Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ss Philip and James, Apostles

Wisdom 5:1-5 / John 14:1-13

When we see a body which has suffered, we do not imagine to see the body as it is meant to be seen. Suffering, pain, injury, broken bones, bruises, open sores, bleeding wounds — these were not meant to be the lot of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. To be made after the image and likeness of God ought to mean even in nature to be whole, entire, healthy, integrated. In the glory of the risen Christ, surely it ought all the more to be free from pain and death, from sorrow and weeping. What place, then, has painful and gruesome death in Eastertide?

Today, however, we celebrate the happy ending of the lives of the apostles Philip and James. While me might be willing to call death in the company of friends and without great discomfort a happy end, neither crucifixion nor being tossed from a great height to die, broken on the pavement, is easily called good. These were, however, the ends that tradition ascribes to the lives of those privileged witnessed of the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, both in his earthly ministry and, what is more, in the joy of the Resurrection. These were men upon whom the Holy Spirit descended, and so, taught the fulness of truth by the risen Christ and by the Paraclete, they give us what no one other than their fellow apostles before or since has been able to do: a pure, true, authentic and saving witness to our redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet, it is as much, even if not more, their terrible and cruel, yet thus happy end in which the Church rejoices.

Before the Crucifixion, Philip in his own way was likewise confused. Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us, was his request to Jesus at the Last Supper. What he did not see then was that to know Jesus, to know him who is the very image of his Father, is to see the Father. There is no supplement, no further or greater messenger to reveal more to us of God. To see Jesus is simply to see God the Son, and so to see him is to see the Father, of whom he is the perfect image and likeness. Yet, as this is so, it also means that, in our world, broken by sin and death, in this vale of tears, to see the Father we must see not simply Jesus, but him crucified. Indeed, to know the very image of God, and thus to know the original after which each of our lives is meant to be patterned in true but nonidentical repetition, we must gaze on the glory of Calvary.

In the world to come, of course, in the Kingdom to which we have been called, the new heaven and the new earth, we will be changed from glory into glory, made like the body of Christ's Resurrection. Here and now, on the other hand, that same glory of Christ risen from the dead, the same life eternal and unconquered, is known not in an impassible immunity from harm, but in a love even to death.  Apart from the Cross, apart from the intimate encounter with the risen Lord, this will necessarily remain an impenetrable and indeed offensive enigma: We fools esteemed their life madness and their end without honor. However, by the mystery of the empty Tomb, we can gaze with new wonder at the glory of the Cross, and all whose lives, and indeed whose deaths, are made fully cruciform, fully conformed to the love of Jesus Christ.

Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the Saints.

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