I have mentioned before in this blog that I am reading through the Bible in 2020. On this 10th day of December I began reading in The Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, more commonly known as the book of Revelation. St. John was one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples, one of his inner circle of three along with his brother St. James and their fishing companion St. Peter. John is the author of the fourth Gospel that bears his name and he also wrote three letters: 1, 2 and 3 John. John refers to himself in his Gospel, not by name but as the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” According to tradition, his mother Salome was a sister to the Blessed Virgin Mary, making John the first cousin of our Lord. He, of course, is the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted his mother in the final hours of his life on the cross.
So with that in mind, I invite you to join me in reading John’s encounter with the risen, glorified Christ on the Lord’s day in the first chapter of Revelation (1:9–18, RSV).
I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per′gamum and to Thyati′ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice′a.”
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
So John, the beloved disciple, who walked and lived with Jesus for three years, who leaned on his breast at the Last Supper, encounters Jesus in all his glory and how does he respond? He doesn’t say, “Jesus, what’s up?” nor does he call him “buddy” or even “Rabbi.” He writes, “when I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
Seven years ago my mother-in-law passed away. The day after her death, my father-in-law engaged three of his children and me in a very significant conversation. At this point my wife’s father was in his 90s and due to physical infirmities found it difficult to communicate clearly. However, that morning he was articulate and to the point. The overall tenor of his expression was sadness due to the lack of unity in the family over religion. He identified how he understood the religious practice of each of us in the room. When he came to my wife and me, he talked about our “buddy-buddy Christianity.” I didn’t need much commentary to understand what he was referring to.
Our practice of faith was casual, low-key, and interactive. That carried over into our expression of faith and how we shared our faith. Jesus was Lord, but he was mainly our best friend. I never would have considered falling at his feet as though dead. Also, I would have been very careful not to ruffle anyone’s feathers by insisting on Jesus’ kingship. No, Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Nothing wrong with that message, but it isn’t the whole story according to John in Revelation 1. The Jesus upon whose breast he leaned, now was so “awesome” that he fell to his feet as dead.
Fast forward to the present and I am a Catholic convert. No longer is Communion merely a symbol of Jesus’ Body and Blood, received at the whim of the pastor’s planning or the church’s schedule, but the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In every Mass I go forward and receive the host on my tongue, I am receiving the actual Body and Blood of Christ. While the host still retains the appearance of bread, in reality it is now the Body of Christ. Therefore, being the Body of Christ, special reverence is given to Christ in the Sacrament, and also in the Tabernacle where the host is kept, and also in the church where the Tabernacle resides.
When I come into the church I immediately recognize the very presence of the Risen and Glorified Jesus Christ. He is waiting for me. That will impact my conduct. I will show reverence in my conduct, my speech and my activity. I have entered into sacred space. I have entered into the presence of the eternal King. I have entered his courts with praise. It is fitting for me to bend the knee before him. We call that “genuflection.” Unless physically impossible, a simple neck bow will not do. I have come into the Holy of holies. In the Old Testament a person who entered the “Holy of holies” unworthily was struck dead!
That’s another reason why the Tabernacle that houses the host is situated in the center of the altar. Although many tabernacles were moved off to the side or to another location in the church nearly 50 years ago, we should make every effort to return the Tabernacle to its rightful place. Why is this? Because Jesus is the center of our faith, our life and our hope. Our eyes should be drawn to his holy majesty. He is our focus, our North Star, our guiding light.
When we encounter the living Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we heard the same words he spoke to St. John: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.“ What happened to John as this encounter with Jesus? He was given a mission. Jesus told him, “Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter.” (Revelation 1:19 RSV).
John wrote the book of Revelation after his encounter with Christ. The revelation is God’s definitive word of how he will work through his Church and counter the assaults of the enemy against all of God’s creation. What a mission John undertook! What mission will we receive when we properly approach and receive our Lord Jesus in Holy Eucharist? I can’t tell you what it will be, but I can tell you it will change your life! When Isaiah had his encounter with the holy, holy, holy God, his first response was “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips,… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5 RSV). He was touched with a hot coal that purified his lips. Subsequently he was called to a mission. He responded: “Here am I! Send me.” (6:8 RSV).
“Lord, I am not worthy,… but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” “Hear am I! Send me.”