Highpoints of our faith
June 1, 2009
by Fr. Tom Balluff, St. Mary’s of Czestochowa Church, Delano

For those of us who believe in a religion and have what we might call faith, these last few weeks have been really amazing. We have gone from Passion/Palm Sunday, where Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem heralded as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God; to Pentecost, where the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is sent in tongues of fire to the Apostles.

Jesus enters into Jerusalem amongst great excitement. The people have seen him perform great miracles. They praise and worship him as the Holy One, singing “Hosanna in the highest.” Jesus, however, will meet growing resistance from the religious leaders, the scribes and pharisees, over the next couple of days. Their jealousy and envy will eventually come to fruition on Good Friday.

Jesus gathers with his Apostles on Holy Thursday, sharing the Passover meal with them and instituting the Holy Eucharist. At the end of the evening, Jesus brings the Apostles out into the Garden of Gethsemane and begins his passion. Many scholars believe that Jesus, in his agony, experiences all of the sins of humanity – past, present, and future – and that he offers his forgiveness for all of us, even before we sin. What an amazingly loving God.

He is betrayed by Judas, denied three times by Peter, the rock and foundation of this new church; and abandoned by all except John and Jesus’ mother.

He is brought before the Sanhedrin, the scribes and pharisees, is put on trial and confronted by the chief priest, Caiaphas, with the question “Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God, equal to God himself?” Jesus’ answer is honest, simple, and clear, especially for the Jewish leaders. He says “I Am,” which is a reference to God’s name given to Moses in the Old Testament at the burning bush.

This is the death knell for Jesus. The high priest tears his garment, declares blasphemy, and condemns Jesus. Jesus is mocked, spit on, beaten, scourged, crowned with thorns, carries his cross and is nailed to it on Calvary. He dies a slow, tortuous death, a criminal’s death.

It is important for us to remember that Jesus is fully God and fully human and could have stopped this at any time. He could have called down a thousand angels to free him, but does not. He chooses to surrender himself to the heavenly Father’s plan and dies on the cross.

Jesus opens up the gates of heaven for all of us poor sinners by this perfect, unselfish, totally self-giving act. We now have the wonderful gift of eternal life because of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of love.

These are the highpoints of our faith. It all culminates in what happens next – the empty tomb is found early in the morning on Easter Sunday. Jesus has risen from the dead. And we too, will rise with him when we learn to pick up our crosses daily and follow him.

If we are willing to persevere with him through our own crucifixions, our own cavalries, then we, too, shall reign with him in heaven. If we do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, our faith is meaningless.

The story, however, does not end here. Jesus rises from the dead and travels around Judea and Galilee, healing, and teaching the Apostles, helping them to make sense of what just happened, for they are to carry this message of God’s love to the whole world.

Jesus tells the Apostles that he must go to the Father so that he can send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will help them in all things. Jesus brings them up the mountain and lifts up into the sky, disappearing in the clouds. We call this the Ascension.

The Apostles are utterly amazed. They go down to the town and gather in the upper room, where they fast and pray for nine days. The Apostles enter into the room weak and afraid, insecure and fearful. The Holy Spirit arrives in tongues of fire and fills each of them with courage, zeal and strength. They are transformed with trust and confidence from the Spirit’s presence in them.

We call Pentecost the birthday of the church because this is the day that the Apostles are now able to go out, in their mission, to share the Good News of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection for all the world; spreading the Word of our redemption by the Son made in the image of the Father; a kind, gentle, loving God who loves us all very much and wants us all to share eternal life with him in heaven.