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6th Sunday of Easter

May 26, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


In John’s Gospel, the Advocate, a title for the Holy Spirit, is the Heavenly Father’s love. Pure and simple, the Holy Spirit is the abiding presence of the Father’s love.

Of all the Father’s attributes, love is the one attribute which communicates the divine nature perfectly. In the first letter of John, this truth is stated clearly: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Three words, 9 letters, a short statement packed with beauty and truth and power. God is love. An encounter with God is an encounter with divine love, which truly is an encounter with God’s very own self. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is the personification of that divine love. The 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity is nothing less than the Father’s love!

St. Paul says it this way in his letter to the Romans: “The Love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) The baptismal image of this Pauline statement is intentional, because in the waters of baptism, waters symbolizing the life-giving power of the Spirit, the love of God has been poured into us. The Spirit of love has been given us in baptism.

Divine love for all creation is the golden thread woven throughout the Scriptural writings of St. John. The evangelist John very carefully traces Jesus’ relationship to the Father’s love.

In perhaps his most famous passage—John 3:16—the 4th evangelist proclaims why God sent His only Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it. God’s love for a perishing humanity impels the Father to send His Son. His Son is the embodiment of the Father’s love for every single human being the Father has created.

In the powerful miracles in John’s Gospel, which are called “signs,” Jesus reveals this divine love for humanity. At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus changes water into wine so that a newly married couple might know God’s super-abundant love for them. (John 2:1-11) Jesus heals the man born blind so he might not only physically see again but also on a deeper level “see” (know) Jesus as the source of the Father’s love. (John 9:1-41) Jesus summons Lazarus out of the tomb and back to life, not only because of his love for Lazarus, but also because of his love for Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, who are crushed by sorrow. (John 11: 1-44) The greatest sign of God’s love for humanity in John’s Gospel is when Jesus is lifted up on the cross. Everything in the Gospel of John points toward this. In every Gospel command, Jesus teaches the way to conform one’s life to love’s example. The high point of his teaching happens at the Last Supper in John. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and then commands his disciples to do the same, to serve each other in love. (John 13: 1-15) As we heard last week in John’s Last Supper discourse, Jesus challenges all his followers to “Love one another as I love you.” (John 13: 34) Later in that same discourse, Jesus points to his sacrifice on the cross as the highest form of self-giving love, by teaching: “There is no greater love than this—to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13)

The Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus did and what He taught. This is a very important role for the Spirit of love— to gently remind us—this is what love looks like for followers of the One who gave his life away completely in love.

The Spirit of love also has been given to empower us to love as Jesus loves. The Father of all not only loves us into life and the Son not only dies in our place out of love for us, but their Spirit has been poured into our hearts. Why? So that divine love might be the source of all our thoughts, words, and actions!

We are to live by the power of the Spirit of love, especially in difficult times, such as times of disagreement and conflict. This kind of loving is different from the prevailing culture where people plant themselves in their own camp with like-minded others, claiming absolute truth and righteousness. “I am right and you are wrong. There is no reason to discuss this matter, nor do I need to listen to you or even respect your viewpoint.”

Those filled with the Spirit of love approach disagreements and conflicts in a completely different way. Look at the First Council of the Church in the 1st century in Jerusalem for proof. Here we are given a glimpse into how the early Christians resolved the thorny issue of how to incorporate the pagan Gentiles into the Church. There were some who said these new converts had to become Jewish first and be circumcised. Ouch! Paul and Barnabas, as apostles to the Gentiles in Antioch and beyond, heartily disagreed.

So, this 1st Church Council was held to resolve this issue. What is left out of today’s reading from Acts 15 about this 1st Church Council are the verses describing how the leaders debated this issue. They did so enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, who gave them the ability to listen to and respect one another, even as they aired their disagreements.

Notice who receives the credit for reaching a decision on how to welcome the Gentile converts into the Church: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us . . . “ (Acts of the Apostles 15: 28)

Gospel love, empowered by the Spirit, makes God present, the God who heals divisions and brings people together. It is the work of the Evil One to divide and separate people from each other. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to unite and strengthen the bonds of love among people.

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love uniting the Father and the Son in the unity of the Trinity, brings us the peace of the Risen Lord Jesus which cannot be taken away from us. As we drink daily of the life-giving waters of the Spirit of love, we rest in the peace which the world cannot give. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the early Christians in the 1st Century found peace even in the midst of the conflicts caused by the growing pains of the early Church.

