Opening the Way (4.15.2017)

Today’s Mass readings are for the Easter Vigil tonight, but I want to give us time to focus on Holy Saturday.  With that desire, I’ll be reflecting on two passages that are being used at a service at Immaculate Conception this morning, the Ephphatha and Naming Rite for those in RCIA.  During the Rite, Isaiah 62:1-4 and Mark 7:31-37 will be proclaimed and so we’ll use those passages.

Mantegna, 1490, 14As my eyes fell on the first lines of Isaiah I was reminded of Christ lying in the tomb, seemingly silent and still, but we would do well to not be fooled.  His body might have been as silent as the grave and still as stone, but this is when we traditionally imagine Jesus invading the realm of the dead and causing it to burst at its seams.  It cannot restrain the Author of Life and we see that on display tomorrow with the vindication of the resurrection.

Jesus doesn’t do this to vindicate himself and stick his tongue out mockingly at those who put him on the cross.  No, he is far more honorable than that.  He does it to vindicate those who, in death have been called ‘forsaken’ and ‘desolate.’  For they have been in the ‘pit,’ to use the language of the Psalmist.  He calls them up to give them a new name, and restore them.  The image that comes to mind is Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings going down into the land of the dead to restore the standing and honor of the souls trapped there.  The image diverges when we see Aragorn calling upon them to fight for him since Jesus calls us to live in the victory he already won, but it is still a good image.  The rightful, living king, calls up the ‘forsaken’ souls from their ‘desolation.’  He calls them, and all of us, for we too will die, to follow him to the dwelling place that he has prepared for us.  He calls us ‘espoused’ and he is the bridegroom who prepares our dwelling.

Does this mean this feast has no relevance for us now?  No, it foreshadows what the Lord wishes to do for us and reveals what he presently does for us.  This brings us to the Gospel, where Jesus speaks (or rather groans) the ironically difficult ‘Ephphatha (let it be opened).’  How interesting that he does this in a region called the Decapolis.

The Decapolis was a gentile region set apart by its culture, and language.  It was in this linguistically distinct region that Jesus heals a man’s organs of language.  He restores his belonging by opening his ears and healing his tongue.  Not just by speaking ephphatha, but groaning it.  It is that same idea of groaning that runs all throughout Romans 8:28-39.  The climatic end of all that groaning is St. Paul’s assurance of our belonging: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Isn’t this what Jesus does by rupturing the place of the dead?  Doesn’t he open the way?  Does he not vindicate us from the forsaken and desolate fate of sin and its final consequences?  Does he not restore us to belonging by bringing us into the family of God, and in turn sending us out to show others that he calls them, ‘espoused’ as well?

Finally, let’s return to the cave in which Jesus lies one more time.  I imagine the risen Christ rising from his stone slab, looking at the stone and groaning, ‘ephphatha.’  That gives me hope, for so often I need him to look at my heart and groan, ‘ephphatha.’

May our hearts be opened and those entering the Church this Easter find the familial love and welcome that warrants the title, The Household of God.

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