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The Road to Emmaus

Posted on 23 April 2014 by patmarrin

“Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over” (Luke 24:29).

We are all on the road to Emmaus. Life’s journey is made up of smaller forays that take us toward something or away from something. We seek meaning, security, success; we run away from chaos, danger and failure. We find like-minded companions to share our hopes and disappointments. Everything is a work in progress, sometimes easy but often incomprehensible, even overwhelming. Like death, the death of a friend or family member, or the very notion of our own death. We want to run away.

The death of Jesus shattered the hopes of his companions: “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” But instead he was condemned by his own people and handed over to the Romans, and they made an example of him by publicly torturing him to death. The shock of it has numbed his followers, who are in hiding or, like these two, in flight from Jerusalem. Rumors that Jesus was seen alive again seem like a cruel, hysterical hoax, only prolonging the long road back to reality. Power always wins. Death silences the dreamers, idealists and prophets.

We know the rest of the story, how a stranger came and walked with two distraught disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. We hear how he opened their minds to the scriptures and rekindled hope in their hearts, then revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. If the Last Supper was the final Passover of the old creation, the meal at Emmaus was the first Eucharist of the new. Each time we worship, we process together along the road of our struggle to believe; we hear the scriptures; we break the bread and share the cup; we go out to tell the world.

It is all very mysterious, and it takes time to understand how suffering and death can lead to such joy. But it is the story we have, the story we tell over and over again in the face of all our disappointments and losses. Easter faith is a work in progress. What we know for sure is that on the road there will always be a stranger walking with us, explaining that whatever has happened to us, God is always with us, love overcomes hate, and life is stronger than death.

Transformation Now

Posted on 22 April 2014 by patmarrin

“Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13).

Today’s favorite Easter story about Mary of Magdala at the tomb is a story about coming to faith and about the mysterious transformation we call the resurrection.

Mary comes to the tomb early. It is still dark, and this describes both the time and her mental state. She is in the dark about what is happening to her beloved teacher Jesus. She finds an empty tomb. She runs to tell Peter and another disciple, and they run to see the empty tomb. The sun is rising and their faith, still incomplete, is beginning to dawn. They leave, but Mary remains at the tomb. Two angels ask her why she is weeping.

As the scene unfolds, Jesus is there, but Mary does not recognize him. Only when he says her name, “Mary,” does she realize it is Jesus and that he is alive. She tries to hold him but he tells her not to because, though he is risen, he has not yet ascended to the Father. In these words we are given a glimpse into the resurrection at its earliest stage, from death to restored life, from life to transformation into the Life of God. Events in time and place now pass into eternal and universal state that opens human history to a new destiny, ultimate Life in God. Jesus is the pioneer of that destiny, the first born from the dead, our older brother going before us.

The focus of Easter shifts from Jesus to us. Risen life begins now in the way Jesus invites us to live as his followers. As he emptied himself for us, died to himself for the sake of us, so are we to offer our lives in the care and service of others. This is our preparation for our own stage-by-stage transformation that will carry us into eternity. Now a hidden life in Christ, we will be revealed with him in glory. Let nothing hold us back. Faith dawns, and we see the Lord.

Monday Morning

Posted on 21 April 2014 by patmarrin

“Do not be afraid” (Matt 28:10).

The first Monday morning after any celebration is always the test of its staying power. Even for the first disciples, Easter Sunday passed into Monday morning and the question, “Where do we go from here?”

The women rushing to proclaim that the tomb is empty and that they have seen the Lord encounter resistance and disbelief. The cover-up is already underway, the guards paid to say that the body was stolen while they were asleep. The mystery of the risen Christ has entered history and will change everything, but for now the circle of belief expands slowly from the first witnesses. The work of reclaiming humanity from sin and death has just begun, but it will need a growing church to witness it effectively.

A rainy Monday morning on 31st Street at the Catholic Worker House finds a porch filled with people waiting for the doors to open for breakfast. Half-price bus passes move steadily. Over coffee, toast and cereal, guests share complicated stories of missing paper work, a dishonest landlord, an unpaid gas bill. Everyone is polite and generally cheerful. Winter is over and warmer weather is coming, the neighborhood is in bloom.

