Easter Tuesday

Today’s Readings

Letting go of things is harder than we can sometimes even admit.  I think that’s what was going on with Mary Magdalene.  And we are just like her: we want to hold on to things and people as they are, because what is familiar is so very comfortable to us.  I think sometimes that’s true regardless of whether the familiar is positive or negative.  So many times we hold on to whatever we have and refuse to let them go because it’s as if we’re afraid we’ll be giving away some piece of ourselves.  So then what happens is that we hang on to images of ourselves or other people in our life that are outdated, and stifle any room for growth.  We hang on to resentments or past hurts and never give any chance for healing.  We hang on to unhealthy relationships and never give ourselves a chance to break the cycle of pain they bring.  We hang on to bad work situations and miss following our true calling.

What Mary needed to hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel was that she had to stop hanging on to things as they were, and to allow God’s promise to be fully revealed.  The time for mourning was over, it was now time to rejoice and begin spreading the word that the Gospel was coming to its fruition.  She had to begin that by going and spreading the word to the other disciples.

We too, have to stop grieving our past hurts and resentments and outdated notions of the world, ourselves and our relationships so that God’s promise can be fully revealed in us.  The message of Easter joy means that we must begin that by spreading the news that Jesus is doing something new in us and in our world, and make sure that everyone knows about it. We can do that by examining our lives every day and reflecting on what God is doing in us and how we are responding to it.  This is the kind of daily reflection that will help us to let go of what is unhelpful and grasp firmly to that which will lead us to Christ.

As we continue to live lives of conversion like this, we too can proclaim with Mary Magdalene on this Easter day, and every day, “We have seen the Lord!”

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

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 St. 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!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Today’s readings

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us, because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  This kind of time is mostly unmeasurable, and in some sense kairos is always “now.”

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But that’s not how our God sees time.  Did you hear what we prayed at the very beginning of tonight’s vigil?  Listen again: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  Amen.”  And these are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night.  Tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows.  There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this most holy night.

But as we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there may even be a temptation, I think, to come to think that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong, that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave.  But we know that’s not how this works.  Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident.  The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along.  Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray.  But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell.  He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life.  That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

There is a cynical view of our world that would have us believe that everything is futile and that the only possible way to endure this world is to cultivate a kind of cynical apathy that divorces us from our God, our loved ones, our communities and our world.  We are conditioned to believe that time, and life itself, is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for, and certainly nothing worth dying for.  But tonight’s vigil debunks all of that.  Tonight we are assured by our God that our present is no less redeemable than was our past, nor is it any less filled with promise than is our future.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us.  God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all.  Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good.  Then Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness earned us a future as bright as a zillion twinkling stars.  Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the red sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own.  The prophet Isaiah calls us to seek the Lord while he may be found, not spending our lives on things that fail to satisfy, but investing in our relationship with God that gives us everything.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the recreation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom.  And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity of a cynical view of the world and its people.  Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us forever, even until the end of the world.  And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament.  We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world.  Tonight we recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism.  Also, for the first time since Thursday, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together, drawing strength from the food our God provides.

These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for all of us, as we have walked the Stations of the Cross together, fasted together, celebrated the sacraments, reflected on living the Eucharist, gathered food for the food pantry, and so much more.  Christ has definitely sanctified this Lenten time for all of us, and has now brought us to the fullness of this hour, when he rises over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness.  The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that I sang when we entered Church tonight, tells us: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here in this church, not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place.  Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation.  Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  “May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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 Fourth Sunday of Easter

Jesus uses a very familiar image today to illustrate the significance of following one’s vocation in life.  He talks about a shepherd, which in an agrarian culture like his own, would have immediately made sense to his hearers.  In a suburban place in the modern world, it loses some of its immediacy, but I still think Jesus’ illustration is a good one.

We know basically what a shepherd does, right?  He cares for a flock of sheep.  The shepherd has an important task: he must keep the flock healthy and safe, so that the flock’s owners will be able to get a good price for them at market.  He has to find good grazing grounds so the sheep can be fed, must see that they stay together and get to market, and has to keep them safe from predators.  Jesus makes a distinction between good and bad shepherds: those who actually care for the sheep as opposed to hired hands who don’t really care.  When a predator comes along, the hired hand takes off, leaving the sheep in harm’s way.  But not the good shepherd: that shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Of course, Jesus illustrates this beautifully in his own life, and we’ve seen that in these Easter days.  The sheep are God’s people, the danger is sin and death, the hired hands who didn’t really care about the sheep were the religious leaders of the time, and the Good Shepherd is Jesus, who laid down his life for God’s people in his crucifixion.  That’s what good shepherds do: they give their lives for the flock.
So here’s the take-away: we are all called to be good shepherds.  We all have a flock.  For a priest, that flock is his parish.  For a religious brother or sister, that flock is the community in which they live.  For parents, it’s their families.  You get the idea.  But the important detail is that the task is the same: to save their flock from all danger of the foe.  The foe remains sin and death, brought about by the predator who is the devil.  The vocation of us shepherds is to get the sheep of our flock to heaven, which is a participation in the vocation of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Which means we have to be true to our promises. For priests, that would be preaching the Gospel faithfully, not just telling people what they want to hear, but challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ.  For parents that means being faithful in their marriages and diligently bringing their children up in the practice of the faith, as they promised at their child’s baptism.
What’s important to know is this: all of our vocations work together.  If we’re all faithful to our promises, God can do his work in us and through us.  For example, when parents faithfully bring their children to Mass, and priests faithfully preach the Gospel, then children can grow up with a relationship with our Lord that will see them through whatever life throws at them, and can bring them one day to their goal of eternal life.
To all of this, there are many distractions, wolves that threaten to scatter and destroy the flock.  But if we are good shepherds, then we can count on the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to bless our efforts and lead us all to life.

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!