Easter Thursday: Peace Be With You

Today’s readings

Can you imagine how the disciples were feeling at this point? Prior to today’s Gospel selection, the women found the empty tomb, Peter has seen the Lord, and the two disciples had experienced him in the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus. Their minds were most likely reeling with excitement; trying to get a grip on the things he had said to them while he was still with them. I’m sure they were trying to figure out what all this meant, what they needed to do next.

Maybe that’s why the Lord’s initial words to them are “Peace be with you.” And apparently it didn’t work, because they think they’re seeing a ghost. After he eats some fish and speaks to them of the Scriptures, he sends them on mission with the words: “You are witnesses of these things.” 

The peace that Jesus gives them is not the absence of conflict. That they will be witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures will be anything but peaceful for them. They will have to make sacrifices – sacrifices of their very lives – to witness as Jesus calls them to, but there is no other choice. They are now beginning to understand the significance of what has happened among them, and they must go forward to do what they had been chosen to do. 

When we have to make the decision to follow God’s call in our lives, we too will have to sacrifice. Not our lives, probably, but we will have to sacrifice our own comfort, our control over our own lives, our own point of view. But just like the disciples, we must remember what we have been chosen to do, and follow where we are being led. 

We are witnesses of these things too, we are called to live and proclaim the Gospel. May we too receive the peace of Christ that we might focus on our call. 

Easter Tuesday

Today’s readings

In these Easter days, we so much want to hold on to Jesus. We have journeyed through Lent with him, perhaps coming to terms with our failings or our brokenness, reaching toward growth in our spiritual life. And maybe we have been successful, and maybe not. Whatever our experience of Lent, we have seen him suffer and die for us in Holy Week, and now arrive at the Easter of Resurrection and we don’t want to let the experience go. Just like Mary Magdalene, we are in tears longing for our Lord.

But just as Jesus told her she could not hold on to him, so he says that to us. We are called to go from this holy place and be witnesses so that what happened in our first reading from acts can happen in our own corner of the world. We are the people now who must witness to our faith, call people to repentance, and bring them to baptism. The three thousand people who were added to the church on that one day should be a drop in the bucket compared to what God’s holy people can do, energized by their Easter faith and confirmed in their baptism.

We must now be the ones to live our faith in our workplaces, homes, schools, and communities. We must be the face of Jesus to those who are longing for compassion. The tiniest little kindness can be a way of turning someone to faith if we are consistent about doing that in our lives. As the Psalmist says today, “the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.” All we have to do is spread that goodness around, point to it, and make sure others feel welcome to receive it.

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

Today’s readings (I actually opted to use the Gospel of the Vigil, Luke 24:1-12, which is permitted)

“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 thousand 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. We must let everything else – everything else – go.

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 places, 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 is our hope, and he 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: The Triumph of the Cross

Tonight’s readings

“You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:28). I love that last line from the last of the Old Testament readings we heard tonight. There is a covenant, there has always been a covenant, there always will be a covenant. God created us in love, and he loves us first and best. No matter where we may wander; no matter how far from the covenant we may stray, God still keeps it forever. We will always be his people and he will always be our God. If I had to pick a line that sums up what we’re here for tonight, that would be it.

Over the past couple of days, as we have observed this Sacred Paschal Triduum, which comes to its denouement tonight in this Vigil of vigils, I have reflected on the Cross. I did that because it is the Cross that Holy Mother Church sets before us during the Triduum, from the lines of the Entrance Antiphon way back on Holy Thursday Evening:

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

On Thursday, I reflected on the scandal of the Cross, rejecting the idea that going to the Cross made our God any less, and instead acknowledging that the real scandal was the reason he went there, which was for my sins. Yesterday, on Good Friday, I reflected on the Way of the Cross, noting that our Savior willingly took up the Cross so that you and I might have life, and I reflected on the reality of our own little crosses and the way that we disciples have to travel. Tonight, I would like to conclude that reflection on the Holy Cross, which is our glory, by celebrating the Triumph of the Cross. We actually celebrate that on September the 14th each year, but the reason for its Exaltation is what we come to experience tonight.

It might seem a little odd to reflect on the Cross – triumph or not – on this holy night. I mean, surely we’ve moved on, haven’t we? We came here for resurrection and want to get on with our lives. Just like we tend to rush through our grieving of loved ones – to our own psychological and spiritual peril, by the way – so too we want to rush through our Lent and particularly our Good Friday and Holy Saturday, so that we can eat our Peeps and chocolate bunnies and call it a day.

But we disciples dare not let it be so. Because certainly we know how we got here to this moment. We know that we don’t get an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, that we can’t have resurrection if there hasn’t been death, that we can’t have salvation if there hasn’t been a sacrifice.