Those 1st Christians also abided in the peace of the Risen Lord even in the face of opposition and violent persecution, because they were rooted in divine love, they were enlivened by the Spirit of love.

May we learn from them and do the same!

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)

April 28, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


The evangelist John uses the verb “believe” nearly 100 times in his Gospel. This is much more than the other three evangelists use this word. Interestingly, John never uses the noun “belief” nor the noun “faith.”

Now if you were listening closely to the deacon proclaim the Gospel, you may have heard the word “belief” in the very last verse—so that through this belief.” However, the more exact translation, closer to the meaning of the original Greek, is “believing” — “so that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31b)

Why does John use the verb “believe” instead of the noun “belief” or the noun “faith”? Because for the 4th Evangelist, faith is a verb, faith is an activity, an ever active relationship with God in the present. It is very important to understand this distinction, because for the Gospel writers, especially for John, faith is not a noun, it is not something “we have” or “don’t have” or “have only so much of.” Rather, it is a verb, implying an active relationship with the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ. Therefore, it’s not something we “get”. We don’t “store up” faith, but we grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. As we know him and experience his love for us, we come to believe in Him.

It helps to understand the core meaning of the Greek word for “to believe.” This word is “pistouen” and it means, “to give one’s heart to.” So, when we say we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are not thinking certain “truths” about him and mentally consenting to those truths, but rather we are in a living, dynamic relationship with the Crucified now Risen Lord. Each day, in our journey of faith, we are growing in love of him as we receive more fully his love for us. Each day we are invited by him to give our heart more fully to him, especially the broken parts of our heart, the dark secrets of our heart.

The whole Gospel of John builds toward a crescendo at the end of the Gospel in Chapter 20, where Jesus encourages Thomas to not be unbelieving, but believe. The invitation from Jesus—give yourself totally to me in trust, Thomas. Touch my wounds and believe that I live, that death cannot destroy the loving relationship I have with you. So that through your believing Thomas, others might believe in Jesus Risen and living. Since this is such an important concept (“to believe”), and since John uses this verb almost 100 times, it would be helpful to examine other examples of its use. We want to know what the Risen Lord is inviting us to do with Thomas, how to stop being unbelieving and to believe.

Everyone Jesus encounters he invites into a life-giving relationship with him. He invites them to believe in him, to give their hearts to him, and this happens over and over again throughout the 4th Gospel. In Chapter 3, Nicodemus, the Pharisee, comes at night to be taught by Jesus, to engage Jesus in conversation. Jesus shares with Nicodemus the heart of his message in one of the most famous verses in all the Sacred Scriptures:“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him many not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Then there is the Samaritan Woman in Chapter 4, who encounters Jesus at Jacob’s well. Jesus thirsts for her to enter into a relationship with him, to drink the living water of the Spirit which he longs to give her. When she does, she runs back to share the Good News of Jesus’ merciful love with the people of her town, who had condemned her because of her many failed marriages. The Samaritans in her town come to believe in Jesus, first because of her testimony, but then as they go out to encounter Jesus by Jacob’s well, they come to believe because of Jesus’ word.

Then in Chapter 9 the man born blind is healed of his physical blindness by Jesus. He grows in his relationship with Jesus, as he begins “to see” who Jesus truly is. At the end of this story, as the man born blind now seeing is tossed out of the synagogue by the religious leaders, Jesus comes upon him and asks him a question. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Son of Man is one of the most important titles for Jesus in John’s Gospel.) He responds:“Lord, I believe, and he worshipped Jesus.” (9:35-38)

Martha encounters Jesus on the road to her brother, Lazarus’ tomb, and she at first questions why Jesus did not come before her brother died, but then expresses how deeply she believes in Jesus. “Jesus says to Martha:‘I am the Resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha’s reply:“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (11:25-27) But it’s not only Martha who enters more deeply into an active, dynamic relationship with Jesus as the Lord of Life, but also some in the crowd who witness Jesus calling Lazarus forth from his tomb. “Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.” This “reporting” leads to a meeting where the religious leaders plot to kill Jesus. So, some in the crowd believe in Jesus and entrust their hearts to him, while others’ hearts are hardened and, instead of entrusting their lives into his care, they become partly responsible for his death. Open hearts vs. closed hearts—it is the story of the Scriptures and of the 2000 year history of Christianity.

