Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord: Mass During the Day

Today’s readings

There’s certainly a flurry of activity in today’s readings, isn’t there?  Especially in the Gospel, we see Mary Magdalene run from the empty tomb to get the Apostles.  And then Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to the tomb.  This flurry of activity centers around a crisis in their faith, a time of confusion that will ultimately lead to stronger faith.

So Mary comes to the tomb, early in the morning, while it is still dark.  In Saint John’s Gospel, the idea of light or dark always means something more than whether or not you can see outside without a flashlight.  Often he is talking about light and darkness in terms of good and evil.  That’s the way it was when we heard of Judas in Friday’s Passion reading: when he went out to do what he had to do, the Gospel says “and it was night.”  That wasn’t just to record the time of day, it meant that we had come to the hour of darkness.  But here when Mary comes to the tomb, I think the darkness refers to something else.  Here, I think it means that the disciples were still in the dark about what was happening and what was going to happen.

Obviously, their confusion gives that away. Jesus had tried to tell them what was going to happen, but to be fair, what was going to happen was so far outside their realm of experience, that really, how could they have understood this before it ever happened?  All they know is what Mary told them: the tomb is empty and she has no idea of where they have taken the Lord.  And after all that had just happened with his arrest, farce of a trial, and execution, their heads had to be spinning.  How could they ever know this was all part of God’s plan?

And even us – we who know that this was part of God’s plan – could we explain what was going on?  Could we give a step-by-step picture of what happened when, and why?  I know I couldn’t.  But, like you, I take it on faith that, after Jesus died, the Father raised him up in glory.  It’s a leap of faith that I delight in, because it is that leap of faith that gives me hope and promises me a future.  How could we ever get through our lives without the grace of that hope?  How could we ever endure the bad news that appears on our TV screens, in newspapers, and even closer to home, in our own lives – how could we endure that kind of news without the hope of the Resurrection?

And so, even though there is this flurry of kind of confused activity among the Apostles this Easter morning, at least this day finds them running toward something, rather than running away as they had the night of the Passover meal.  They are running toward their Lord – or at least where they had seen him last, hoping for something better, and beginning with the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” coming to understand at last.  It’s not night anymore for them.  The day is dawning, the hope of the Resurrection is becoming apparent, the promise of new life is on the horizon.

And may this morning find us running too.  Running toward our God in new and deeper ways.  Running back to the Church if this has been the first visit you’ve made in a long while.  Running back to families if you have been estranged.  Running to others to witness to our faith both in word and in acts of service.  We Christians have to be that flurry of activity in the world that helps the hope of the Resurrection to dawn on a world groaning in darkness.  It’s not night anymore.  The stone has been rolled away.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!  Alleluia!

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

I have to let you in on a little secret tonight.  Very often, when we preach a homily, the message ends up being for us preachers.  It’s not that we set out to do that; actually if we thought about it I’m pretty sure we would avoid it at all costs.  It’s just that when we pray about our homily, and we write it with the inspiration of the Spirit, after we preach it, we often sit down and say, “Oh.  You were talking to me, weren’t you, God?”

Lent has been like that for me.  Back when I picked the theme that we have been using to guide our reflection during these somber days, “Rediscover Our Need for a Savior,” I thought it was a clever way to hearken back to the book we gave out at Christmas, Rediscover Catholicism.  But as we’ve reflected and preached our way through Lent, I’ve found the message to be quite personal, more so than I would have intended.  I hope that you too have had the opportunity to rediscover a relationship with Christ that maybe wasn’t as fervent as it should be.  Lent is supposed to do that for us.

For me, these Triduum days have been amazing reminders of why I need a Savior.  As we hear the Scriptures and watch the Liturgy unfold, we can’t help but be reminded of the awesome price our Lord paid for each one of us on that Cross.  On Friday, I looked at the cross and remembered it was my sins that put him there.  I remembered that it was my brokenness that he suffered to redeem.  And most of all, I remembered that God loved me enough that not doing it was completely out of the question.  He did that, for me.

We do indeed need a Savior, all of us personally, but also as a society.  All you have to do is turn on the news and everything you hear points to a desperate, urgent need for salvation.  This world would have us accept the darkness and say it’s good enough.  This world would have us live for today, with no thought to an eternity that it really doesn’t acknowledge anyway.  This world would say there is no need for a Savior, because we’re good enough to do what we need to do.  But the world is dead wrong.

We can’t possibly ever make up for our many sins personally and as a society all by ourselves.  We have constantly made choices that take us out of friendship with God and put us on paths that lead nowhere good.  If we’re honest, all of us would admit that.  It takes a Savior who loves us more than we deserve to set things right.