Some untimely deaths in the community bring home questions central to Easter. We look to one another and to our churches for reassurance and support. Jesus appears to the women, incredulous and fearful, and says to them, “Do not be afraid.” We who are in time must endure life’s unpredictable losses, going forward in faith against the timeless mystery of God at work in our midst, healing a broken world, guiding history toward completeness. No more tears, no more death. Everyone together again.

The church gives us a season of 50 days to ponder the mystery. We live now a hidden life in Christ, and our work is to be more and more like him. Each day will hold its own troubles, but grace flows in every moment, especially on Monday mornings when we need it the most.

Easter

Posted on 19 April 2014 by patmarrin

“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (John 9:3).

Gold, it is said, was used in icon images of the risen Christ to reflect the faces of those who used them as prayer aids. God’s glory is impenetrable, so all we see is our own reflection, and this puts the mystery of faith where it belongs—in us. We must decide the meaning of what we are seeing.

The fourth Gospel, attributed to John, is the story of Jesus seen through the eyes of the Beloved Disciple. The story, as narrative, offers us a series of signs that culminate in the assertion that Jesus is I AM, the divine icon of God. It is an impenetrable mystery. Anyone can see the human Jesus, but only those with faith can really “see” him. The final sign is his death on the cross, an apparent disaster that both hides and reveals the ultimate act of divine love for sinful humanity. Jesus dies rejected and abandoned by a world he came to save. His offering of unrequited love is the first act of the new Creation, a new humanity announced in the shell of the old, a new way of being human made possible by Jesus’ transformation, his passage from life through death to new life. Some witnesses will see only a crucifixion. The Beloved Disciple sees the “lifting up of the Son of Man, who gathers all things to himself.”

If this seems theological, the author of the fourth Gospel would agree. Our faith is first of all an assent to an idea that invites us beyond logic and the visible evidence of death. Resurrection does not override the fact of death any more than it spares the believer from aging and illness. What it does promise is Life, indomitable, unstoppable vitality within the web of love evidenced in our faith communities around the mystery of Jesus, God incarnate among us, always available to us, embracing us through every stage of our lives, and through death into eternity.

But it is more than theology. It is no surprise that the resurrection scene in the fourth Gospel is told as a love story in a garden, recapitulating the entire history of humankind from Genesis forward. The first witness, a woman, arrives in the dark and then two other disciples – Peter, representing the faith of the church, and the beloved disciple, who reminds us that only the heart really sees – run to the empty tomb as faith dawns on them after the darkest night of all.

If this is what we see when we gaze into the face of the crucified Christ, then we will also see the face of the risen Christ. The glory of his resurrection radiates through our faith communities at Easter. But it is also our resurrection. Easter is God’s promise to us of endless Life. Even in the midst of life’s myriad trials and uncertainties, love endures and inspires us to keep going. What the Gospel announces is that the end of the story has appeared in the middle. We know that love trumps even death, and this changes everything forever.

TGIF

Posted on 18 April 2014 by patmarrin

“It is finished” (John 19:30).

Of all the questions we might ask about the impact of Christianity on history, the first ought to be why it survived at all. Why did it emerge from the countless movements, religions and charismatic impulses passing through the ancient world to fire the imaginations of poets, artists and mystics and end up influencing global culture to the extent that it has? How did an obscure hill country preacher leave such a profound imprint on the collective psyche of the world, attracting billions of adherents and shaping even the arguments of skeptics who dismiss him?

Apart from the theological answer that he was God incarnate come to save the world, another case might be made for the symbol that came to characterize the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The cross he died on placed him at the intersection of human hope and divine response. The body of Jesus hangs vertically and reaches horizontally. He is fixed in the human imagination at the crossroads of desire and despair, love and death locked in the universal question the cross poses for all of us. Love or death, which is ultimate?

Jesus’ violent death, a human being sacrificed at the height of his powers and in the fullness of his freedom, is what gives the cross its power. No victim, Jesus dies for love when he might have fled. He could have saved himself, but saved us instead, emptying his life into ours so completely that life and death are redefined by love. This is what a human being looks like. This is the image and likeness of God, revealed on a cross.

The sign of the cross is therefore the simplest, most complete and portable catechesis we have. By making it over our bodies, head to heart, shoulder to shoulder, we bless our lives in relationship to God and in outreach to one another. It is the perfect prayer for Good Friday.

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Holy Thursday

Posted on 17 April 2014 by patmarrin

“He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John13:2).