Engaging with Jesus, coming to know him as a real, living person, leads to a relationship with him that is growing and active. Which can mean, as it was with Thomas, that doubts can surface at times, which can lead to a stronger relationship with Jesus, because he can handles our questions. It was this way with Martha, who makes the 2nd strongest profession of faith in John’s Gospel, second only to Thomas. Thomas’ doubts, his questioning and searching, lead him to give the strongest profession of faith in all of John’s Gospel:“My Lord and my God.” (20:28)

For doubt is not the opposite of faith. Believing in nothing is the opposite of faith. Amazement is also the opposite of faith, because those who are amazed in the Gospels stand at a distance from Jesus; instead of entering into a relationship with Him, they get all caught up in the mighty deeds.

When we give our hearts and our very lives to Jesus, when we believe in him and daily enter more deeply into a living relationship with him, like Thomas did for 3 years, then we realize we do not have all the answers. And that’s okay. We are not expected to have all the answers, because then there would be no reason to believe in Jesus.

With Thomas, building on our trust in the Risen One, we can risk not knowing all the answers or having everything neat and tidy. With Thomas, as we reach out to touch the Risen Lord, our hearts are filled with wonder and awe in His presence. But we do not see the Risen Lord in the same way that Thomas did, which is why Jesus says we are especially blessed:“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29b)

So how do we touch the Crucified and Risen Lord today? How do we touch the Lord of Life who still has his wounds, the marks of his love? By reaching out to touch his Body broken and given to us in Holy Communion, by allowing him to touch us as we drink His Blood. We may not completely understand how the Risen Lord can be truly present to us in blessed bread and wine, but he is.

Peter helps us, by inviting us to believe in the Lord’s teaching about the Eucharist and trust that we who eat his flesh and drink his blood have life in him. At the end of Chapter 6 in John’s Gospel, after Jesus’ teaching on the absolute necessity of his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, many of his disciples leave him. They choose not to believe in him; they will not surrender their lives into his care. So, Jesus asks the twelve, “‘Do you also want to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (6:67-69)

Thus, when we come forward to receive the Holy One of God in Communion, we are actually entrusting our lives to him. As we say, AMEN to the words “Body of Christ” we are not only receiving His Risen Body into ours, but we are giving our wounded bodies and hearts to him.

It is in this Holy Union with Him that we are transformed and are strengthened to believe in Him; to give our lives more fully to Him every days as we reach out to touch with compassion his wounded body living in those around us.

Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord

April 21, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi


What’s Easter all about? I mean, really, what is Easter about?

It’s about Jesus Christ the Lord who was raised by the power of God. Easter is first and foremost about Jesus, who suffered out of love for humanity, was crucified, and raised from the dead. He is our life, our mercy, our hope, our joy forever.

Resurrection is about God’s faithfulness to Jesus. It is first about what God has done for Him. Then it is about us. And it is about us by our witness to HIM, TO THE RISEN LORD living in US through the power of the Spirit. Easter is about the way we are witnesses to Jesus’ death destroying, life giving love.

We have a preview of the resurrection now, inasmuch as we live in the Spirit of the Risen Lord and give witness to Him. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans suggests that life in the Spirit is a foretaste of resurrection. “If the Spirit on the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 )

We share resurrection life now, because we have communion with Christ through the Spirit. Though we live in an old weary world, marked by incurable self-destructiveness and repetitions of sin upon sin, by faith we share life-together in the Spirit of a new age. We are an advance guard of resurrection.

There is no proving resurrection—not by stories of an empty tomb, or burial cloths where there used to be a dead body. but there is life in the Holy Spirit which is the guarantor of resurrection.

There is this life shining through witnesses who are transformed by the gift of the Spirit to courageously, boldly, and passionately proclaim the good news of God’s love for the world by their lives poured out in love. This is what caused Fr. Rother to say to the Sisters who asked him what to do if he was killed. He said: “When they kill me, go to the church and LIGHT THE EASTER CANDLE AND SING THE EASTER ALLELUIA!”

The Spirit of the Risen One strengthens us to live a resurrected life in the here and now: by living lives which are more about service than power, more about mercy than revenge, more about other than the self, more about love than pleasure, more about life than death.

