Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The story from the Book of Genesis which furnishes our first reading for today's liturgy presents tells us of that which has become known as Jacob's ladder. While in a dream, Jacob saw a staircase leading from earth to heaven with heavenly messengers using it to ascend and descend as they went about doing God's will. While still in a dream state, Jacob heard God renew the promise to remain with him and his people. As the story continued to unfold, Jacob was renamed Israel, the name by which his descendants are still known.
This ladder or staircase connecting heaven and earth recognized in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The cosmology of the Hebrew Scriptures placed God in the heavens, the firmament created by God and placed above the earth. This understanding of the universe is the genesis of the notion of a stairway or connection between the two. There are various interpretations of its meaning. Those faiths that believe in reincarnation note that the presence of messengers descending and ascending the ladder, maintaining that these messengers are human souls. Others record that the messengers represent the Word of God being sent forth from God to bring compassion to the distressed of the earth and returning to God after having completed its task. Some simply regard the representation as symbolic of the highs and lows, the ups and downs of human life. Each interpretation, however, carries with it the notion of a connection between the two realms.
St. John's Gospel actually references this story in the first chapter of the Gospel. Jesus tells Nathanael that he will come to see angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. In the early Church Fathers, the ladder is used to detail the "steps" a soul must take to achieve union with God. All of the various interpretations, however, rely upon the notion that there is an intimate connection between earth and heaven, between God and God's people.
For Christians, the ladder has been replaced by the cross. Like the ladder, the cross stretches up between heaven and earth. Upon the cross, Jesus shed his blood to redeem God's people and so provide them with the access to God lost by the sin of Adam. Thus the cross became the new ladder, the new connection between God and God's people. Those of us who bear the cross of chronic illness and/or disability join with our crucified Savior by participating in that redemptive act.