On Christ’s Presence in the Upper Room

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after the Ascension, 2021.

We are taught today by Saint John the Evangelist (also known Saint John the Theologian) that God hath given us eternal life. And, he adds, this life is in His Son. This is to what Saint Paul is referring when he spoke of seeing God face to face. This is also what was described in the three synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in the Transfiguration of Jesus: the three disciples on the mountain with Jesus saw Him transfigured, which is a heavenly vision of His true reality and identity (both fully man, and fully God; or put another way, completely within our conditions of time and space, and at the same time completely beyond and outside time and space conditions).

Jesus in Saint John’s gospel account so often spoke of Himself using the phrase “I am”—I am the vine; I am the good shepherd; I am way, the truth and the life; I am the bread of life, and so on; in Scripture God also is recorded to have spoken this way, such as when Moses learned that God’s name is “I am whom I am.” The gift of eternal life through Christ, the goal of which is to behold God face to face, transfigured along with Him, our own being within God’s transfigured self: the vision of God is a participation in His I Am-ness, a participation that begins really and actually in this life through the Sacraments liturgically celebrated, and continues into the next, whereby we are invited to continually grow in God’s love and service. Each eucharist we celebrate is like another rung up the ladder to our goal, the divine reality in community with the triune God. Each Eucharist we receive allows us to become what we receive more and more, that we say with Saint Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.” “Yet,” he adds, “not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

This is the mystery that the Upper Room church of 120 souls began to live into as they prayed with one accord in the sacred space Jesus appointed them to after His glorious Ascension. We are told that they prayed together with one accord—meaning, with one heart, with one central purpose, with one liturgy—and we are told that they were full of joy, indeed full of grace, for they had all taken on the heart of Mary, and begun to make her heart their heart, her heart becoming the heart of the Church: for Our Lady, Blessed Mary was with the Church in the Upper Room. And as the other 119 began to share together with Mary in the joyful recognition that Jesus is their light, Jesus is their salvation, and that the I Am-ness of Jesus is with them in the Upper Room, with them wherever two or three are gathered, with them in their heart whenever they call upon His most holy Name for mercy, with them in Holy Communion, with them through Scripture and the preaching of their brother and sister apostles (preeminently in the preaching of the Twelve)—as they began to share together in the joyful knowledge that Jesus is the Way, is the Truth, is the Life, every word of Mary (the bearer of God, or in Greek: the Theotokos) that she shared about her Son, especially the profoundly mysterious moments early in the life (the Annunciation, her Visitation with Elizabeth, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the losing and then finding of Jesus in Temple) had transfiguring power—Christ speaking through Mary—because the disciples in the Upper Room had experienced His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. The key for them to eternal life is the key for us: having in daily remembrance of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and ordering our lives—ordering our every day—around Jesus and His most holy Name, for this is how the Church renders unto Jesus most hearty thanks for the innumerably benefits procured unto us by Him.

This unfathomable recognition, indeed the true Mystery of Christ, is summarized by Our Lord’s words in our Gospel account today: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” For us, Christ showed Himself holy, that we might become holy through Him. All of what He revealed to the world during his three or four decades of human life was, and is, for our sakes—that we might be transformed, our hearts illumined and on fire, with true knowledge of Christ’s presence everywhere and in all places that, as Saint Paul taught the Church in Thessalonica, we may rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.

On Advent: Seeing in Depth

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Advent, 2019.

Why would Saint John the Baptist have his followers ask Jesus, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” If we think that John himself was not sure of who Jesus was, would not this be at odds with the picture we have of John Baptist from Saint John’s gospel? It would be at odds. For in Saint John’s gospel, John the Baptist sees into the depth of Jesus from the first. At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is coming toward John the Baptist, and John responds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” These of course are words we hear as the Sacrament is shown before us in Holy Communion. It is no more  apparent to normal vision that the bread that is held up is the Lamb of God—that it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—than is it apparent to normal vision that Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary (and, we can presume many thought, also of Joseph) was the Messiah, was the Chosen One of God, was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God Himself. John the Baptist, in other words, had a clear sense of who Jesus was. John could see Jesus in depth. John had come for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. John was not the light, the scriptures reveal, but came to bear witness to the light.

So then what is this passage from Saint Matthew really about? The key to this passage are the words of Our Lord, “The blind receive their sight.” Those words, and the words that come after—the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear—those are echoed in our passage from Isaiah: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame man will leap like a hart (an older word for deer), and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” These are symbolic descriptions meant to remind us that the Word of God is a transforming word—that the Word of God transforms our heart, transforms the whole way we look at the world, the whole way we look at ourselves, the whole way we relate with reality. Seeing in depth, like John.

