Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
The readings today are powerful – and a little difficult for me to wrap my thoughts around – I think because they span a great distance: first there is the very real and painful depiction of the stoning of Stephen as described in Acts and then there are the timeless echoes of Christ’s presence as set forth in Revelation: "I am the Alpha and the Omega."
It’s as if our faith is rather schizophrenic – on the one hand, Christianity is rooted in a very real, flesh and blood experience of life in which people suffer and die, sometimes quite brutally. In this reality whose centerpiece is the Cross, we are constantly called upon to reach out, human to human, to ease one another’s burden in great and small ways and to find within our hearts the willingness to forgive those who hurt us.
And then, on the other hand, there is our experience of Christianity as being something quite vast, splendid and beyond our own humanity – a connection to a God who is Mystery itself, whose presence spans the ages, defies understanding, whose Son is the "bright morning star…the first and the last." Our faith feels epic, grand and beyond the constraints and sorrows of this mortal life.
What connects these two realities is Jesus himself, of course. In today’s Gospel as written by John, we see Jesus very present to the harsh reality that his own suffering and death are upon him, and yet he speaks to God not as one who is rooted only in the present moment, but who is confident in the infinite connection of himself to God and to each one of us.
Here is the line that stops me in my tracks: "Father, they are your gift to me." There is so much love in that statement that it takes my breath away! We, who will put Jesus on the Cross, who will strip and scourge him; we, who disregard, forget, are ambivalent or downright dismissive of Jesus, we are God’s gift to HIM? Only a Savior who loves us beyond all reckoning could unite himself so completely to us and see beyond our failures in the present moment.
It is this love, then–of God for us and us for God–that moves us beyond the here and now with its pain, sorrow and confusion and into the place where the tree of life blooms.
"Amen," as the second reading says, "Come, Lord Jesus!" How fitting that these exuberant words of invitation into our hearts are among the last words of the last book of the Bible.
Nancy Nickel is director of communications at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.