Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Mission Handed Over

(7th Sunday of Easter, B)

In these days, brothers and sisters, we find ourselves in the midst of the Church’s first and original novena, the nine days of prayer that extend from the Ascension of the Lord to the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Our word novena is derived, of course, from the Latin numeral novem, nine.)

In this time of the great novena we look forward to the feast of Pentecost next week, which is one of the real crowns of the whole liturgical year we celebrate here at Sunday Mass. So as we approach the coming of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of all our hope, where are we left as another cycle of the Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter seasons comes to a close?

Well, we are not left at all. We are not abandoned, but instead we are sent. In the Gospel we hear today, after praying for us, his disciples, and assuring us of his desire to have us share in his joy, Jesus sends us into the world. Jesus prays to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” As Jesus ascends to the Father, we inherit his mission. As Jesus was sent, so are we, and our mission is continuous with and identical to his.

But what exactly was the mission of Jesus? If we back up a little bit in St. John to the gospel we heard back on the fourth Sunday of Lent, it becomes very clear. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The mission of Jesus is thus twofold: to be the expression of God’s love and to save the world. In our own lives—and in our deepest identity as the Body of Christ we become in the Eucharist—this mission is handed over to us. This is the first sense of what we Christians mean by tradition, from the Latin tradere, to hand on or hand over. As Jesus was handed over for our salvation, so his mission is now put into our hands that we might continue to make it real in the world.

This mission is our great joy, but it also our most intense challenge. It is our joy because, through our communion with God through the humanity of Christ, God delights to live in us and to express his own divine love and care as the love we offer to our brothers and sisters. The love of God takes shape in the world as our love. That’s the joyful payoff of the mystery of the Incarnation. This is what it means to say that we are sent into the world, just as Jesus was, to be the expression of God’s love. “God so loved the world,” that he sends you and me into it to be the bearers of divine love and delight.

But our mission is also a challenge that can be very difficult and very painful. The Body of Christ saves the world by offering itself to be broken on the Cross, that its life-giving blood might be poured out for the forgiveness of sins and the ratification of the new and everlasting covenant. When we say “Amen” to the minister of Holy Communion after being addressed with our real name, “the Body of Christ,” each of us affirms that we will have to embrace the Cross in the particular way it takes shape in our life. Each of us will have some way we need to break ourselves in order that God’s love and salvation might flourish more in our lives and be expressed more fully to the world around us. It might be pride, or selfishness, or spiritual listlessness, or any number of things that hold us back from being the fully loved and completely loving people God calls us to be for the world.

Let us accept our mission. Let us be sent anew into the world as the Body of Christ, expressing God’s love and offering itself for the world’s salvation. This is the new life of the Holy Spirit, Whose renewed Presence we seek and long for in these days.


frank said...

just surfing around- i am a listener of richard rohr and admire francis and your order. i believe as richard has said that francis loved God's creation so much that even the animals and birds and insects etc were to be respected within the creation space.
clearly our(yours and mine) mission is to bring the good news of Jesus to the world one person at a time if necessary.
frank mcleskey
fairfax station va

Brother Charles said...

Good to meet you, Frank! Great comment...proclaim the Gospel to every creature!