Faith’s name for reality is God. But it often takes time for faith to name reality as God. Isaiah speaks of a highway called the Holy Way. This highway is the way Jesus has prepared for us that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. Those who walk the Holy Way do so through prayer—certainly through specific prayers we say, but even more so through a prayerful way of regarding our existence. Our eucharistic canon speaks of this: that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto God. This means being “eucharistic,” for the word “eucharist” means giving thanks. Why be this way? Because, as we sing a moment after that, Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. Growing into our recognition of that truth is how we walk the Holy Way spoken of by Isaiah. Jesus sent the followers of John Baptist back to him with the good news of God revealed in Christ. Carrying the words of Christ with them as they walked back to John Baptist meant those words of good news began to lodge in their heart—and so their walk back to John Baptist became a pilgrimage. They walked the Holy Way in some sense, because walking the Holy Way means seeing all of reality in more depth, seeing in more truth.

The Lord sets the prisoners free; we heard the Psalmist say: the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. Seeing only the physical world is from the Christian perspective to be blind to the invisible truth of God. As the Apostle Paul taught, Christ is the image of the invisible God. Christ is that image of the invisible, not only in His physical person, but in His actions, and in His words. And in what is spoken about Him in the scriptures. As  I have said, Advent takes its root in the first chapter of Acts at the Ascension of Jesus, when the 120 disciples learn from angelic revelation that Jesus, Who was taken up into heaven, will come in the same way they saw Him go into heaven. It was this revelation that fully opened the eyes of the 120 disciples to the invisible God revealed in Christ crucified and resurrected. It was this revelation that opened the eyes of the 120 disciples to see the Mount of Olives transformed from dry, desert land into the Holy Mountain of God—always to be looked towards to find God in His coming, and therefore God in His actual presence.

And thus the whole passage of Isaiah is transformed because the hearts and minds and eyes of the early Church had been transformed by the reality of Christ crucified and resurrected. The wilderness and the dry land of the Mount of Olives became in Isaiah’s words, “glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing . . .  They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” This seeing in depth by the Light of Christ who is crucified and resurrected and walks with us on the Holy Way is what prayer means: the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread that we may know that He is everywhere and in all places—that wherever we may be in the desert streams of living water may break forth.

On Advent: Facing East in Hope

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Advent, 2019.

The basic disposition of Christian life, which begins in Holy Fear of God—awe and wonder at His majesty—is further captured when we speak about the nature of Christian hope. Saint Paul wrote that everything of the Scriptures was written that we might have hope. He also speaks of God as the God of hope, and desires that the God of hope fill His disciples with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit all disciples may abound in hope. So the basic disposition of Christian life is found not only in hope, but has the character of abounding in hope.

This is the orthodox teaching of the ancient and young Church; and it is found in our catechism in the Prayer Book. To the question of “What is the Christian hope?” the Prayer Book says, “The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” This is why we speak of “hope” as a “virtue” or “life habit” (along with Faith and Charity). Hope is a way of living with confidence in newness and fullness of life. But not just for its own sake, but rather always as a means to the End of Days, the eschaton, living also in such a way as to await the coming of Christ in glory: await the coming again when, in glory, Christ will judge both the quick and the dead.

This puts us squarely two-thirds of the way through the Nicene Creed. At that moment in the Creed, we profess that Jesus has ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. That is where the Church lives, in the present moment: at the 2/3rds moment in the Creed. This moment is a moment that has lasted nearly two thousand years—a long moment; and it might last two thousand years more, or two million. Living our lives that we may heed the warnings of the prophets to repent and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

That is Advent. Advent is about the in-between period of the Ascension of Christ and His Second Coming. To inhabit Advent is to renew our Christian life—to live in hope with our bodies and our prayer oriented toward the Second Coming.

And as we saw last Sunday, this was established in the first days of the Church. The “holy mountain” that Isaiah and the prophets speak of through the Scriptures, and which Moses prayed upon for forty days before receiving the Word of God, came to be seen as the “Mount of Olives” which was to the geographic east of the Upper Room Church, where all Christian worship took root and began. From the Mount of Olives Jesus ascended, and angels told the 120 disciples that Jesus would come again in the same way as they saw Him go into heaven. This confirmed the promises made to the patriarchs and prophets, which the young Church saw after the scriptures were opened to them by the Crucified and Risen Christ as He appeared to the Church from the first moments of the first Easter on throughout the forty days until His Ascension, and as His presence has continued to guide the Church ever since and teach us how to find Him in the scriptures. The Cross is the light.