John’s Gospel does not have the institution of the Eucharist, but gives us instead the washing of the feet as the central sign of Jesus’ love for us and example to us of how we are to love one another. His witness to an upside-down God and a reign in which the first are last and the last first is distilled like a potent liqueur in the act of the master washing the feet of his disciples. For them, the sight of Jesus, stripped of his outer garment, a towel around his waist, kneeling before each one to wash, dry and kiss their feet, must have been bewildering. Peter finds it preposterous and at first refuses to submit to it. Judas, who is still present, submits in a heart-wrenching dissonance to this last act of love before slipping away to seal the deal to deliver his friend to the enemy. The gesture, first used on Jesus himself by Mary of Bethany, must have been particularly galling to Judas, who complained of the waste of expensive nard.

Christians around the world, including the pope, will engage in the ritual of the foot washing. It has already caused confusion for some bishops who do not want priests to wash women’s feet, much less Muslims or anyone of unknown faith or worthiness. Let the pope do what he wants, but they will do it right, an ordained alter christus and 12 males representing the apostles at the Last Supper. How far from the original intent of Jesus can we take this, fighting over his last gesture of humility and love?

For most people, if they attend services today, the chance to wash one another’s feet will remind everyone of the incarnation, God with human feet in all sizes, colors, smells, toenails trimmed or untrimmed, plain or painted. Even between strangers, the gesture is shockingly intimate, easier to administer than to receive, a ritual that escapes protocol and becomes embarrassingly personal, even, God forbid, slightly erotic. Forgive me for touching your feet. Thank you for washing mine. Thank God we only do this once a year.

Tomorrow we will be invited to kiss the cross. That gesture will be simpler, but just as loaded as today’s. This is Holy Week.

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Judas

Posted on 16 April 2014 by patmarrin

“Surely it is not I, Lord” (Matt 26:22).

The scriptures for a third time linger on the betrayal of Jesus. He casts a deep shadow over their Passover meal by saying, “One of you will betray me.” In distress, they reply one after the other, “Surely it is not I, Lord.” Perhaps even Judas, to deflect attention, feigns innocence by asking the same question. But he has already determined in his heart to hand Jesus over to the authorities, and he already has the 30 pieces of silver in his pocket.

Who was Judas Iscariot? His name, associated with those who opposed the Roman occupation with assassinations and sabotage, suggests he may have betrayed Jesus out of impatience with his nonviolent approach to the enemy. Or, as an intimate friend of Jesus within the circle of disciples, he acted out of jealousy, or perhaps he thought he could precipitate the revolution by forcing Jesus’ followers to rescue him if he were arrested. We don’t know the full story, and the Gospels cloud any analysis of human motives with fulfillment prophecies or the simplest explanation that Judas did it for the money.

But Matthew sets the scene and has the camera scan the circle of faces at the Passover table, as each disciple disclaims, “Surely it isn’t I.” We are placed in that circle and must answer for ourselves. This is the second time Matthew has done this to us. The first was in Chapter 16, when Jesus asked his followers, “Who do you say that I am?” Only Peter had insight enough to cross the threshold of faith and declare Jesus to be the Christ. But this is the same Peter who will boast of his loyalty to Jesus, then later disown him to save his own skin.

For us to say from our hearts that we believe Jesus is the Christ is an act of faith that brings our whole lives into focus out of vague nominal assent. More is required of us. The deeper question, as Jesus approaches his sacrificial death is, “Are you still with me?” Betrayal can come in many forms, including silence or indecision or walking on past the moment we could have said, Yes, Lord. Here I am.” As Holy Week takes us into the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, we must decide where and with whom we stand.

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Betrayed

Posted on 15 April 2014 by patmarrin

“And it was night” (John 13:30).

Betrayal is always an inside job. Someone with intimate connections or knowledge of another’s thoughts and intentions shares that insight with enemies, enabling then to gain access or the opportunity to take down their intended target. Betrayal requires deception, an outer face that shows loyalty while an inner face plots abandonment.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus reads Judas, offers a sign to him that he knows what is up and still affirms their friendship by passing a morsel of bread dipped in the common dish. The pathos of the moment deepens Judas’ resolve and invokes a first flush of shame that will blossom in his conscience after the fact and give logic to his suicide. He has made possible the death of the master at Passover and shattered the inner circle of trust among the disciples, who scatter in mortal fear at the hour of greatest need.

