Showing items filed under “The Rev. Chris Yoder”

Getting Ready for Sunday

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Sing to the Lord a new song. ­––Psalm 96:1

Today the whole earth sings and shouts for joy because the Lord is come. Heaven and nature sing, because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11) in the birth of Jesus. We rejoice, because, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:4–5). In Jesus, the grace and goodness and love of God flames out, like light shining in darkness. When the light of Christ falls on us, it both reveals the devices and desires of our death-bound hearts and also shows us the way to life. So, today, we—who once walked in darkness but have now seen this great light—are filled with joy. “For unto us a child is born” (Isaiah 9:6), even “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” the same one “who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:13–14).

 “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us.” These words from the Letter to Titus are very fitting for Christmas Day. They come from one of the readings appointed for today: Titus 2:11–14. This passage is not as well-known as the story of the Nativity in Luke’s Gospel, but it expresses the whole meaning of that story, like a nutshell in which the whole Gospel is written in tiny script.

Jesus is the one “who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14). In the man Jesus, the God of Israel gives himself for us. Our Creator gives himself for us in Jesus. The Word became flesh. Stop and wonder for a moment before this magnum mysterium, this great mystery.

“Who gave himself for us.” Titus expresses the mystery of the Incarnation in language picked up by Bernard of Clairvaux in a lovely passage:

‘What shall I render to the Lord for all that he has given me?’ In his first work he gave me myself; in his second work he gave me himself; when he gave me himself, he gave me back myself. Given, and regiven, I owe myself twice over. What can I give to God in return for himself? Even if could give him myself a thousand times, what am I to God? (On Loving God 5.15)

In giving himself to us in Jesus, the Lord gives us new life. The Lord gives us life in creating us, and gives us new life in the work of new creation in Christ Jesus, “who gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14). The Lord gives us ourselves, and when we had squandered ourselves, gives us back ourselves. Consequently, as St Bernard puts it, “Given, and regiven, I owe myself twice over.” Not only does our very life come as a gift from God, but the restoration of our life also comes as God’s gift. We have been given and regiven. We owe ourselves twice over.

What more can we do than to give ourselves to the One who gave himself for us? What can we do better than to praise our God and Savior? Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:1–2).

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Second Sunday of Easter: John 2-:19-31

The Gospel lesson today records two occasions on which the risen Jesus appears to his disciples. The first on the evening of the Lord’s resurrection (that is, Easter Day), and the second a week later (that is, today). On both occasions the disciples are gathered behind locked doors out of fear. Both times Jesus appears to them, he speaks a word of peace. Both times the disciples come to a joyful recognition of the Lord.

What’s different is that Thomas is absent the first time Jesus comes.

The others tell him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). To which Thomas infamously responds, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The exclamation has earned him (fairly or unfairly) the moniker of “doubting Thomas.” But coming from Thomas, it seems pretty characteristic. Not so much because it expresses doubt, but because it’s a bit impetuous. Thomas, after all, is the one who loudly declared to the others, “Let us also go [with Jesus to Jerusalem], that we may die with him” (11:16)—but was not there when Jesus died. Maybe a better name for Thomas would be Hasty or Headstrong.

Notice, too, that what the disciples tell Thomas echoes what Mary Magdalene (the first to see the risen Jesus) told them on Easter morning: “I have seen the Lord” (20:18). Mary is a faithful witness—just like her Lord (see Revelation 1:4)—telling the disciples what the Lord Jesus told her. But notice that they do not believe until the Lord reveals himself to them. Even after Mary’s testimony, they are still full of fear. So Thomas isn’t really all that different from the other disciples. He, too, refuses to believe their testimony until he sees what they have seen. Thomas does go further in his insistence on putting his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in the pierced side (v. 25). But he is just like the others in withholding belief until the risen Jesus stands before him.

Jesus reveals himself to Thomas in the same way as to the other disciples: speaking peace (20:19, 26) and showing his wounds (vv. 20, 27). The risen Lord even commands Thomas to do what he (Thomas) had demanded:  “Put your finger here … put [your hand] in my side,” adding, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (v. 27). And Thomas responds with a spontaneous and joyful cry of recognition: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

Did you notice what the text does not say? It does not say that Thomas actually put his hand in the Lord’s side. Instead, the text moves immediately from the Lord’s words to Thomas’ cry of faith. This gap, I think, is important. Thomas believes because he has seen the Lord. That is enough. Jesus humbly offers his wounds for Thomas’ touch, but one look is enough for Thomas to know his Lord. Thomas believes because he has encountered the Lord.

Here is the good news for us: we have not seen the risen Jesus in the flesh (like the disciples did), but we can still encounter him. And this is the heart of the Christian life, encountering the risen Lord Jesus. We have not seen him, but the Lord Jesus still gives himself to us. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, “he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist.”

This Eastertide, may our Lord renew his encounter with you, and may you respond with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

The Rev. Chris Yoder is the curate for traditional worship service and young adult formation at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.