The Collect for the third Sunday of Easter
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
Going out on a limb here, I’m guessing that if you opened this email, you have some openness to matters of faith. So the questions on my mind, posed by the prayer we heard yesterday in church (see above): What have been the eye opening experiences for you? Was it sudden, like St. Paul getting knocked off his horse? Was it gradual like the blind man who received sight in stages (Mark 8)? How’d you come to this place this morning, spiritually speaking?
One reason we’re given the 50-day Easter season is so we can hear various resurrection stories, describing different ways people have eyes opened to the reality of the risen Christ. Mary goes to the tomb Easter morning. In her grief, she thinks Jesus is the gardener, until he says her name. Eyes opened. We heard about Thomas who wouldn’t or couldn’t see the good news of Jesus’ resurrection until he got a glimpse of his deep woundedness (and perhaps connected it with his own deep woundedness). Eyes opened. The disciples on the road to Emmaus walk along with Jesus, failing to recognize who he is. It’s the moment when he breaks the bread and blesses it (sounds like the eucharist to me) that they see that Jesus is alive. Eyes opened.
Which gives us permission to recognize the many ways that people have eyes opened to faith. The good news of our tradition, the conviction that we serve a resurrected Lord, may be hard to see. We may imagine that modern thought processes are more sophisticated than those in the early church.
But from the first days of the church, there was debate about whether any of this made sense. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church with the recognition that the good news of Jesus was either foolishness or scandal to most people in his culture.
Fast forward to Easter Day this year, the theologian and bishop N.T.Wright was interviewed in an op-ed column in the New York Times. He spoke about eyes opened to the physical resurrection of Jesus. He admits that for many people it makes no sense. He said: “Then, as now, claiming that somebody was alive again — particularly somebody who made the sort of claims that Jesus made or were made about him — was revolutionary. It was dangerous talk. So if people don’t like dangerous talk, then stay away from Easter is my advice.” The interviewer noted that we sometimes assume that skepticism is a recent phenomenon. She asked: “How would ancient Jewish audiences and Gentile audiences think about the apostles talking about the Resurrection?” Bishop Wright said: “Early Christianity was born into a world where everybody knew that its central claim was ridiculous, and the early Christians knew it themselves.”
The prayer we heard yesterday tells us that the opening of eyes is God’s work. So we start by recognizing it’s a matter of grace to come to faith. As you move through the Easter season, give thanks for the ways grace has come to you, for the people and experiences that were part of that process. Maybe find a way to tell someone about those people or experiences. No matter how long you’ve been on the spiritual journey, pray for new ways for eyes to be opened.
And know we are not passive in the process. As you offer that prayer, think about whether you are really open to having eyes opened, whether there is more comfort in keeping eyes closed. As N.T. Wright noted, eyes opened can be dangerous.
As you ask God to open your eyes, set aside some quiet time to make that holy request known. And prepare yourself for the possibility of transformation.
As I write, I’m on a plane to Israel with a group of pilgrims. I’m praying for my own eyes to be opened in new ways to the good news of the immanent, historical Jesus, the good news of the resurrected, transcendent Jesus. Please say a prayer for me in that regard. (Thanks.) And I’ll pray this Monday morning for readers, wherever they may be on the spiritual journey, that this day and season will bring eyes of faith opened in new ways to God’s redeeming work.
- -Jay Sidebotham