Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Easter, 2018.
In beginning our third week of living into the one day of Easter Sunday—living into its transcendent mystery—we continue to survey how the early Church began to see Jesus Christ in His glorified Body. We do that so that we can participate in the wonder and awe of Our Lord’s resurrection. The consequences of the Passover of Jesus from death to life are nothing short of outrageous. It is like a whole mountain range dropped into the ocean—waves and ripples everywhere in all directions of reality. The resurrection of Jesus washes the whole world with grace—nothing is left out, everything changes. But it is not a change in physical appearance. Rather it is a change in meaning, with new depths of meaning revealed and broken open for the People of God. The Resurrection of Jesus is first and foremost a religious event—and being a religious event, it is experienced through prayer and with the eyes of faith: eyes that see into the depths because God has opened them to us.
Saint Luke tells us that in being with the disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening, “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” When Jesus is present, all is opened up to us. Boundaries of thought and prayer are erased. By means of His glorious Body, new perspectives are possible. Our job is to allow God to work on us; to open ourselves to the gift He offers and wants us to have; to put down our defenses, our prejudices, our walls, so that we can be filled again by God, filled by His grace.
Presumably, because those gathered were devout Jews, something like what we call Evening Prayer or Evensong would have happened. What Jesus did in opening their minds to understand the Scriptures was undoubtedly a truly remarkable experience for them, otherwise Saint Luke would not bother to include this detail. This was not an interesting lecture by an amiable professor. No, this was life-changing stuff. Their eyes were opened to truth—the truth—that was always with them, but they were too blind to see, to burdened by sin, by preconceptions, by selfishness, perhaps by entitlement, and certainly by distorted expectations.
But not expectations that were completely wrong. Rather, their blindness stemmed from the inability to properly interpret what was going on. And here we must be generous to those men, that inner circle of disciples gathered that evening. No one prior to the Resurrection was ever able to properly interpret reality and God. This was the fullness of time, and only with the Resurrection of Jesus did the fullness of time spill over into the depths and glory of eternal reality beyond space and time in a way that was reliably available to the People of God. All disciples of Jesus, whether those described and named in the New Testament, or those named and unnamed in the two-thousand year history of our way of life, or those alive today including us—all disciples of Jesus are confronted with a revelation that is fundamentally paradoxical. That means, not only appearing to be contradictory, but only grappled with, only reconciled through prayer—prayerful thinking, prayerful listening, prayerful living. It is only through prayerful way of life in all dimensions, which is the true meaning of the term “religion,” that the depths of God and His love for us finds a resonance in our souls that truly surprises us, brings us joy, and offers hope.
And it was hope that the early Church found when they searched the scriptures with the guidance of Jesus in His glorified Body and found so many places where God, by means of the Holy Spirit, had spoken through the prophets—spoken the Eternal Word of Christ. The Book of Micah is one such pregnant text. This book of prophecy stands with other books, such as the Books of Amos, Isaiah, and Hosea, as a fierce champion of pure worship of the Lord. Throughout this text, Micah voices God’s judgement upon His people for worship that was ineffective, highly deficient, deluded—in other words, wrong worship. Remember that the definition of “orthodox” is not really right ideas but right worship. There are wrong ways to worship, and God punishes those communities that worship wrongly by removing His presence from them, setting Himself at a distance—so that, as they feel lost, confused, anxious at what is happening around them, and to them—the vitality of their prayer is drying up, perhaps their numbers are shrinking, new people who used to be called to be part of the community no longer seem to be called to participate—in feeling something like abandoned by God and left for desolation, they turn away from their wrong worship and toward God again by means of orthodoxy, or right worship.
We need these texts, if for nothing else that as reminders that there are consequences to the way we worship—worship rightly, and there is growth, the Church teaches and has experienced time and time again; worship wrongly, and death is around the corner—God will make the community a “heap in an open country” to use one of Micah’s terms.
But our passage today is not about judgement, but about profound hope—hope that early Church found as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. Written eight centuries before the Incarnation of Christ, Micah describes the mountain of the Lord’s house that will be the highest of all mountains. In writing this, Micah must have experienced something of a mountain-top vision, perhaps something along the lines of the event of the Transfiguration of Jesus—not seeing Jesus as Peter, Andrew, and John did, but perhaps perceiving the white light of God’s presence shown forth, perhaps accompanied by Moses and Elijah.
This is speculation, of a devout variety. But this is natural when one follows Micah’s invitation to go up to the mountain of the Lord. This is the Lord’s mountain, and it is a mountain of peace, in Micah’s prophecy. And what a prophecy this is: a dream of a city of peace, to which the peoples all flow. Brothers and sisters, we are on the mountain. We are living in Micah’s dream. We inhabit his vision. We are there, now. The first Christians—imagine their joy to find Micah’s vision of peace, and realize that Jesus’s first word to them in appearing in His glorious Body was “Peace”! We are living the peace sought for by Micah, by Isaiah, by Hosea, by Amos, and all the prophets, all the People of God who lived before the Incarnation.
The gift of the Resurrection is that having died to our sins, we have risen with Christ to His holy mountain. We have risen into glory, we are fed with the food of angels in the Eucharist, and we can forever sing a new song—that the Lord has made known His victory, His righteousness has He opened shown in the sight of the nations. And, through all of that, He remembers His people. He remembers us. He knows our struggles, He knows our pain, He knows our confusion. And our lives with never be out of His hands—because He lives in us, and we in Him.