The Resurrection of the Lord
Reading 1 ACTS 10:34A, 37-43
Reading 2 COL 3:1-4
Gospel JN 20:1-9
Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
Today billions around the world celebrate the glorious resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the most significant event in human history. The Gospel gives is the description of the empty tomb, the stone that was rolled away.
Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
At the Easter Vigil tens of thousands were baptized throughout the world, dying with Christ and rising with him in the waters of baptism. The stone has rolled away, sin and death hold them no more and they inherit the promise of eternal life. Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
The woman ran to tell the disciples, who themselves ran to see the empty tomb and finally they understood that He had to rise, that saw and believed. The stone of ignorance, doubt and fear had been rolled away. Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
In the first reading from the Book of Acts we see Peter preaching the Good News of the Risen Christ: "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance..."
Peter is no longer a denier but a 'witness'. Pilate 'asked what is truth?' Well this is the truth: Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
God continues to choose his witnesses 'in advance' and now it happens to fall on us. We are the witnesses of this present day. The world is dark and gloomy. We speak of 'mother-of-all-bombs' and nuclear weapons as if they were something purchased in Toys R Us and not capable of annihilating all life as we know it on the face of the earth. The daily news can be fearful and dark but today I say to you turn off the TV, turn on the Gospel and fear no more. Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
We are called to be an Easter people, filled with hope and carrying its fruit: joy. Today we celebrate and we face the world and all its trials, not with the fear of man, but with the strength of the Risen Lord. The stone is rolled away, Christ is Risen! Indeed he is Risen!
They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.
It is a restless time for me. The image of the tomb, dark and cold dominates: Lazarus, Jesus and eventually, mine. My mortality looms before me as seldom before.
There is no liturgy at all today until the sun sets and the Church celebrates the Easter Vigil. However for this Holy Saturday in the Church’s Office of Readings, a reading on the descent of the Lord Jesus into Hell is used along with the biblical reading of Hebrews 4:1-13. It appears to come from a homily on Holy Saturday written in Greek dating back to the fourth century liturgy (PG 43, 439, 462f) but the author is unknown. It begins with this statement:
"Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear..." The homily goes on to speak of Christ's rescue of Adam and Eve from Hell, quite popular in early and medieval Christian liturgy.
"...He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve..."
It is a restless time for me yet I am reminded in Hebrews 4: "Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And he who enters into God’s rest, rests from his own work as God did from his..." And so my soul must rest and hope on this Holy Saturday. My mortality looms yet my immortality awaits. "Something strange is happening..."
Good Friday of the Lord's Passion
Reading 1 Is 52:13—53:12
Reading 2 Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Gospel Jn 18:1—19:42
"It is finished."
Breath is gone, no more pain. There is only stillness when death comes.
For so many, their hopes and dreams have faded like the morning dew: the Messiah, the “King of the Jews”, hanged limp and still on a Roman cross. Those hoping to see Roman oppressors driven out must now wait for another liberator. The disciples who travelled with him proclaiming "the Kingdom of God is here " must be disappointed, bewildered. Everything spun out of control so fast. Jesus is dead. It is finished. Failure.
Or is it? The final cry of Jesus was not one of abject defeat but rather a shout of victory: The purposes of God are completed. The powers of sin and death have been defeated because the Son of God has faced the ultimate unknown of our human experience, paying the wage of sin which is death, so that we may have eternal life.
God was willing to die for our sins; it was the final step of the 'emptying' we read in St. Paul's letter to the Philippians.
“It is finished”. There is no more to do. The work is complete, the way into God’s Kingdom is open. All that is left for us to do is proclaim the good news!
Good Friday tells us that whoever we are, whatever we face and do, if we place our faith and trust in God he will not disappoint us. Our Blessed Mother Mary would look at her son and grieve but there was something else in her heart: hope - and Romans 5:5 tells us hope does not disappoint. Our story does not end in the tomb.
"It is finished."
Reading 1 Ex 12:1-8, 11-14
Reading 2 1 Cor 11:23-26
Gospel Jn 13:1-15
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
We begin the Sacred Triduum on this Holy Thursday and our readings reveal the entire significance of today’s feast. The first reading is a description of the Jewish Passover Meal. The Seder is a re-enactment of the meal taken by the Israelites before their flight from Egypt, a flight to freedom. This once a year commemoration is a sacred recall of God’s great act to liberate them from slavery and the beginning of their long journey to the Promised Land. And they were given the instruction "This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution."
