(See the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 8)
The “Demopolis Rooster Bridge” spanned the Tombigbee River in Alabama. In the spring of 1979, the river was running very high. A tug boat was hauling a large barge of coal down the river. Approaching the bridge, the river was becoming more treacherous. The tug had to release the barge as it headed toward the bridge. The bridge malfunctioned and could not open.
Then an amazing thing happened. The tug slammed into one of the piers of the bridge and turned sideways. The water was roaring and very high, either end of the bridge had water up to the guard rails. Suddenly the tug started to tip. Water started rushing into the boat. The movement continued until the boat flipped on its side and then went completely underwater. The current then took it under the bridge.
On the other side now, the tug began to upright itself. First the cabin began to appear, then the second-level deck appeared, water flowing out of the windows. Exhaust from the engines began to appear coming from the smoke stacks. Then the main deck appeared. The tug was fully upright and operational.
When an engineer was asked how this was possible, he explained that at the bottom of the boat was a three-yard level of concrete which served as a ballast for the boat. Without the ballast the boat would still be at the bottom.
The story may provide an image for us to consider. So long as we have the right “ballast” in life we can get through the horrors, dangers and difficulties. Sure, we feel like we are “going down,” sometimes we might even start to drown; however, with the right ballast we can be righted and move forward. Jesus is that “ballast.” He keeps us upright and helps us to weather the storms of life that invariably come.
How can we say this? The readings for Sunday’s liturgy give us some insight. The Gospel passage comes from the “priestly prayer” of Jesus in the Gospel according to John. In this particular section Jesus is offering a prayer to his Father. The prayer is that the divine life and love shared between the Father and the Son may be shared with Jesus’ disciples and those who believe through their words.
The prayer gives us an insight into the depth of communion shared in the life of the Church. The union between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is complete; in other words it is perfect. Jesus speaks of that union in explicit terms.
You might remember the Gospel passage from two Sundays ago when Jesus says: “The Father and I are one.” This is why he can say, as recalled from last week’s Gospel: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
He goes on promising that when he departs he will send the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to dwell with his disciples. As Jesus says elsewhere, he never leaves us abandoned. He is always with us in the bond of love.
In Jesus’ prayer to the Father he expresses the desire that “they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” He continues: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me.”
The union that Jesus prays for is accomplished through his passion, death and resurrection. We participate in that saving act through baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. In a mysterious way we are “incorporated” into the very life of Christ, hence one way of referring to the church is as the “Body of Christ.” As members of the church we share in the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The bond of love is so strong that Jesus is willing to undergo his passion and death, trusting in the Father. Jesus’ obedience to the Father is seen all the way to the cross. His obedience is an act of love and an act of faith. He trusts completely in the Father’s love for him and lives accordingly.
Jesus goes down into the waters of death on the cross and is raised three days later. Jesus is victorious over death and is thus the Lord of Life. His faith in the Father and his love for his people sees him through death to resurrection.
As disciples, we are called to faith as well. Faith in Jesus leads us to the Father. In the first reading for Sunday’s liturgy we hear the account of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen has proclaimed Jesus, the Christ, as the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation first made known through the covenants with Israel. As he now faces death he sees a vision of the victorious Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.
Stephen, as a disciple, walks in the footsteps of Christ even to the end. His own words reflect the Lord’s as he was near death: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;” and “Lord, do not hold this against them.” Stephen heard the call to faith, responded to that call in faith, followed the Lord to the end and shares in his life.
The life of Christ will have no end. He shares this life with his faithful. The passage from the Book of Revelation that serves as the second reading for Sunday’s Mass gives us a vision of that life. The image presents Jesus on his throne in the heavenly court. He says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
He then continues speaking of those who have believed in him and followed him: “Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates.” He goes on with the words of welcome and life: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it, receive the gift of life giving water.”
Jesus is the Lord of life and he shares that divine and eternal life with those who follow him.
Jesus is the way to divine life. Through him we enter into the bond of love of Father, Son and Spirit. He is the way that leads to peace even in the midst of difficulties. He is the way that “rights us” when sorrow or suffering pull us under. He is the way that leads us through death to life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.
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