And there sure was a sacrifice. Our Lord suffered a brutal, ugly death between two hardened criminals, taking the place of a revolutionary. He was beaten, humiliated, mistreated and nails were pounded into his flesh, that flesh that he borrowed from us. He hung in agony for three hours and finally, when all was finished, he cried out in anguish and handed over his spirit. Placed in the tomb, he descended into hell. Collecting the souls of the blessed ones of old, he waited while earth mourned and disciples scattered and everyone wondered what happened to this Christ.

And then came the morning. The Sabbath was over, and the sun was rising in the east on the first day of the week, and the women came with spices to prepare our Lord for burial. But they couldn’t: he has been raised! He is not here! Our Lord is risen and death is defeated! The menacing, ugly Cross has become the altar of salvation! The Cross, that instrument of horror, has triumphed over every darkness thrown at it, and we can do – should do – no less than praise our God!

We have journeyed with our Jesus for three days now. We ate with him, we prayed through the night with him, some of us at seven churches. We saw him walk the way of the Cross and tearfully recalled his crucifixion. We reverenced the Cross, joining our own crosses to his. Now we’ve stayed up all night and shared the stories of our salvation, with eager excitement at the ways God has kept that covenant through the ages. A roaring fire shattered the darkness, and a candle was lit to mingle with the lights of heaven. Then grace had its defining moment as Christ shattered the prison-bars of death and rose triumphant from the underworld.

Our birth would have meant nothing had we not been redeemed. If we were born only to live and die for this short span of time, how horrible that would have been. But thanks be to God, the sin of Adam was destroyed completely by the death of Christ! The Cross has triumphed and we are made new! Dazzling is this night for us, and full of gladness! Because our Lord is risen, our hope of eternity has dawned, and there is no darkness which can blot it out. We will always be God’s people, and he will always be our God!

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.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion: The Way of the Cross

Today’s readings

I saw a little comic on Facebook yesterday that had two panels. The top panel was entitled “your way” and showed a stick figure on a bicycle traveling a straight road to the finish line. Smooth sailing, or bicycling, whatever. The bottom panel wasn’t so simple. The same bicyclist had to travel a very treacherous road, filled with rocks, mountains to climb, ditches to avoid, an ocean to cross, and many other obstacles. That panel was entitled “God’s plan.” The only thing that panel was missing was the Cross, and well might it have been there.

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.

You heard me quote that, the Entrance Antiphon for this Sacred Paschal Triduum, in my homily last night. Last night I reflected on the scandal of the Cross, and today I’d like to continue the discussion by reflecting briefly on the Way of the Cross. Lots of us are familiar with the Way of the Cross: we come to the Stations of the Cross on Fridays of Lent and reflect on them; perhaps we even reflect on them privately in our homes, or here at church, or outside of church on the back piazza. Whenever we’ve prayed the Stations of the Cross, maybe like me you’ve found it tiring to stand and kneel and genuflect in fourteen different stations. But I can assure you the first person to have traveled the Way of the Cross didn’t have it anywhere near as easy.

As we reflect on the Passion of our Lord, the Way of the Cross becomes quite clear to us. It involves betrayal, injustice, and abandonment. It required prayer, focus, and love.

The betrayal was easy to see. Judas is disgruntled, or disillusioned, or greedy, or some combination thereof, and so he looks for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the authorities. They were delighted and most willing to pay Judas. And there begins the injustice: the tainted motives of the Sanhedrin, the cowardice of Herod and of Pilate. Our Lord is railroaded to his death. And then begins the abandonment: Peter denies him, the disciples fall asleep, they all flee when he’s arrested. Because our Lord has taken all of our sin on himself in this moment, he rightly feels abandoned, a living hell on earth: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps. 22:2)

But it’s important that we get this right today. John spells it out quite clearly throughout his Gospel narrative: Jesus did not get dragged kicking and screaming to the Cross – no, he willingly gave his life that we might live. And that required prayer: uniting himself totally with his Father, he took on his Father’s will. It required focus: Jesus never took his eyes off the Father, he was completely focused on what he came to do and why he came to do it. And it required love. And this is the part I can’t stress strongly enough, Brothers and Sisters: our God loved us so much, that even the betrayal, injustice and abandonment could not stop him from bringing us back to him. His great love and mercy required that his only Begotten Son would pay the price for your sins, and my sins. He willingly gave his life for us – because he loved us beyond anything we could imagine or dare hope for.

That was Jesus’ Way of the Cross. But it’s important to know that we have our own crosses too, and while they might not be what God would like to give us in his love, he allows them in his mercy. The Way of the Cross is the way disciples live. And so we too will suffer from betrayal: when friends let us down, or coworkers take advantage of our compassion, or when our bodies stop doing what we need. We too will suffer from injustice: when someone pre-judges us, or when we give so much to a relationship without anything seeming to come in return, or when our jobs are eliminated. And we will also endure abandonment: when nobody comes to our defense, or when our illness causes them to pull away. Some days it may even seem like God has abandoned us.