There is life in the Spirit, who is the guarantor of resurrection. The Spirit we share in faith is the same Spirit that was and is with Christ Jesus, and is the “ground” of our present communion with him.

Since the Holy Spirit is the guarantor of resurrection, since the Holy Spirit is how we share in risen life with the Risen Lord, since the Spirit strengthens us to give witness to the Risen Lord, surely we would want to stay in contact with that life-giving Spirit. Surely we would want to seek out as many ways as possible to drink of this life-giving water, to be set afire by this divine love, to breathe in this breath of divine life.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, in the breaking open of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread, we share regularly in this extraordinary life of the Risen Lord. It is the way it has been since the Risen Lord ate with those 1st witnesses of his Resurrection until now, some 2000 years later. It is the way he remains with us, the way the life of His Spirit is meant to grow within us.

At every celebration of the Eucharist, every time we gather to be nourished by the Word of God spoken to us by the Risen Lord, every time we feast on his Crucified and Risen Body given for us, we are strengthened in the Spirit of the Living One to say yes to God, yes to love, yes to life!

Here, Sunday after Sunday, we celebrate the dying and rising of the Lord in our lives. We receive a share in the life of a God of self-giving and suffering love. Our eyes are then opened during the week to see Him walking with us by the power of His Spirit, suffering with us, and raising us to new life over and over again.

Today we bring our broken lives to the Lord. It is precisely because our lives are broken that the Spirit of the Risen One finds a way into our lives.

When we stay with each other as witnesses to the Risen Lord, we discover in the Scriptures that are broken open the life of God rushing into us.

When we stay with each other, we discover in the bread that is broken at this sacred table the life of the Risen One flowing into our lives.

Then our brokenness shall be healed, and we shall be made whole in Him.

Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter

April 20, 2019

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

No one witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the actual moment when he rose from the tomb. No one saw the Resurrection, when Jesus broke the prison bars of death, because it happened in the dark of night.

The Resurrection did not take place on Easter Sunday morning— Jesus was already risen by then. For on that Sunday the first followers of Jesus only saw an empty tomb. They only encountered burial cloths where his body used to be. The women did not come to the tomb and see Jesus rise up from death.

The Resurrection was a mighty deed of God the Father in the power of the Spirit done in the deep darkness of night. On this most holy of nights, a new kind of light shone in the darkness, and the darkness will never ever overcome it.

In the complete darkness before the creation of the world, God spoke, “Let there be light” and there was light, so on this holy night, God speaks his word to his Son: “Beloved Son, Arise” and the darkness of death flees forever. And God recreates the world here and now!

When the Israelites were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, and had no way forward, in the darkness of the night the Spirit of God blew over the waters, making a path forward from certain death to new live. So that same Spirit breathes over the waters of baptism today, opening a path forward for our elect from the death of sin to new life in God.

In the darkness of this night, the Risen Lord rises up in His Church as a light which can never be snuffed out. He Rises up in us, His People! Note the concern of the women who come to anoint the dead body of Jesus at the tomb. They are concerned with the location of his body and disturbed by the fact that his dead body is not where it should be— in the tomb. But they are looking in the place of death for one now freed forever of death, who is rightly called, THE LIVING ONE!

Where is His Body? The living one lives in us by means of baptism and eucharist. We are his body. If you are looking for proof of Christ risen, look no further.

Where is His Body? The living one will rise up in those to be baptized this night, as they die with him in the waters of baptism and rise with him to newness of life. They will forever carry about in their bodies the life of the Risen Lord.

Where is His Body? Where is the Living One? Hidden in blessed bread and blessed wine. Come without paying and without cost to receive a priceless treasure.

And that life will be nourished and strengthened over and over again in the Eucharist. Where is His Body? The living one makes of our bodies a tabernacle, his very own dwelling, by the gift of His body and blood. We hold this treasure in earthen vessels….

All the force and power of the resurrection is made present here, in this place, in these holy sacraments, in the life of God’s holy people. Where is his Body? We are the Body of Christ. We bear a treasure beyond price in these earthen vessels. Whoever believes in Christ, lives their life with Christ and in Christ and through Christ. This happens every day, in joy and sadness, in light and night.

The proof of the Resurrection comes from our witness to the Risen Jesus, from our lives poured out in sacrificial love of others. We are sent by Him, rising up in us, to renew the face of the earth.

By sharing the light of Christ, we glow ever more brightly with His love.