Sunday, April 24, 2016

Very Revealing

   Fifth Sunday of Easter   C 
I think that most of you know
that half of my seminary training was in Rome.
Which means that I was studying theology in Italian—
a language I’d never studied before.
When I went to my first day of classes at the university,
I knew about enough of the Italian language to order a pizza—
but certainly not enough to discuss the finer points of the Gospel.

I remember sitting in the large lecture hall that first semester
when one of our professors
pulled out a white handkerchief from his pocket, shook it open,
and laid it over the watch on his wrist.
He then removed the handkerchief.
He must have done this six or seven times in a row,
all the while continuing with his lecture.
I was trying to keep up…but not really succeeding.
All I knew is that what he was doing
sure looked like a magic trick—and a pretty awful one,
because every time he lifted his hanky,
his watch was still there!

I later came to realize that what he was doing
was giving us a rather concrete lesson in revelation.
“Revelation” is one of those Church words
that gets thrown around rather freely,
but which many folks never stop to question:
“What does it really mean?”
To re-veal something literally means to remove the veil—
to uncover something
or (like Toto does in The Wizard of Oz) to pull back the curtain.
A revelation gives us a peek behind the scenes,
a glimpse of what’s really going on.

For us Christians, revelation is the word we use
for everything that God has told us about himself
(and, for that matter, about ourselves, too.)
Revelation is the way God lets us in on his plans.
It’s something God has done gradually through ages past—
and did perfectly when he sent us
his Only Begotten Son, the Word made flesh.
What is revealed isn’t stuff we can figure out by ourselves.
There’s no test, no experiment, by which you figure out God.
Revelation is a matter of questions we couldn't answer on our own.

If you open up your Bible,
you see that “Revelation” is also the name of a particular book—
the very last one of the bunch.
In our second readings,
we’ve been hearing passages from Revelation
all through this Easter season.
Many people stay away from the Book of Revelation.
They think it’s difficult to understand;
some even find it scary.
There’s a common misconception that it’s nothing other
than a graphic description of the end of the world.
The fact of the matter is that Revelation is a revelation.
If we’re patient with it, if we take it on its own terms,
we can discover that this book is meant
to remove the veil, to pull back the curtain, to uncover God’s plan,
to give us a glimpse of what’s really going on.

Consider what we’ve already seen
by reading just a few small pieces of the Book of Revelation
during the Easter season so far:
there’s a man in a long white robe wearing a golden sash;
he’s standing near a throne and an altar,
around which are burning candles;
every so often, someone opens up a large scroll (or a book)
from which to read;
surrounding them are crowds of people—wearing white robes, too—
who are worshipping and singing things
like “Amen” and “Alleluia” and “Holy, holy, holy,”
repeatedly bowing down and falling to their knees.
And just in case it’s not already obvious enough,
John tells us that he had this vision on the Lord’s Day—on Sunday.

What does that all sound like?  Mass, of course!
And that’s no accident!
Revelation is a revelation about what’s actually going on
when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist.
It tells us that this isn’t simply a get together
of like-minded people who take comfort in ritual.
No—this is where heaven meets earth, where God meets man.
What we feel is holy water sprinkled on our heads;
in truth, we are washed clean of sin
in the precious Blood of the Lamb of God.
What we see and smell is the smoke of incense;
in fact, it’s our prayers and praises that are rising on high.
What we taste is but a small scrap of bread;
in reality, we’re receiving the Body and Blood,
Soul and Divinity of the Lord Jesus—
once slain, but now living forever.
When we sing, it's not only with the choir upstairs,
but with countless choirs of angels!
What our senses can grasp
is engaging, moving, and beautiful on its own—
but there’s so much more going on here than meets the eye,
and it all points beyond itself to what’s really real.

What the Book of Revelation does for the Mass
it also does for the whole of the Christian life.
It was written to a people
facing deadly persecution for their faith in Jesus—
like Paul and Barnabas, undergoing many hardships
in order to enter the kingdom of God.
They needed encouragement; they needed hope.
And so Revelation tells them and tell us
that God has made his dwelling with the human race:
he lives—and lives among us!
This world we see—the old order,
marked by pain and tears and death and mourning—
is passing away.
God is making all things new:
a new heavens, a new earth, a new Jerusalem.
That’s not just a distant future to dream about;
it’s the present reality, though hidden from our sight.
The Book of Revelation reminds us
to keep our eyes and our minds and our hearts open
to all the many ways—big and small—
in which God is constantly drawing back the curtain,
removing the veil, and giving us a glimpse of his presence 
and of his plan for our salvation.

Revelation is not only God’s gift to us;
it’s also our solemn duty.
Just hours before he died on the Cross,
while still at the Last Supper table,
Jesus says,
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples—
this is the way you can help others to recognize
who I really am, why I came and lived and died and rose:
by the way you love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must also love one another.”

No, revelation isn’t magic.
It’s actually something far, far more amazing!
Watch for the ways God is lifting the veil,
and then hold back the curtain so that others can see, too.

1 comment:

Ann Spazz said...

Nice homily Father. Does this vision of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass square with the Mass a typical Catholic participates in today? Just something to think about.