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Holy Week has left its sweetness while I give thanks for the experience, enriched by prayer and Reza Aslan’s study of the resurrection in Zealot – The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013).His historical focus upon this mystery in first-century Palestine rehabbed my outdated faith.

Critical to this study is the oral tradition in which Jesus and those who knew him lived. From the very beginning, the collection of stories, in Aramaic, began inflaming imaginations and drawing countless followers. Yet, his failed mission did not extinguish his title, messiah: he was different than the others and they would find out why.

So deepened the ferment of those following his ignominious death on 30 C.E., on Golgotha. Initially, grief bleared their perception, but his memory buoyed spirits, and hope in his message lightened steps. Soon, more stories circulated—Jesus was still around.

Not until 50 C.E. did the first scriptural reference to the risen Christ appear. In Paul’s letter to the Greek city in Corinth, (15: 3-8) he alludes to an older liturgical formula drawn up by Jesus’s followers when gathered together.

About the same time, the Q Source, an early collection of Jesus’s sayings appears, followed by Mark’s first gospel, written in rough Greek, ten years later; neither contains accounts of the resurrection, but that would change. More ferment by the first believers eventually produced differing gospel accounts by Luke and Matthew, writing in different cities between 90 and 100 C.E. John’s gospel appears between 100 and 120 C.E., again with differing resurrection accounts—all intended to rebut disbelief and gain followers. It worked for centuries.

Aslan, the author, also reminds us that the gospels are not biography, but serve as manuals of faith to be practiced by believers. That’s the rub: sloth prefers the easier, softer way.

But faith in Jesus’s resurrection adds élan to this practice that prepares spirits for reasonable joy in this life and for an eternity of communion in the one following. It can’t be too much longer …

Again, my kitchen window stopped me from rinsing a cup in the sink. Upon the wintered grass of my backyard, sat a hawk, almost motionless, its mandibles slowly moving. On closer look, its yellow claws pinioned a junior squirrel, its chest split apart. Piercing eyes seemed to scan the perimeter as if another bird of prey might be around and spoil its feeding. Then, its beak ripped more of the squirrel’s entrails and continued chewing—unhurriedly, methodically.

After moments, revulsion pulled me from the window to grieve the plight of the squirrel and to accept that animals’ survival depended upon such feedings, but I was still rattled while holding onto my stool. Never had I seen killing so close.  

Later, I returned to the kitchen window and looked out. No sign of the hawk, probably a broadwing with its wide speckled chest of feathers. No sign of the junior squirrel either, only the grey fur of its pelt marking the place of the slaughter. Other squirrels looked on at a distance.  

Despite the ordinariness of this feeding, it raised my sensitivity toward violence: its universality, its swath of destruction, and its ripping apart communities and infrastructures. Yet, within the welter of such mayhem, rebuilding occurs or sites abandoned—at least until last Wednesday’s desecration of the U. S. Capitol and the despoliation of our moral fiber.

We’ve yet to see how this tragedy will be addressed, especially since we belong to the human species, not that of raptors or birds of prey. Certainly more law and order will not work: its verbiage, meaningless with loopholes for more diversion.

If only our leaders knew how to kneel…

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Savior:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

On December 23, 2020, the seventh and final O Antiphon climaxes these pleas for deliverance. As if to augment Yahweh’s power even more, previously used Messianic titles are added to Emmanuel, found in Isaiah 7:14.  

Emmanuel, a prophetic name meaning God-with-us, first appeared in the prophecy of Isaiah, 736 BCE, when enemies of the Judean King Ahaz sought to destroy Jerusalem…the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel—A mysterious prophecy that still seizes the imaginations of believers, an intimacy that whispers in all life forms.

Yet, how access this power to waylay enemies, wherever discovered? Evil is real; ancient Israelites as well as ourselves have aways needed guidance and protection.  On our own, this is impossible.

Again, the imperatives, Come and save us, conclude this O Antiphon and prepare us for the celebration of the full Christmas mysteries.

But many will ask where does Jesus of Nazareth fit into the O Antiphons, composed through the purview of an anonymous Benedictine monk. Why weren’t references made to this Savior in these little studies? Certainly, I wanted to include them and do see His influence at work in them. In my perception, though, the fiery impact from many Christian churches has cooled, their crèches scenes filled with too much straw.

Only when I began to practice Twelve-Step living with its daily disciplines of mind and heart did I begin to understand the narrow path of Gospel-living and its Author. We need no other.

Indeed, God is intimately with us—that never changes.

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