And the thing is, we have that Savior.  Right here and right now.  This is the night.  Not some distant long-past night, but this night is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose triumphant from the underworld!  We keep vigil on this night because our celebration of this Most Holy Vigil brings us into communion with every believer from every time and place and with our Savior as he bursts forth from the underworld.

This night changes everything.  The ancient foe is defeated, the sentence of condemnation has been remitted, even sinful Adam is raised up from death to new life.  As an ancient homilist wrote in today’s Office of Readings, “God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”  No power of any kind can keep our God’s salvation from coming to fruition.  Christ’s obedience on the Cross, suffering the sentence for our sins, rising from the dead, all of this gives us hope of eternal glory on that great day when we meet our God face to face.

And this is possible for one very simple reason: we have a Savior.  Our Risen Lord is the one who urges us to toss aside our water jugs and receive living water; he urges us to wash away our blindness and see ourselves, our God, and other people the way they really are; he beckons us forth from the graves that have kept us from friendship with God for too long, untying the bandages of our sinful nature.  He gives us the opportunity for eternity, and all we have to do is to allow the fire of his glory to be ignited in our hearts.  All we have to do is acknowledge our need for a Savior, and embrace his cross in order to receive his resurrection.

Because as I sang a while ago, our birth would have been no gain had we not been redeemed.  Who cares if we were born if all there is is this paltry existence?  Why would we want to be born if there is no eternity, no possibility of anything past this life, fraught as it often is with hardship and pain?  But on this night, this very night, that depressing prospect is given a proper burial, that darkness is set ablaze by the new fire, and our cries of anguish and despair give way to shouts of “Alleluia!”

Brothers and sisters, we all need a Savior.  And that Savior is the one morning star who never sets: Jesus Christ our Lord who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on all humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever!  Amen!  Alleluia!

Good Friday: The Reproaches

The Reproaches, known in Latin as the Improperia, are suggested to be chanted during the Veneration of the Cross during the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.  They’re not often done, unfortunately, but I think they are worth our reflection.  They come partly from the book of the Prophet Micah, who laments the many ways the people of Israel have spurned the Lord and foretells their destruction because of it.  In the sixth chapter, the prophet sets up the Lord’s case:

 

My people, what have I done to you?
how have I wearied you? Answer me!
I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
from the place of slavery I ransomed you;
And I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:3-4)

The Reproaches take up this theme, telling of the many ways God has offered salvation to his people, and how that offer has been spurned over time.  This is serious stuff, because it lays down the case of how our sins put our Lord on the Cross today.  I have to admit, if one doesn’t feel guilty in some way after hearing the Reproaches, one may not be capable of affective emotion!  Here is the text:

1 and 2: My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: Holy is God! 
2: Holy and strong! 
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

Repeat “Holy is God…”

1 and 2: What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

Repeat “Holy is God…”

II.

1: For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.

(Repeated throughout by Choir 2)
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.
2: “My people….”

1: I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.
2: “My people….”

1: I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.
2: “My people….”

1: I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.
2: “My people….”

1: I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.
2: “My people….”

1: For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.
2: “My people….”

1: I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
2: “My people….”

1: I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.
2: “My people….”

And here is a nice chant of it, courtesy of Youtube:

Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Today’s readings

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

That is the proper entrance antiphon, also known as the introit, for this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  It is taken from Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he says “May I never boast about anything other than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which I have been crucified to the world and the world to me.” During Lent, we have been rediscovering our need for a Savior.  We have seen how our Lord Jesus Christ completely changes everything if we acknowledge that need.  Our water jugs have been left behind because we are filled with living water; our eyes have been opened to see our Lord, ourselves, and others as we really are; we have been freed from our graves, untied from the bondage of sin.  We have embraced the cross, which our Savior willingly took up out of love for us, and have taken it on ourselves, knowing that it is through the cross that we come to the glory of the resurrection.

The Church teaches us in this Sacred Triduum – this three-day-long Liturgy of God’s love –  that we should indeed glory in the cross – take pleasure in the cross – notice the power of the cross.  And we glory in the cross knowing that our God glories in the cross.  It may seem odd to say that, because why would God glory in an instrument of death that destroyed the human life of his only begotten Son?  But we know that God has made something much more glorious come from the sadness of death, and he did that through the cross on which hung the Savior of the world.  In the cross, we have salvation, life and resurrection!

I think what the cross teaches us in these days, and what this evening’s part of the Triduum Liturgy says in particular, is summed up in the Latin word, caritasCaritas is most often translated into English as either “charity” or “love.”  And, as in the case of most translations, both are inadequate.  When we think about the word “charity,” we usually think of something we do to the poor: we give to the poor, we have pity on the poor, that kind of thing.  And “love” can have a whole host of different meanings, depending on the context, and the emotion involved.  And that’s not what caritas means at all.  I think caritas is best imagined as a love that shows itself in the action of setting oneself aside, pouring oneself out, for the good of others.  It’s a love that remembers that everything is not about me, that God gives us opportunities all the time to give of ourselves on behalf of others, that we were put on this earth to love one another into heaven.

