Getting Ready to Pray
I went shopping today at a tea store. There were hundreds of options and the teas were in large containers and the nice person weighed each of my selections. Nothing was prepackaged and I had a sense of being in touch with authenticity. This experience contrasted to my next visit, which was to a plastic-wrapped, cellophane-secured-from-germ store. There was no person waiting and weighing, but the checkout somebody wished me a “great day,” a remark which also seemed wrapped in cellophane.
As we prepare to celebrate Sunday’s Eucharist we might pray with our own temptations to be plastic. This would mean being predictable, standard, distant, germless, indirect, formally-gracious—but not necessarily containing grace.
I was surprised by the personal attention and interaction of the tea-lady today. While waiting for my purchases I was singing softly to myself and she said I had a good voice and would I sing a song for her. I did! Right out loud! (She did not reduce the price for that.)
Jesus was wrapped in authenticity, human as well as divine. Our reception of his body is the authentic life and love of God, waiting to be wrapped in everything that is graciously graceful for our humanity. We can pray with the chances given to us to let him out and make him real.
In the First Reading for this Sunday we hear the conclusion of a great experience, being on mission. Paul and Barnabas did some wonderful things, so wonderful that the people thought Zeus and Hermes, Greek gods, were visiting them. The two preachers shouted the louder that they were only humans, bringing good news to them.
Paul and Barnabas had their hardships of course and through them grew in trust of God’s love and mission for them. We hear of their returning to the place where they began proclaiming the Word and initiating communities of faith. They were grace-charged humans, instruments in the hands of God. Those through the centuries who have entered into this instrumentality have known also their being in those same hands.
In the Holy Thursday Gospel we read the verses that lead up to those we hear today. Jesus has washed the feet of his followers; Judas has dirtied his hands by his betrayal. Jesus is back at the table and John pictures Jesus as beginning the good-news, bad-news of his last hours with his friends, whom he regards as “my children.” The bad news was that he would be with them for only a little while longer. The good news was that he would be revealed in all his glory, upon the cross. According to John, Jesus will spend the next four chapters making sure his message is stated as clearly as possible.
What is most clear and what will be repeated exactly in chapter fifteen, is that he wishes them to love one another. By this love he wants them to stay together as well as increase in fruitfulness. By mutual reverence the “glory” of God, love, will be experienced by others, who will be drawn into the company of believers.
John’s Gospel takes various elements from the book of Genesis. Here John shows Jesus giving “a new commandment” which is to “love one another.” The first and newest commandment was creation: “Let there be. … ” Light, order, life and fertility were results of a divine creative command. The Fall resulted in darkness, disorder, living outside the original context and fertility was to be experienced in pain.
Jesus commands a “new” kind of creational love which is meant to bring back light, reverence, respect for what is and a relational exchange of interiors. The disciples will love each other into increased life, as Jesus had done with them. Jesus had given them as much as they could handle. Now he was urging them to love outside the circle, beyond the eleven elect. They were to encourage others to treat there own selves as gifts to be given gratefully to others.
Not all of us enter the process of allowing new sacred life into this circle of love. We all are commanded to co-create, co-sculpture, and co-recover the lives within our life’s circle. When understood, this “new commandment” urges us beyond the emotional experience of love. We are missioned to continue God’s creational, resurrection love. We are the way God continues to say, “Let there be light,” “Let there be order.” Imagine all that! It is mighty “new,” and yet is a commandment which surpasses all others.
Naturally we have the opposite power as well. There is our ability to also de-create. It is the “old commandment,” which the Devil gave to Adam and Eve. Jesus is inviting his disciples and us to accept the love of the Creating God and, having accepted that, we are urged gracefully to be instruments of attracting others into the circle of life. If I love you, I will want you to be, not more than you can be, but more of the God-loved person you are. The more my love for you helps you to love yourself, the more the circle will be created larger, deeper. The more you have of your true self, the more you will want to share and give others their life.
Jesus was handing his life over to us before he handed his life over to death. We are now commanded to be the instruments—sacraments—making his creative love a real presence in the circle of life.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.