It is no coincidence then that it was at the celebration of this meal that Jesus instituted what we know as the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Second Reading, St. Paul recounts what Jesus did during that Last Supper, that Passover Meal. He took the bread at the table, broke it, shared it and said it was his Body. He took the cup of wine and said it was his Blood poured out for all of us. On this night Jesus united the Jewish Passover and the whole Paschal Mystery of his suffering, death and resurrection and links the bread and wine and its communal eating with the body and blood of Passover's sacrificial lamb. There is a new freedom, not just from institutional slavery, but from sin and evil. There is now a new Passover and the Lamb of God is Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world.
These actions also came with the instruction that they were to be repeated by his followers in his memory, thus at the same time he instituted the Eucharist he instituted the ministerial priesthood which we also celebrate today. No priests, no Mass. We should always be thankful for our priests.
In the Gospel today these words haunt me: "he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end". It is truly a blessing to experience the love of a lifetime. In marriage discussions we tend to focus on the 40-48 percent divorce rate. It is an alarming failure rate and subject to much study but maybe we should spend more time looking at the 52-60 percent of marriages that last. At the core of lasting love is giving.
In today’s gospel we witness the extravagant love of Jesus who knelt in front of his disciples and one by one washed their feet. He knew that his hour had come to pass from this world and He, like Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, wanted to express his farewell in the tenderest of ways: humble service.
Theologian Romano Guardini says that "the attitude of our littleness bowing down in front of the great is not yet an attitude of humility. It is simply, an attitude to truth. But when the great bows down before our littleness that is true humility".
This is the true humility of Jesus Christ. He turns human values upside down and invites us to follow him and to build the kingdom of God based on loving service.
The Passover and the Eucharist would be meaningless if we don't see the love behind it: "Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the end". We are his own whom he loves to the end and we need to love to the end.
Do this in memory of me: offer the sacrifice, celebrate the Eucharist, wash each others feet.
Wednesday of Holy Week
Reading 1 Is 50:4-9a
Gospel Mt 26:14-25
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" He answered, "You have said so."
I laughed hysterically at a video I saw on FaceBook of a woman with a chewed slipper confronting her two dogs; one stayed firm, resolute, tail wagging while the other seemed to squirm, avoid eye contact, and tried to duck out of sight. That one certainly looked guilty.
Humans are a different lot however: before the eyes of an omniscient God, we still put up our pretext of innocence. Adam tried it - "it was the woman you gave me", shifting blame on both the woman and God himself. Cain tried it - " am I my brother's keeper?" and now Judas looks Jesus in the eye - "surely it is not I, Rabbi?"
Why is it that words of repentance seem to struggle in escaping our lips? "I did it, I'm sorry" are some of the hardest words to say either to God or one another.
Jesus' heart suffered because he knew all their betrayal: who did not hand him over would deny him, abandon him, watch him suffer and die from a distance. Yet he probably suffered even more for Judas , not only because of the betrayal but in realising that his disciple had gone astray from him.
His heart suffers still at our betrayal, our denial. But as he gazes down on me from the cross, calling me back to him, I can only speak the truth that will set me free: "yes Lord I did it, I'm sorry".
Tuesday of Holy Week
Reading 1 Is 49:1-6
Gospel Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.
"Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled..." As we continue to insert ourselves into the story imagine this: at the beginning of today's Gospel we hear Jesus saying "one of you will betray me" and at the end he says "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" and juxtaposed between the beginning and the end; "Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him" (to Judas). An oblivious group indeed.
Because of this that Jesus was 'deeply troubled' and the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading take on dire significance: "Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God." Was it worth it?
There are times when in our Christian walk and ministry a sense of futility creeps in and we ask "what for?" People can be ungrateful, seemingly oblivious to all we do. If we're looking for glory in the eyes of men...well good luck with that.
But even at the end Jesus teaches so pay attention: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once." His words echo the prophet Isaiah: " Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God."
Our works are to glorify God not other men and not ourselves and if our heart is aligned with this then God will glorify us. So to God be the glory. TGBTG. Always.
Monday of Holy Week
Reading 1 Is 42:1-7
Gospel Jn 12:1-11
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
A call to serve, a call to feast, a call to adore, a call to betray, a call to kill. How is it all these can circulate around the person of one man at the same time? It did as it still does when that person is Jesus the Christ.
My head swirls and my heart sorrows as I heard about the bomb explosions in the Coptic Churches in Egypt. The victims came to serve, to feast, to adore while others came to betray and kill; all this still over 2000 years later. Let us lift up our Christian brethren in prayer, may they rest in peace.