And I bring this up not just as a lesson in Latin or semantics.  I bring it up because caritas is our vocation; we were made to love deeply and to care about something outside ourselves.  We are meant to go beyond what seems expedient and comfortable and easy and to extend ourselves.  That’s clearly what our Lord did, and that’s what we’re supposed to be about as well.

Two parts of this evening’s Liturgy show us what caritas means.  The first is what we call the mandatum: the washing of the feet.  Here, Jesus gets up from the meal, puts on a towel and begins to wash the feet of his disciples.  Here, at the Last Supper, it is our Savior himself who wraps a towel around himself, picks up the bowl and pitcher, and washes the feet of his friends.  This was an extraordinary act of charity on the part of our Savior.  We will reenact that Gospel vignette in a few minutes.  But I have tell you, here in Church, this really isn’t the proper place to reenact it.  Rather, this particular ritual should be reenacted outside of church.  Every day, in every place where Christians are.

For example, maybe you make an effort to get home from work a little sooner to help your spouse get dinner ready or help your children with their homework.  Maybe at work you try to get in early so that you can make the first pot of coffee so that people can smell it when they come in to the office.  Or maybe after lunch you take a minute or two to wipe out the microwave so it’s not gross the next day.  If you’re a young person, perhaps you can try on occasion to do a chore without being asked, or at least not asked a second time, or even wash the dishes when it’s not your turn to do it.  Or if one of your classmates has a lot of stuff to bring to school one day, you can offer to carry some of his or her books to lighten the load.

This kind of thing costs us.  It’s not our job.  We’re entitled to be treated well too.  It’s inconvenient.  I’ve had a hard day at work – or at school.  I want to see this show on television.  I’m in the middle of reading the paper.  But caritas requires something of us – something over and above what we may be prepared to do.  As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, he’s given us an example: as he has done, so we must do.  And not just here in church washing each other’s feet, but out there in our world, washing the feet of all those in our lives who need to be loved into heaven.

The second part of our Liturgy that illustrates caritas is one with which we are so familiar, we may most of the time let it pass us by without giving it a thought, sadly.  And that, of course, is the Eucharist.  This evening we commemorate that night when Jesus, for the very first time, shared bread and wine with his closest friends and offered the meal as his very own body and blood, poured out on behalf of the world, given that we might remember, as often as we do it, what caritas means.  This is the meal that we share here tonight, not just as a memory of something that happened in the far distant past, but instead experienced with Jesus and his disciples, and all the church of every time and place, on earth and in heaven, gathered around the same Table of the Lord, nourished by the same body, blood, soul and divinity of our Savior who poured himself out for us in the ultimate act of caritas.

We who eat this meal have to be willing to be changed by it.  Because we too must pour ourselves out for others.  We must feed them with our presence and our love and our understanding even when we would rather not.  We must help them to know Christ’s presence in their lives by the way that we serve them, in humility, giving of ourselves and asking nothing in return.  That is our vocation.

And sometimes that vocation is not an easy one.  Sometimes it feels like our efforts are unappreciated or even thwarted by others.  Sometimes we give of ourselves only to receive pain in return; or we extend ourselves only to find ourselves out on a limb with what seems like no support.  And then we question our vocation, wondering if it is all worth it, wondering if somehow we got it wrong.

The ultimate act of caritas will unfold tomorrow and Saturday night as we look to the cross and keep vigil for the resurrection.  Tonight it will suffice for us to hear the command to go and do likewise, pouring ourselves out for others, laying down our life for them, washing their feet and becoming Eucharist for them.  It may seem difficult to glory in the cross – it may even seem strange to say it.  But the Church makes it clear tonight: the cross is our salvation, it is caritas poured out for us, it is caritas poured out on others through us, every time we extend ourselves, lay down our lives, abandon our sense of entitlement and do what the Gospel demands of us.

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

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.  Jesus 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 anti-Semitic comments and policies seem like they are legitimate, blaming the Jews 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.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Just as the saraph serpent was lifted up on a pole in the desert for the people to see, and thus live, so the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was lifted up on the cross for the salvation of the world.  In these late Lenten days, as we look upon the cross, either here in church or in our homes, our hearts surely must be stirred to remember the painful price our Lord paid for our salvation.  With hearts filled with gratitude, we come to this Eucharist, with our eyes fixed on our Lord lifted up for us, who pours himself out for us again and still.  When we see him lifted up, we remember that he is “I AM,” our crucified and risen Lord, and whenever we look to him, we are saved from all that ails us, from our sins and brokenness, and we ourselves are lifted up to eternal life.