Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Today’s readings

“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”

That was the question the men in white garments asked the women in today’s Gospel reading.  This is an important question for all of us people of faith on this Easter day.  Because we often seek life among the dead.  Jesus came to change all of that.

To be honest, it wasn’t even a fair question to ask of those women of faith.  Oh, it’s easy for us to know that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb – we have a couple of thousands of years of Church teaching to lead us to the right conclusions.  But they, and the disciples, had not been given any road maps or instruction sheets.  They didn’t know what was going to happen and when, and they were puzzled.

All they knew is that Jesus, the one they had been devoted to, had been arrested, put through a farce of a trial, and had been killed in the most horrible, humiliating way possible, a death that was reserved for the most obdurate of criminals.  To say that they were saddened and disappointed and confused and frightened – well those emotions just slightly scratched the surface.  So they come to the tomb – the place where they had seen Jesus last – to prepare his body for burial.  The stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, which was odd, because it had taken several men to seal it up, and when they went in to the tomb, Jesus’ body was not there.  They had to be thinking, “Now what?”

They then meet the two mysterious men who ask them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”  Again, this is a startling question.  They didn’t think they were seeking a living one, did they?  No, they had just seen their friend crucified and placed in the tomb.  They carefully noted where he was buried, and now they had come to complete his burial.  They had abandoned hope, perhaps, that he was the living one.

But they are told to remember what Jesus had said to them.  And when they thought about it, things finally started to make some sense.  He had told them that he would have to suffer and die and rise again, and now they can see that that is what must have happened.  So they go to tell the Eleven apostles what they had seen.  But for them, the story seemed like nonsense and they didn’t believe.  Only Peter comes to believe, after he goes to see the empty tomb himself.

It’s time for them to stop looking for the living one among the dead.  They will come to see him risen and walking among them in the days to come.  And that will reinvigorate their faith and help them come to see – finally – what Jesus has been trying to tell them ever since they met him.  There is only one way to come to new life, only one way to rise up out of the grave, only one way to have sins forgiven, and that is through the mercy of our God in the person of Jesus Christ.  He became one of us, he died the death we deserved to pay the price for our sins, and he has risen from the dead in order that we may have eternal life, forever shattering the power sin and death have – or rather, had – over us.

So we need to stop looking for the living one among the dead too.  We’ll never find real life by burying ourselves in work or careers.  We’ll do nothing but damage our life if we seek to find it in substance abuse.  We’ll never find our life by clinging to past hurts and resentments.  We are only going to find life in one place, or more precisely in one person, namely, Jesus Christ.

Today, Jesus Christ broke the prison-bars of death, and rose triumphant from the underworld.  What good would life have been to us, if Christ had not come as our Redeemer?  Because of this saving event, we can be assured that our own graves will never be our final resting place, that pain and sorrow and death will be temporary, and that we who believe and follow our risen Lord have hope of life that lasts forever.  Just as Christ’s own time on the cross and in the grave was brief, so our own pain, death, and burial will be as nothing compared to the ages of new life we have yet to receive.  We have hope in these days because Christ who is our hope has overcome the obstacles to our living.  We no longer need to seek the living one among the dead.

The good news today is that we can find the living one today and every day of our lives, by coming to this sacred place. It is here that we hear the Word proclaimed, here that we partake of the very Body and Blood of our Lord. An occasional experience of this mystery simply will not do – we cannot just partake of it on Easter Sunday.  No; we must nurture our faith by encountering our Risen Lord every day, certainly every Sunday, of our lives, by hearing that Word, and receiving his Body and Blood.  Anything less than that is seeking the living one among the dead.

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Tonight’s readings

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how good it feels to say “Alleluia” tonight!  Ever since we put the acclamation of our Resurrection joy away some forty days ago, we have been yearning for the opportunity to celebrate, once again, the fullness of our salvation.  And this is the night!  This is the night when Jesus Christ breaks the prison-bars of death and rises triumphant over the grave!  We have kept vigil for the fullness of that promise to be revealed, and now, here we are!  How could we do anything less than shout “Alleluia” with all of our joy?!

Tonight, we have gathered in the oppressive darkness of the world around us.  The sadness of sin and death, culminating in the death of our Savior, seemed for a time to have triumphed.  We know, only too well, that it was our sins that brought Jesus to the Cross: it was indeed our infirmities that he bore, our brokenness on display for all the world to see.  So as we gathered in a dark Church or out on the dark piazza, we certainly must have felt that sadness in a special way.  But we know the whole story, don’t we?  And because we do know the whole story, even in our experience of sadness, there is that expectation, that part of us that knows that joy is on its way.