This is Holy Week and death is prominent in the story but not central. It is Holy not only because Jesus dies but because He Rises! In "dying he destroyed our death, in rising he restored our life".
'O come let us adore him' is a call for Christians all year around not just at Christmas. In the face of threats, turmoil and anxiety can we assume the posture of Mary of Bethany and perform the work of a slave at Jesus feet in a loving act of submission and adoration? Didn't Jesus do the same for us and tell us to do so as well? (Hint: pay attention on Holy Thursday)
Who are we in this story today: Martha always ready to serve, Lazarus reborn, Mary in humble adoration, Judas in blind indignation, or worse those with only murderous intent in our hearts for God and our neighbor?
How is it all these can circulate around the person of one man at the same time? It did as it still does when that person is Jesus the Christ.
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
Procession With Palms — Gospel MT 21:1-11
Reading 1 IS 50:4-7
Reading 2 PHIL 2:6-11
Gospel MT 26:14—27:66
As we enter into Holy Week this Palm Sunday, our Lenten journey brings us to its culmination in the most holy week in the liturgical calendar. The reading for the Procession of Palms recalls our Lord's triumphant entry into the holy city of Jerusalem while the Lord's Passion according to St. Matthew presents the Lamb of God, the Suffering Servant of God and as St. Paul's letter to the Philippians reveals , the God who 'emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness...'
This week celebrates the most important event in human history: our redemption from sin and the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. As we enter into Holy Week, because it is our story, the Christian story, place yourselves in it during your reflections: see yourselves in the crowd so overjoyed in welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem: they praise and honor Jesus for his mighty deeds and his powerful teaching which prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Wave you palms for the King of kings!
But crowds are fickle, yes, we can be fickle; at the instigation of the High Priests and their leaders, they turned their backs against him, humiliated him and, in order to crucify the Son of God, they shouted to free Barabbas, a murderer; they forsook the very "Hosannas" they greeted the Lord with, instead saying, "We have no king but Caesar!" "Let his blood be upon us and our children." Crowds are fickle, we can be fickle. Place yourselves in the story as it is our story.
We can betray him like Judas, we can deny him like Peter or we can stand with him like Mary and John but we all receive forgiveness from that cross, redemption from our sins.
As we celebrate Holy Week I pray that we may all be willing to join with Christ, the Suffering Servant, on his road to Calvary and the cross and so share in his glorious triumph and resurrection. Place yourselves in the story as it is our story.
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Ez 37:21-28
Gospel Jn 11:45-56
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, "What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation."
Conversion must take place in the heart. We can be scholars in theology and never experience conversion. Take the chief priests and the Pharisees, all scholars for sure yet they remained unconverted. Why? Because their hearts were never open to God's grace. In Christ they saw loss not gain: "What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation."
As scholars they should have been well versed in the words we hear from Ezekiel in the first reading: "My servant David shall be prince over them,and there shall be one shepherd for them all; they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees. They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where their fathers lived; they shall live on it forever, they, and their children, and their children's children..."
Their fear of Rome was greater than their trust in God's covenant, so much so that even the resuscitation of Lazarus brought murderous intent rather than glorious hope and praise. But let's not be too quick in our condemnation and take this last Saturday of Lent to examine our own heart: is it predisposed to conversion or have we something other that God at its center?
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Jer 20:10-13
Gospel Jn 10:31-42
"If I do not perform my Father's works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."
It's common practice today to make a statement then walk it back: "when I said such and such, I really didn't mean that...". Happens all the time, especially with politicians so when the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of making himself God and confronted him with rocks, it was the perfect opportunity to clarify exactly who he was (Jn 10:33). Jesus could have easily said, "Easy, guys! Don't stone Me. When I said 'I AM', I really didn't mean to imply that I was actually God." Everyone would have gone home and Holy Week would have probably been cancelled, not taken place.
But Jesus not only refused to walk back His claims to be God; rather, he doubled down on it citing the evidence of his works, his obedience, and having been sent by the Father to us (Jn 10:34-38).
'Believe': it's what we've been hearing as we read John's Gospel in particular this Lent. From Samaria to Galilee and back to Judea he called for them to believe and he calls for us to believe still.
Finally, do our works reveal that the Father is in us and we are in the Father. Is our testimony believable?
The Season of Lent is a special time for us to slow down, look inward and make the necessary changes to truly become an Easter people.