It was looking together to the east, from the sacred space of the Upper Room to another sacred space which was the Mount of Olives, that facing east got tied up with facing the rising sun and facing the cross. Facing the cross represents all of it, for the Light of light, the Sun of Righteousness, the day-spring from on high rises from the glory of the Cross to visit us and to give us rest. As we repent our sins and confess them to God—which Advent is a traditional time to do, along with Lent—we are purified that again we can face eastward to the Cross not only with our bodies but inwardly with our hearts. When our bodies and our hearts align to face the glorious sun of the Cross is when our path is made straight. The bitter words Saint John Baptist had for the Pharisees and Sadducees stemmed from the hypocrisy of their words not matching their actions: their bodies and hearts were not aligned but were crooked.

The virtue of Hope is what makes His path straight. By properly aligning our bodies and our hearts toward eastern Mount of Olives, which is to say, as one people facing the Cross by which we are redeemed, we learn how to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, awaiting the coming of Christ—this is what gives us stillness; this is what gives us rest in our bones; this is the source of health in our soul. Brothers and sisters, let us continue steadfastly to repent of our sins that we can be filled with the transfiguring Light of Christ.

Homily: “On Christ Ascended to the Father”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after the Ascension, 2019

Our focus throughout the season of Easter has been upon our participation in the resurrection of Christ. We have sought to reflect upon the words of our liturgy—“that He may dwell in us, and we in Him”—so that these words become meaningful words. After all, Saint Paul teaches that we are to understand our selves—our deepest identities, our most real identities—as united with Him in a death like His, that likewise we are united with Him in a resurrection like His. Our identity is a “resurrection identity.” The resurrected and glorious Body of Jesus dwells in us, and we dwell in His Body resurrected and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. And because we dwell in Christ, and He is with the Father—we dwell in this very moment with the Father Almighty, the maker of all things, seen and unseen, and have since our baptism. This is the message of our gospel today: “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.” The power that made all of creation not only made us, but indeed works through us.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “body” is “soma.” And “soma” in the New Testament, including in the letters of Saint Paul, primarily means “a way of being,” or “a way of existing.” In order to teach the Church—the Church of the men and women apostles as well as the Church of today—about our participation in His Body, Our Lord Jesus progressively revealed the nature of His resurrected Body—that is, the nature of His resurrected “way of being”—over the course of the forty days after Saint Mary Magdalene first recognized Him on Easter morning. Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body is first unrecognizable as compared with his mortal body. His voice is unrecognizable until He speaks our name; His face unseen until He breaks open bread to the two disciples in Emmaus; His abundance is not received until our own efforts to help ourselves are spent. He is not perceived without burning inward desire to see Him, a true need to have Him, and He will not be recognized unless one yearns for peace that passes all understanding.

Over the course of the forty days, He revealed Himself in His resurrected Body—His resurrected “way of being”—quite intentionally and perfectly. Why? It was so that in recognizing His “way of being,” He could be imitated, and being imitated by the Church, He—His Body of love, peace, and redemption—then could be shared with the world. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed” He spoke to Saint Thomas after showing him His wounds. Through our prayer and obedience, Jesus forms us to be able to be His Face in the world—that when the world sees our faces, they see Jesus; all so that the Love Jesus shows us, we then show to others.

Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

There are I suppose two main ways to interpret the question that Jesus poses to the Twelve men, “Do you also wish to go away?” It could be that Jesus is gravely disappointed that His message is not catching on—gravely disappointed in what is turning into a kind of failure, even on the verse of weeping and tears. Read in this way there is a poignancy to the question, and Jesus is showing to the Twelve his vulnerability, He shows, so to speak, His cards as if in a game of poker, and lays down His hand, saying, this is what I have, Jesus not knowing whether His cards were strong enough to win the hearts of the Twelve, having apparently lost the hearts of dozens more disciples who we are told drew back at the hard saying and no longer went about with Him. Read more “Homily: “On ‘Do You Also Wish to Go Away?’””

Homily: “On Ascensiontide”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sunday after Ascension Day, 2018.

We come together today in the short but holy period of Ascensiontide, the concluding moments of the Easter season. God has exalted His only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to His kingdom in heaven. We observed and celebrated that great feast three days ago. It is indeed a great feast because the reality it celebrates we profess in the Creed of the Church: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the Right Hand of the Father.” The presence of Jesus had been local in time and space—as He walked on the ground, as He talked in specific places, as He sat at table with disciples and followers—a local presence. Even as He appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection, these appearances remained local occurrences of the divine, where the separation between heaven and earth indeed had been torn open.

The resurrection appearances of Jesus taught the disciples and apostles about the Eucharist, Read more “Homily: “On Ascensiontide””