Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 25th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Lamentations.

The Book of Lamentations expresses the profound grief experienced by the Israelites as a result of the terrifying events of 587 BC. Remember, it was that year that the Kingdom of David came to a violent end. The armies of Babylon invaded the lands of the Israelites, placed the city of Jerusalem under siege, and once they overcame the defenses of the City of David, they desecrated and destroyed the temple, massacred the royal family (David’s descendants), tore down the walls of the city and exiled and enslaved the city’s inhabitants. It was for the Israelites the end of the world.

In all this, the Israelites turned to God, appealing to him in prayer for deliverance, but there was, it seemed, no answer. The God of the Israelites seemed silent and this apparent silence was interpreted by many Israelites to indicate that he had either abandoned his people or had been defeated by the power of the gods of Babylon. The Israelites had lost everything that they had valued most and in the midst of this catastrophe, God seemed alarmingly absent, indifferent, aloof.

The prophets insisted that despite how the Israelites felt, God had not abandoned his people, but was leading them through a painful period of purification that would result in renewal and new possibilities. This message was hard for the Israelites to take in the immediacy of their circumstances, and the Book of Lamentations expresses the anger, pain and grief that the Israelites experienced as they came to terms with the terrors of 587 BC.

This past Thursday, I spoke about how God’s response to not only the terrors of 587 BC, but also all the raw facts of human experience, is revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ. God may not exempt us from all the difficulties of life, but he redeems us through our experience of suffering and death by entering into that experience himself.

This is what the cross of Christ reveals- God is with us, not just in some things, but in all things and his power is such that it bring life out of death, hope out of despair. Even something as terrifying as the cross can be transformed into a reality that saves and redeems.

Christians have for centuries read and interpreted the Book of Lamentations as not only an expression of the pain and grief of the Israelites, but of the pain and grief of God in Christ as he suffers and dies on the cross. God in Christ experiences on the cross what we experience in our own suffering and death, including that terrifying feeling of being abandoned and alone.

God in Christ allows himself this experience, he descends into our darkness, so that when we face the harsh facts of human existence we can cling in faith to the revelation that no matter how things might feel, the truth of what is happening is much more profound than feelings- God in Christ has gone into darkness of suffering and death before us and his divine presence accompanies us still. His presence signals to us that suffering can be redemptive and death is not our ultimate end. Earthly grief gives way to heavenly joy. All this is what constitutes the strange, unique Christian act of faith- an act of faith that does not originate in our ideas or feelings or opinions or causes, but in the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Christ the Lord manifests his divine power in his Gospel, delivering the servant of a centurion (a Roman military commander) from suffering and death. Remember, the Romans were the enemies of the Israelites, a foreign power that occupied their lands and imposed their will with ferocious cruelty. And yet, this enemy of the Israelites proves himself capable of an act of faith in the Lord Jesus.

Christ rejoices in this act of faith, testifying that it represents the fulfillment of God’s will- God desires that all people enter into communion, into friendship with his divine life and presence. Even the enemies of the Israelites are invited to become the friends of God!

The centurion’s act of faith in Jesus Christ opens him up to an experience of reconciliation that blossoms into healing and hope. This can happen for us in a particular way in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is not a negative experience of condemnation, but offers to us what the centurion received from the Lord. Many of us, like the centurion, live in estrangement from God and many of us, like the centurion’s servant, perhaps not physically ill, but so many of us are soul sick, paralyzed in fear and regret, we languish, hoping for God to set things right.

God in Christ can and will set things right, but we must let him. Letting him help us happens when we can make an act of faith in Christ- an act of faith that trusts that he need only say the word and we will be healed.

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