But our prayer will tell us otherwise. Prayer is the fuel disciples use to navigate the Way of the Cross. Prayer helps us to focus, and when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can see where the road is leading us. And that focus helps us to embrace the cross in love, joining our sufferings to those of Christ, who deeply longs to lead us to eternity.

Because the Way of the Cross might require death, but it doesn’t end there. Good Friday is good for a reason. And in our deepest sufferings, we can always take comfort that our Savior has gone there before us, and has blazoned the trail that leads to life.

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.

Holy Thursday: The Scandal of the Cross

Today’s readings

I love what Jesus says to Peter after Peter initially refuses to have his feet washed. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” I kind of feel like that’s what could be said about the entirety of our faith. What we are taught very rarely makes sense at the first presentation, but later, when we have eyes opened up by the Resurrection, well, then things start to fall into place.

So I want to start my reflection on these three holy days, this Sacred Paschal Triduum, with the incredibly scandalous idea that is the Holy Cross. The Church would have us do so, too, for She provides just one entrance antiphon for these three days, and that comes at the beginning of today’s Mass, and it says:

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.

This antiphon is adapted from Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6:14) in which he spends most of the letter chastising the community – even to the point of calling them “stupid” (3:1) – for taking their eyes off Jesus and the Gospel and everything that Saint Paul has taught them, and instead looking back to the Jewish law and all its artificial marks of righteousness. But we dare not condemn them so quickly. Because, quite frankly, we have to understand their faltering faith in light of our own.

For us, now removed a couple of thousand years past the Crucifixion of our Lord, the Cross seems pretty standard – it almost doesn’t even phase us any more. We see it in church, we probably have one or more in our homes, and we might even wear one around our neck pretty often. And so, I think, the Cross may have lost some of its very important impact: an impact Jesus’ disciples certainly experienced as they fled in fear. It’s an impact Saint Paul’s Church in Galatia would have experienced too, and perhaps explained their trying to find justification in other ways.

Because the cross was terrifying. And not only that, the cross was scandalous. It was saved for the dregs of society, for the worst of the worst. For those who were a problem for society. It was saved for the likes of Barabbas, for heaven’s sake! And the unrepentant thief. And yet, that is where our Lord went at the end of his life on earth. Nobody in Jesus’ day would have been inspired by this awful display. Saint Paul acknowledges as much in his first letter to the Corinthians when he says, “But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1:23).

But if people in that day missed the importance of Jesus embracing and dying on the cross, then they missed his entire message too. Because it was every bit as scandalous that Jesus ate with sinners and touched lepers. Just as scandalous as the cross was his getting up at supper and taking off his outer garments, tying a towel around his waist, and washing the feet of the disciples. That was the job of a servant, but then he did come to serve not to be served. That was the job of a slave, but then he did come to set us free from our ancient sinfulness.

As scandalous as the Cross was for the early Church, it is also deeply problematic for the Church today. Because we live in a society that values freedom, convenience, and bright shiny happiness – none of which, I dare say, you’ll find on the Cross. In our society, we might boast that there is a pill for almost every ailment, even if they come with a horrifying list of side-effects. In our society, we have convenience down to a science: we eat fast food, we bank and shop online and delight in free overnight shipping, we lose our minds in the line at the DMV. In our society, we do our best to spin every situation into some kind of false happiness, with painted smiles and happy music and all kinds of glitzy advertising.

We’re more than happy to have a Resurrection, thank you, but the Cross … well that’s just not something we’re open to embracing. And the problem with that is that living the Gospel requires that we take up our own crosses and follow our Lord (Matthew 16:24). So our aversion to the Cross, both in the ancient Church and now, is a real obstacle to our life of faith, a real obstacle to our eternity.

The cause of the obstacle, I would assert – at least in my own spiritual life – is that on the Cross, we see our own sins. The real scandalous part of the Cross for us is that our Savior had to go there to free us from our sins. What makes us turn our heads away and avert our gaze is that we can’t bear to see that even our smallest sins have such horrible, scandalous consequences. The real scandal of the Cross is that the Word made flesh had to give up his own life in such a terrible death in order that I might live.

What on earth are we supposed to do with that? How do we live with the fact that God’s only begotten Son died for us? Well, he tells us in today’s Gospel. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” And he’s not just talking about washing feet, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Whatever he’s done for us, we’re supposed to do for others. If he’s forgiven us much, then we should never stop forgiving. If he has served us, then we have to serve others. If he has laid down our life for us, then we better do the same for the people in our lives. Anything less is an offense against the Holy Cross.

As we gather on this Holy Thursday night, we know that the washing of the feet is a mere foreshadowing of the Cross. Jesus came to give himself completely so that we might have life. He washes feet, cleansing the disciples of their sins and making them fit for service. He offers his Body and Blood to be the food that sustains us on our journey. And he offers us our own crosses that we might have a share in his own, leading us onward to eternal life.

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.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Today’s readings

Palm Sunday is, quite honestly, a feast with a bit of a split personality. 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 mercy and real justice 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 a welcome message; 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, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death. 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.