As we have gathered over the last three nights to let the story of our salvation unfold, we have had an ever-heightened sense of yearning for the story to come to its fruition.  And tonight, we are treated to an even greater dose of that.  Tonight, we have heard stories of God’s desire to bring us back to him.  We have seen that time and time again, God has broken through the history of our brokenness, has triumphed over the lure of sin, and has redirected his chosen ones to the path of life.  We have recalled that God created everything to reflect the resplendent goodness that is God; we have seen Abraham, on the cusp of inheriting the promise of eternity for all his descendants, called upon to sacrifice his only son to show his love, only to have it all turned on its head when God promises to provide the lamb for the sacrifice, that lamb that is the foreshadowing of a Savior; we have seen Moses lead the people out of the Egypt that has held them slaves to sin, through the desert of desolation and yearning for God, safely through the waters of the Red Sea which flowed back to wash all their sins away, that journey that is the prefiguring of the sacrament of Baptism; then the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel have called us to come to the water, to be nourished freely and cleansed of our impurities.

Tonight we have heard in reading after reading, that God will absolutely not ever abandon his loved and chosen ones to sin and death.  We have heard that God initiated the covenant and pursues it forever, never forcing us to accept his will, but willing that we should follow him and accept his mercy.  God has provided the lamb of salvation, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world.  God has gone to the cross and been in the tomb and descended to hell – there is nowhere that is beyond the reach of God’s mercy, there is no place, no depth to which God will not go to redeem his beloved creation.  God’s mercy endures forever!

God delights in the freedom of will that we possess as a natural part of who we are, because it gives us the opportunity to freely choose to love him, as he freely chooses to love us.  But he knows that same free will can and will also lead us astray, into sin, into evil.  The free choice to love God is a greater good than the absence of evil, so not imbuing us with free will was never an option.  Instead, evil and sin and our fallenness are redeemed on this most holy of all nights, this night which “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”

And thus it is fitting that this night is the night when we focus on Baptism.  Everything is in place: the waters of the Red Sea are parted, the pillar of fire glows to the honor of God, we are led to grace and joined to God’s holy ones of every time and place, Christ emerges triumphant from the underworld and the sin of Adam is redeemed forever.  And so Korrin, our Elect, in a few moments will enter the waters of Baptism from the west: that place of the setting sun, renouncing the prince of darkness, professing faith in God, dying with Christ in the waters, emerging to new life, triumphant with Christ on the east, and encountering the bright morning star whose light blazes for all eternity.  We will hold our breath as the waters flow over her, and sing Alleluia when she is reborn, crying out the praise of God with all the joy the Church can muster!

Our joy will continue to overflow as she and Brian, our candidate for full Communion with the Church, are Confirmed in the Holy Spirit and fed for the very first time with the Eucharistic Bread of Life and Cup of Eternal Salvation.  God’s mercy has once again triumphed and brought two wonderful young people into the family of the Church and the community of our parish.  God’s goodness shows forth all its splendor in so many wonderful ways on this most holy of all nights!

This is the night that redeems all of our days and nights.  This is the night when sin and death are rendered impotent by the plunging of the Paschal candle, the Light of Christ, into the waters of Baptism.  On this night, everything is turned upside-down; sin and death no longer define who we are as human beings; the forces of evil search in vain for darkness in which to cower, because the bright morning star has washed the darkness away.  On this night, the waters of Baptism kill death, wash away faults and wickedness, give refreshment to those who are parched for holiness, and bring life to all who have withered in the desert of brokenness.

And so, may the flame of our joy, blazing against the darkness of the world’s night, be found still burning by the Morning Star:  the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ our Lord, God’s only Son, who coming back from even from the depths of death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever!  Amen!

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

How quickly things have changed among Jesus’ followers.  His disciples – even the chosen Twelve – have pretty much deserted him.  They’ve either fled in fear, or else they have betrayed him, or denied that they knew him.  But some women who were among his devoted followers have braved the implications for them and have arrived with him at the foot of the cross.  The Beloved Disciple – probably John – has come too.  And, of course, his mother.

Think for a moment how much grief has to be in the heart of Mary.  Joseph seems to be out of the picture now; we assume he has died.  Jesus is all she has left in the world, her promised one.  She certainly knows that his hour is at hand, we know that she continues to trust in God, but the pain of these moments has to be almost too much to bear.  And so Jesus speaks to her from the cross: “Woman, behold your son.”  And to John, “Behold your mother.”  Jesus knows that for those who were closest to him in life, they will have need of support, of community, after his death.  Grief cannot be borne alone.  But not only that, community is essential to the continuation of Jesus’ mission.  So that relationship, forged at the foot of the cross, became the basis for discipleship for both Mary and John that would be instrumental in leading the fledgling Church into the ages ahead.

Still greater, though, is that we see in Mary an icon of the Church.  We grieve too, but we for our sins.  As we look up at the cross, we see – with horrifying clarity – the effect of our sins.  We know why Jesus had to come to this hour.  As Isaiah says, “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”  No one sentenced Jesus to die on that cross as much as we did, and do, in our daily sins of commission and omission, in our harsh words, in our unkind and impure thoughts, in our lack of loving and in the neglect of our mission.  And yet, as John clearly points out in his Gospel, he went to the cross willingly, taking all that brokenness with him.

