On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. Jn. 20: 1– 9
Easter Sunday is always difficult for me. The Sacred Triduum – the magnificent liturgy that is spread over three faith-filled evenings – has reached its climax. The catechumens are no more – they are now believers and are finally one with us. The light of Christ has transformed the darkness of the church and the darkness of our lives. Our hearts have been filled with resplendent and repeated Alleluias. My Easter was last night but now the church is filled with believers who were not here last night. They have yet to celebrate Easter. I’m looking backwards; they are looking forward. The joy of Easter quickly becomes the challenge of Easter.
Today, and all the days that will follow, cannot be lived looking back to Easter. They must be lived looking forward to Easter. Easter should never be trapped in history. Easter should never be experienced only as a past event.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union it was customary on Easter for the people to gather and hear the creed of atheistic communism. The propaganda would go on for hours. It was an ongoing attempt to drive out of people the crutch of religion. On this particular Easter, the minister of information was filled with patriotic fervor and he had waxed eloquently for hours. When he finished, a elderly lady with her head wrapped in a colorful babushka raised her voice and repeated the ancient Orthodox Easter greeting, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” and all present responded, “He is Risen Indeed!”
So today we join our sisters and brothers in the Orthodox tradition as we repeat, “Alleluia Christ is Risen!” and together respond, “He is Risen Indeed!” In the weeks to come the world in which we live will try to tell us our faith is obsolete, that we are clinging to the ways of the past. When that happens may we have the strength to remain true to our faith and trust fully in our Risen Savior.
Today there will be no Stewardship Thought and no Prayer. Today there will only be thanksgiving for all who have journeyed together through the Lenten desert and appreciation for all who have become more conscious of our vocation to be a people of the Covenant, called together for His praise, to listen to His Word and to experience with joy the wondrous signs of His love. Amen
A special Thank You to Michael Mitchell without whose help these reflections would never have been posted and to Sarah Thomas Tracy who worked so hard to make sure my thoughts were expressed in readable English.
Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus, the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you this.” Mt. 28: 1 – 10
“Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus, the crucified.” At the beginning of Jesus’ life, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid!” Now at the beginning of his new life another angel says to the women at the empty tomb, “Do not be afraid!” Through out the gospels true believers are told over and over again, “Fear not! Do not be afraid!” Nevertheless our lives of faith never seem to cause us fear. We have sanitized the belief experience. We have, if you will, de-fanged God. We have tamed the religious experience. The women in today’ gospel are seeking Jesus; we sit at home and hope he finds us.
Easter invites us to become seekers once again. If Easter is going to bring new life and new possibilities, then we must dare to be different. The stone that was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb needs to represent the stone that God rolls back from our tombs this holy evening. There is darkness in our lives. Today is an invitation to walk once more in the light of God’s love. There is dampness in the tomb we call life, will we let the light of God’s love warm us? There is a chill that seems to follow us everywhere. Will we dare to come out into the warmth of possibility?
Jesus is raised from the dead every year but unless we dare to join him Easter is not fully present! The women who bring us tonight’s good news went to the tomb and were confronted with emptiness but they did not let the emptiness win. They knew there had to be more. They wanted their seeking to be over but realized they were not yet finished. They had to go to the Apostles, then they had to go to Galilee, then they went home, then they reached out to their friends. And with them they brought Jesus and a future filled not with emptiness but possibilities.
What will it take to become pilgrims and seekers once again?
Dear God, we have journeyed with your Son through the Lenten desert. We let him show us the way. Now he has fulfilled his life but we still have a way to go. Help us to trust that you will help us reach our fulfillment in your good time. Amen
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Jn. 18: 1 – 19:42
Standing by the cross of others or standing in the shadow of others’ crosses is the most difficult thing we are called to do. We know it is difficult because too many are not standing by Jesus’ cross. Peter is not there. None of the apostles save John stayed by the cross. None of the crowds who welcomed him into Jerusalem are there. All his followers deserted him.
Of course Mary was there. Where else would she be? Mary brought him into the world and she would see him out of the world. Her heart was broken but her spirit was true. The same is true of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. What is the only thing that gives us the strength to endure the cross in our lives? Love. What is it that motivates us to stand in the shadow of the cross of others? Love.
We have been blessed to witness the love that brings others to the cross. Blessed and strengthened. A wife confined to a nursing home, her past lost in the fog of dementia. Every day her husband comes and sits with her and reads to her. She does not know his name. He is just the kind man who feeds her and reads to her. Why does he do it? Why does he stand in the shadow of her cross? He loves her.
The young man so filled with promise just several years ago is now filled with failure. His marriage has failed; his home is gone as is his job. There is nothing left. There is no one who cares – except his mother. She will not give up on him. She will not let him slip alone into future failure. She will not let the drugs win. She prays for him and she is always there for him when he has no one and nowhere to go. Why? Because she brought him into this world and she will not abandon him as long as he lives, as long as he still has breath in him, as long as he has options.
They have waited too long for this child. They were afraid they would not be blessed with children. Then came the joyful news – you’re pregnant. They will never forget that wonderful day. Nor will they forget that other day. The day the doctor said there was something wrong with their baby, that she was not perfect. Followed by wrestling with the awful options – terminate or continue with the pregnancy. They chose life. Their gift was born eight years ago. Their life was changed forever; they are blessed with a special daughter. Why did they trust in God? Why did they go forward when they were told their dream was tainted? Love. And their love has been multiplied every day that followed.
We are invited to stand by the cross; we are invited to stand in the shadow of the cross of others. May those who have always stood with us in challenging times inspire us to do the same.
