Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 30, 2016
I was invited to some friends’ for dinner. Shortly after I arrived, their young son asked if I wanted to see some pictures he had recently taken. I said that I would like that very much. He quickly produced his iPad, which serves not only as his “album” but is also his “camera.”
He began to scroll through a number of different photographs of the kind that you would expect to be the product of an adolescent photographer…ballgames, friends, family, cars, and so on; when, out of the blue, came a series of aerial pictures. After the second or third, I realized that they were pictures of his street and his home. So I asked: “How did you take these pictures? Were you in a helicopter?” It seemed like the logical, if not the only, explanation. His answer came with a tone that the “DUUUHHHH!” was implied. “No! I was in a tree.”
Looking up, I saw the expression on his parent’s faces and knew that was how he was able to capture the images of the roves of his neighborhood. With that, he pointed out the window to the tree where he and his iPad were located when he snapped this series of photographs. I was amazed by the distance between the ground and the first “climbable” branch. I had to step outside to get a sense of the overall size of the tree. IT WAS A BIG TREE!
So, I asked him how high up into the tree he was when he took the amazing photos. He pointed to the very branch and then estimated that it was about 54 feet up into the tree. There was still about a third of the tree to go before it became too slim to support him.
We then sat down for dinner, and I was paid the honor of saying Grace. I was inspired to include in my prayer special gratitude that my young friend has not been injured in climbing so high up into trees; also asking God to give him the wisdom not to attempt anything higher than 54 feet (which I still thought was way too high). His parents gave an enthusiastic “AMEN!” and shot me brief nods of appreciation.
Still, as I drove home, I thought about my own tree-climbing days. The exhilarating feeling of being above everything and everybody else. The view. The sense of solitude and privacy, hidden among the leaves and branches. And, most of all, the urge to climb higher and higher in order to intensify all of the other feelings. Sitting in the branches of a tree, a kid easily loses track of time; forgetting about and simply present to the moment.
Although his motivation was only to “see over the heads of the crowd,” I wonder if, from his perch in the giant sycamore, Zaccheus enjoyed all of those feelings that tree-climbers experience?
Eucharist is like that!
When we gather, as Jesus instructed us, to remember and celebrate, we are, in a way, climbing a spiritual tree. It takes effort and determination, strength, and energy. But, once we begin to rise above worldly things….we are able to leave behind on the ground all of our cares, concerns, worries, and even temptations that are part of life.
Having chosen to gather with our sisters and brothers in Christ to remember and to celebrate, we really do set ourselves apart from the rest of the world. Even though Eucharist is a shared Meal, at the same time, it offers the opportunity to enjoy a sense of solitude. We stand together, shoulder to shoulder, remembering and celebrating. But, at the same time, we are also alone with the Lord.
Eucharist breaks the power of time and permits us, for an hour or so, to experience the overwhelming peace of eternity. And it is in this sense of timelessness that we find ourselves eager to climb higher and higher into the Sacred Mystery.
When I led a family in prayer before our shared meal, I asked God to give a young man the wisdom not to press his limits and to stop his assent at 54 feet. Before Eucharist, my prayer is entirely different. I pray that God gives us the wisdom, the courage, and the strength to keep climbing until we are able to catch a view of the Kingdom, and then, to be able to share what we have seen with everyone we meet once we are back on the ground.
Don’t be afraid to keep climbing!