Thursday, April 05, 2012
The following is a reflection, given at Morning Prayer today at my parish. Only on these three days — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — do we have a homily at Morning Prayer. I've been privileged to give one of these reflections several times in the last few years (last time on Holy Saturday two years ago). It gives me an appreciation for the difference between writing to be read and writing to preach.
This reflection has its roots in a homily given by the pastor a few weeks back (on the baptismal character of Lent), one of Fr. Paul Campbell's wisdom stories, and Robin's firm and very Ignatian suggestion to start with "Imagine..."
The last hours of Lent are upon us. Those of us who gave up things we enjoyed for the season may be longing to have them back. Personally I’m almost desperate for a turkey sandwich in my lunch.
For all that Lent is penitential, the sacrament that gives shape to the season is not confession, but baptism - the point of the penitential practices is to remember/renew what we became in our baptism.
Many years ago, in a course on the sacrament of initiation, the professor imagined for us what baptism at the Easter Vigil might have been like in the early days of the Church. Candidates were asked, “Do you believe in God the Father?” Assenting, their heads would be suddenly pushed under the water and held there until they were allowed up, undoubtedly gasping for breath. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” Once more they were plunged under the water. And again, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” A third time submersion followed.
His evocative description reminds me of the story of a young man who wants to know how to find God. He goes to see a wise and holy hermit who promptly pushes the young man into the river and holds him under water. When the young man comes up gasping for breath, the hermit asks him what he most desired. “Air!” he responds. “Go home,” says the hermit, “and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
The second psalm (80) we prayed is the cry of a people who want God as much as air. Over and over again we pray: “God of hosts, bring us back…God of hosts, turn again, we implore you.” And in the very next canticle, God responds to his starving people through the prophet Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water” And in the Psalm (81) that follows, both in the Psalter and here again God promises to fill the emptiness of soul and body, “Open wide your mouths and I will fill them…Israel I will feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock.” We are cared for, protected.
But it’s what comes next in this liturgy that takes my breath away. The antiphon set for the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle we are about to pray together, begins “I have longed to eat this meal with you…" We may indeed be longing for God, hoping that God will feed us, but we hear now that God is longing for us, desires to be with us. How willing? How deeply does God desire us? Jesus — God made man — has plunged into the depths, in the last moments gasping out His need for God, like air, “I thirst.” Eating of dirt and death, for us.
In the next days we will be plunged, ready or not, three times into the torrents of Christ’s passion, death and glorious resurrection: at the Mass of the Last Supper, in the Celebration of the Passion and at the Easter Vigil. May we come up from the waters of this birth the third time, knowing how desperately we want God, and even more, knowing how passionately God wants us.