Image: Spring breakup on the Mackenzie River
Spring seems to be late in coming this year. There is still some snow on the ground and the ice still has a stronghold on the lakes. But despite the unseasonably cool temperatures, the ice on the big river cannot hold back the inevitable surge of melt-water from the south.
Watching the Mackenzie River break up is a fascinating scene and a constantly shifting drama of sights and sounds. Where the still frozen surface has been separated by the river current, allowing for open water, seagulls feed and swim on the placid waters of the muddy brown river. In other areas, it is anything but tranquil as sections of the massive ice pans grind together, cascading on top of one another in the manner of a train wreck of a thousand cars. It is at once both peaceful and chaotic as the forces of nature ebb and flow.
This image of conflicting forces is one which runs through the readings for today. In the Acts of the Apostles there is sense of a lull in the persecution of the early Church as Paul and Timothy reach Lystra and begin to share the message of the Good News. Here, gathered by a river’s edge, they meet a group of women who are fascinated to hear the stories of Jesus. One woman, whose name was Lydia, was moved deeply by Paul’s words and shortly thereafter had herself and her whole family baptized by the missionaries. It is a scene of utter peace and tranquility that belies the struggles which the apostles have had to overcome and which still lie ahead of them.
Jesus speaks to these troubles in the Gospel. Contrary to the successful conversions described in the first reading Jesus speaks about the times to come where the disciples will be expelled from the synagogues and that people will try and kill them believing that in doing so they are doing the very will of God. Like the chaos of river ice crushing down upon itself the men will face forces that seem insurmountable as they attempt to continue the work of Christ.
This conflicting sense of peacefulness and chaos and these forces of good and evil continue to co-exist in our world today and even within the Church itself. In parts of the world crowds welcome Pope Francis with open arms while elsewhere and at the same time, Christians are martyred for their faith. We take time for peace and prayer on Sunday and often go to work on Monday and face situations hostile to the Christian message.
These forces also co-exist in our own hearts. We find ourselves at times, like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character from the Robert Louis Stevenson story, battling our desires to both; be faithful and to run away, to do good and to do evil and to love God and to only love our own desires. This is the conflict between our human nature and the divine nature into which we have been baptized.
The promise given to us is that if we persevere in faith we will overcome the chaos and good will triumph over evil like the river ice which seems all powerful but is now slowly melting away. Despite its awesome power, it will not last. The power of the Spirit given to us will not allow evil to prevail in our hearts if we remain in Christ and, even in the midst of chaos, our hearts will be free and Christ’s joy will be in us.