Third Sunday of Easter
During the greater part of the fifty-day liturgical season of Eastertide it is the evangelist John who dominates the stage. The Church has decided that it is through sustained exposure to the NT writings ascribed to “the beloved disciple” that we come closest to penetrating the Easter mystery. In the Divine Office we are currently reading the Book of Revelation which is inspired by a series of mystical visions granted to the apostle in old age on the Greek island of Patmos. In our Sunday Masses, this week being no exception, we have an extract from one of John’s epistles, again written when their author was advanced in years to a cluster of early Christian communities spread over Asia Minor, and here the theme is very much the renewed life which comes through resurrection faith. And on the weekdays of Eastertide the gospel is taken from John. This is an enriching cocktail of scripture which the Church serves to us in this season. But it does not always make for the easiest of reading. Certainly, the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) is esoteric and contains unforgettable scenes of the other world, but it is difficult to understand what some of the symbols are designed to represent and it is hard, at least for those of us not in thrall to the Star Wars odyssey, to get to grips with the cosmic struggle between good and evil which we read of in this, the last of the NT writings.
The Gospel of John too makes its own demands. It is obvious right from the outset that it is quite a different piece of writing to the gospels known as the Synoptics, those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It contains lengthy episodes from Jesus’ public life – the wedding feast at Cana, the conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, the curing of the sick man at the pool of Bethsada, the raising of Lazarus and – a most touching scene which adds such a human touch to the Passion narrative – the consignment of Jesus’ mother to the beloved disciple – which are absent from the Synoptics. It is the lengthy conversations or discourses which John places on the lips of Jesus which are at once most characteristic and most challenging. How did John remember these monologues after so many years? Or are they theological poetry, inspired by Jesus’ teaching surely, but composed by John or disciples from his school? We cannot give an easy answer. But what we do know is they reveal so much about Jesus’ relationship with the God he called Father, they provide the richest and deepest insight into the divine dimension to his own unique human identity, and they are the greatest affirmation that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the divine entered into the world of men and, as John put it in his Prologue, “dwelt amongst us.” It requires effort but it is worth our while reflecting on these texts from John, and during Eastertide we seek to understand what it is is new about the risen life of Jesus in which we share and which gives us, even now, a taste of what awaits us in eternity.
Fr Patrick’s previous “Thoughts” are in the Gallery.