each of us needs to find a way to trust the Church’s instruction that this is the most important week of our lives and it has to be celebrated, and ideally celebrated together! Then perhaps Peter’s words will find a home in our daily lives, shaping us more fully into the resurrected Christ.
You will show me the path to life; the fullness of joys in your presence. Ps 16.11
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