On this sacred day, let us find the time to call to heart and mind those who have always stood by us and with us.
Looking forward to this day was anything but good. Looking back it is filled with goodness. Help us, God of salvation, to take the long view when days seem filled only with darkness. Amen
So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them. “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If, I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jn. 13: 1 – 15
Today we celebrate the twin gift of the priesthood and the Eucharist. We celebrate Jesus twin teaching on the connection between worship and service. Jesus, knowing that his time on earth was coming to an end, must confront his unfinished agenda. Had he taught the Apostles enough? Would they be able to continue his work? Like any teacher, Jesus had to die without knowing if he had done all that he could to set his students on the road of success. Jesus knew today’s gathering would be his last class. What would he teach them?
I doubt that he needed much reflection before he discovered the answer. There was no need to teach them anything new. He would just underscore the one message that he had taught in so many different ways – love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus always treated others with dignity, especially the poor, the outcasts and those who had been pushed to the fringes of society. Titles get in the way. “Teacher” or “master” are titles that create distinction and separation. “Poor”, “needy”and “sick” are labels that get in the way. This is all that matters – God is our father, Jesus is our brother and we are brothers and sisters to each other. What matters is that we realize we are part of the family of God.
Family is so important. Family is where we learn our values. Family is where we discover our identity and encourage others to discover theirs. In healthy families, there is no room for competition, rivalry or jealousy. In a family, everyone knows their place and function, nevertheless everyone is anxious to take up any slack that might exist. There are no perfect families; not even God’s family. All families are works in progress. What matters most, and what Jesus taught his family when they gathered to celebrate this Passover meal, is that loving service is what holds us together. What good would it do if Jesus’s family and the families of the Apostles gathered to celebrate Passover but did not care for each other? Worship without care is empty; service without worship is incomplete. As Pope Francis is teaching us,
“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” To my understanding “being out on the streets” means service, while “clinging to its own security” means isolated ritual observance.
Where do we need to be of service to other members of God’s family?
Almighty God, in the life of Jesus, you have taught us how to live. Helps us to dedicate our lives more fully to the needs of those around us. Amen
One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. Mt. 26: 14– 25
Wisdom tells us “everyone has her price”. As much we don’t want that to be true, experience says it is. The world is full of examples. Seems like there is an album filled with pictures of politicians being led off in hand cuffs. What went wrong? Call me naïve but I firmly believe that all politicians began with the purest of intentions. I believe they entered public service to help people live better lives. Somewhere along the way some politicians allowed greed, power, hubris or arrogance to subvert their good intentions. When that happens, the perp-walk always follows.
The world of sports has been tainted by steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. What used to be seen as cheating is now euphemistically referred to as gaining an advantage. What has caused this? Everyone has his price and for some the need for success became more important than integrity.
Judas did not start off bad. Slowly over time his values got subverted. I am sure that by the time he betrayed Jesus he had convinced himself, or let others convince him, that he was doing the right thing.
Judas’ problem was not that he betrayed Jesus; his problem was that he could not see a way out of his betrayal. In this Week Called Holy we are enmeshed in what I call dueling betrayals. Both Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus. Judas sold him for a pittance; Peter denied him out of weakness. When Peter confronted his betrayal, he wept. When Judas confronted his betrayal he took his own life.
When we sin, we betray our faith and our God. The challenge is not to get lost in or be defined by our betrayal. That’s what Judas let happen to him. He got lost in his betrayal.
What could be more important as we stand on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – than to renew our belief in the fact that God’s loving mercy is always greater than our sins? We are sinners; we have betrayed our faith and our God in both major and minor ways. The challenge is not to define ourselves by our failures. The challenge is to confront our sins and to ask God for forgiveness. God always gives us the benefit of the doubt. He always says, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are dong.” God always forgives us. Can we let ourselves be forgiven?
Where do we need to let ourselves be forgiven for misdeeds both great and small?
God, whose love is inexhaustible, help us return to you with open arms and a repentant heart. Amen
Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” Jn. 13: 21 – 33, 36 – 38
Peter, like most of us, was able to say more with his mouth than he was ready to deliver with his actions. Or as Charlie Brown, of Peanuts fame, once said, “My soul is full of weeds.” What Charlie Brown did not say Jesus is always saying, “Yes it is but never forget that your soul is more important than the weeds.”
Peter really thought he was ready to drop everything and follow Jesus but when push came to shove he discovered that was not the case. We have made the same discovery. We say, “I love you” before we really do. We say, “I believe” before we really do. We say, “You can trust me” before it is true. We say, “If you need anything” before we are ready to deliver. And these are but a few of the inconsistencies that fill our lives.
I know we could focus on the overstatements of our lives but I don’t think that would be productive. We should focus on the fact that we know the right things to say and realize that is half the battle. All we need do is learn how to live up to our words. Isn’t that what life is all about – growing up to our words? Which is better to commit to: too much or too little? There is a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake that says, “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves. When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little…Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery, where losing sight of the land, we shall find the stars!”
The worst thing Peter could have said was, “Maybe, I am ready to follow you any were.” When it comes to our faith there are some words that need to be eradicated – probably, maybe, sometimes and it depends. Jesus doesn’t want “maybe.” He wants, “Yes” and he wants, “Now.” Our words of faith should stretch us so that we are committed to growing into our words rather than letting our actions shrink what we dare to say.
Where have we been far too cautious with the gift of faith?
God, whose love always sees in us more than we ourselves can see, help us to grow into your vision of who you are calling us to be. Amen