Like Mary, we the Church wait at the foot of the cross, not abandoning our Jesus who did not abandon us to our sins.  We, like Mary, receive at the cross our relationships, purified for our salvation, strengthened for the mission: beholding our mothers and sons and daughters and fathers, because we never get to the resurrection alone.  We’re not supposed to go it alone in this life.  Even in his most painful and dying moments, our Jesus gives us gifts that help us to arrive at the fullness of salvation.

Monday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

There are two things going on in today’s Scripture readings.  First, we have the Jews, and now Judas among them, who are very jealous of Jesus and are seeking to arrest and kill him.  And not just him, but anyone who encourages people to believe in him, like Lazarus in today’s Gospel.  In these holy days, it’s not safe to be around Jesus.

Second, we have Mary, who pours out the most expensive thing she has for love of the Lord.  She gives no thought to the expense, to what seems like waste, but instead gives it all out of love for her Lord.

For Jesus’ enemies, it was all about them, and not at all about the God they supposedly believed in and served.  But for Mary, it’s about Jesus, and she understands in some way where this is all headed.

So we have the jealousy of the Jews and the cowardice of Judas against the love and generosity and even courage of Mary.  In these Holy days, we are called to be Mary, to courageously pour ourselves out in love and generosity, even when the jealousy of the world around us would try to make us feel like it’s best we didn’t make waves.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

I’ve always felt that the celebration of Palm Sunday was a little strange.  We start out on a seemingly triumphant note.  Jesus enters Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he enters it to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks are thrown down in the street, the people wave palms and chant “Hosanna.”  This is it, isn’t it?  It seems like Jesus’ message has finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who have long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t an easy message for them to hear, it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading.  Enough of this, they say, the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord?  Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those.  Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.  He gave himself for us.

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Caiaphas had no idea how prophetic his words were.  Actually, as far as the intent of his words went, they were nothing but selfish.  The Jews didn’t want to lose their standing with the Romans.  As it was, they had an uneasy peace.  The Romans pretty much let them practice their religion as long as there wasn’t any trouble.  But they knew that if everyone started following Jesus, the Romans would give preference to the new way, in order to keep the peace.  The religious leaders couldn’t let that happen, so they began plotting in earnest to kill Jesus, planning to find him when he came to celebrate the upcoming feast day, which they were certain he would attend.

It’s a time of high intrigue, and for Jesus, his hour – the hour of his Passion – is fast approaching.  That’s so clear in the Gospel readings in these last days of Lent.  In just a few hours we will begin our celebration of Holy Week, waving palms to welcome our king, and praying through his passion and death.  It is an emotional time for us as we know our God has given his life for us, the most amazing gift we will ever get.  It is also a time of sadness because we know our sins have nailed him to the cross.  The sadness of our sinfulness comes to a peak this time of year.

But, this is where the significance of Caiaphas’s words brings us joy.  Yes, it is better for one person to die than the whole nation.  God knew that well when he sent his only Son to be our salvation.  He took our place, nailing our sins and brokenness to the cross, dying to pay the price those sins required, and rising to bring the salvation we could never attain on our own.  Caiaphas was right.  It was better for one person to die than for the whole nation to die.  Amazing as it seems, that was God’s plan all along.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The story is quickly coming to its climax. Jesus’ claims of divinity are really starting to rile the Jews.  They have placed their hope in Abraham and the prophets – great men to be sure – but seem to have forgotten about the promise of a Messiah, and so they totally miss the Christ who is standing right in front of them.  It’s a sad situation, to be sure.  But it is also quickly becoming dangerous for Jesus.  These are the ones who will stir up the trouble at his trial and get them to release Barabbas, putting Jesus on the cross instead.

And I feel like it’s necessary to make a quick aside here.  We have heard and will hear many references to “the Jews” in John’s Gospel.  This wording was used for centuries to make legitimate anti-Semitic comments and policies, blaming them for killing the Lord.  But this is John’s Gospel, and Jesus is in full control.  He knows what is in their hearts.  The Jews may indeed want to take his life, but Jesus instead willingly lays it down.  Because that was his mission; that is his mission – to give himself completely for our salvation, and the salvation of the whole world.  And honestly, if we want to blame someone for sending Jesus to the cross, we know only too well that we don’t have to look any further than our own hearts.

What we see in today’s Liturgy of the Word, ultimately, is that God made a promise to Abraham, and, in the person of Jesus Christ, kept that promise.  Abraham was made a mighty nation, God’s promises have always been kept, and we have salvation in Christ.  That’s our Good News today, and every day really.  As we enter the somber days ahead, we have the joy of keeping the end of the story clearly in mind, that Resurrection that Abraham himself so longed to see.