Decapitation should have killed the whole movement, but does not. The deepest blow, delivered from within, hemorrhages the group, beginning with Peter, who denies Jesus, and the others in flight from the garden, save one, the beloved disciple, who, with the faithful women, will accompany Jesus to the end. Even this destruction of hope does not ruin the story which, in hindsight, will be seen to have required total tragedy to demonstrate the depth of God’s love for a sinful world. Rejected, betrayed, denied and abandoned, a murdered God will rise from the dead to befriend human failure and restore us to grace right when we have shown our worst.

Across the table, a friend extends a hand holding a piece of bread. Take it, eat, and do not avert your eyes from the look of love that never falters, never ends.

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Battle Plan

Posted on 14 April 2014 by patmarrin

"Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear" (Ps 27).

Holy Week 2014 begins with scripture readings from Isaiah 42, Psalm 27 and John 12 that seem to describe a warrior planting his feet firmly in preparation for battle. But he has no weapons except trust in God and in the ultimate victory of justice over oppression. For Jesus, reclining at table in Bethany before his last foray into Jerusalem, his imminent death is affirmed by a lavish preburial anointing. He has been aware since his baptism that he is God’s Servant, the Christ – anointed one. He knows that the Passover he is about to celebrate with his disciples will culminate in the sacrifice of the lamb of God – himself – to signal the great exodus from sin to freedom, through death to life.

In Kansas City, we begin Holy Week in the echo of gunshots that killed three people at the Jewish Community Center, the arrest of a suspect tied to white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups. Another vicious even if mentally unstable gunman has been shooting randomly into cars on the expressways, creating terror and uncertainty for thousands of commuters. Enlarging the focus from local to global, the ongoing war in Syria, faltering peace prospects between Israel and the Palestinians, a violent confrontation between Russian separatists and the government of the Ukraine, among other flashpoints in Africa and Asia, have created the backdrop for religious observances around the world.

A nonviolent God broods over the troubled waters of the world. The dove that descended on Jesus at the Jordan hovers over history, probing hearts and inviting anyone who is listening to share the work of redemption. Not by force or miraculous enticement, but by sacrificial love and gentle witness, will God negotiate the future opposed by the minions of chaos and fear.

Jesus enters a time and place of intense prayer, and so must we. The forces of ignorance and evil can be driven out only by prayer and fasting, soul-probing examination of our collective role in sustaining the atmosphere of pessimism and paranoia out of which violence springs. An anointing is needed to wage this battle, a spirit of courage and insight to outflank and expose the lies, identify the causes before they erupt. This is what will make this week holy, and what will prepare the way for renewed hope and the resurrection of all that is dead within and among us.

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Man on a Donkey

Posted on 12 April 2014 by patmarrin

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 11:10).

The utter improbability of the Gospel is apparently something the early church was eager to proclaim. By worldly standards, the arrival of the Messiah, hailing from Nazareth in Galilee, riding into Jerusalem on an ass to purify the Temple was a perfect parody of royal and imperial power. Behold, the clown prince of Yellow Dog, Tennessee, blowing into Washington, DC, on a tractor to clean up Congress and save the world.

Conquering kings and Roman generals marched with their armies into vanquished cities astride white stallions, trumpets blaring and banners waving. This was real power. Matthew instead fulfills prophecies from Isaiah and Zechariah that depict God’s servant coming in lowly estate, welcomed by the poor waving branches and spreading their cloaks on the road before him. These prophecies mocked imperial pretensions to real authority, which comes from God alone.

And in yet another twist of this parody, Matthew subverts the crowd’s show of support for Jesus by contrasting it with the howling mob that just days later will reject him as king and call for his crucifixion. With Palm Sunday we begin a ride on a roller coaster of high expectation and sudden collapse as Jesus’ ministry comes to an appalling end on Golgotha. The man on the donkey pays the ultimate price for his insolence and presumption. Son of God, indeed.

Indeed. Believers who re-enact Palm Sunday know that the story was written backwards in the light of the Resurrection. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, there is no story to tell, no Good News. So our procession with palms and our participation in the reading of Matthew’s long Passion account today is a walk in faith, step by step, deeper and deeper into our own commitment to share in the mystery of the cross in order to know the meaning of the resurrection.