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Good Friday

Posted on 25 March 2016 by patmarrin

“Whom are you looking for?” (John 18:3).

The death of Jesus was probably done quickly and efficiently. It would have been a routine detail for the soldiers assigned to public executions. The hill near the city dump along the approach to the gates of Jerusalem had permanent upright posts ready to receive the crossbars carried by the criminals. A tool box containing a stout hammer and reusable iron nails, some rope to hoist into place and lower the bodies for removal, was all that was needed. The location assaulted the crowds of pilgrims arriving for Passover. This ugly scene was meant as a deterrent to other troublemakers, and what parents explained to their children as they passed by was the same lesson whispered at lynchings and beheadings in other times and places: Do what you are told.

The crucifixion of Jesus is the only historical fact we have that is corroborated by outside sources. Everything else is interpretation, or the faith of the early church recorded in the New Testament, then affirmed by the impact in history of this memory cherished by his followers, of a man who laid down his life for his friends. Jesus’ death left a hole so deep that it has pulled the imaginations of millions as to some mysterious ground zero of universal grief and hope. It is a story repeated endlessly in art and literature to insist that, despite the propaganda of power, truth outlives lies and love is stronger than death.

The first fact of faith in the story is an empty tomb, negative evidence witnessed by his followers that Jesus was encountered alive — transformed — after his death. More importantly, faith holds that Jesus is alive, transcending time, the new man at the end of the story appearing in the middle to show us what a full human being looks like. This is our future if we follow him.

The scene is carefully choreographed in John’s Passion account. Jesus is the central actor, self-aware and deliberate, scripted by the prophecies, guiding the witnesses to understand the meaning of his obedience. From the question addressed to his enemies: “Whom are you looking for?” to his last words addressed to God and to the world: “It is finished,” Jesus completes the seven signs of John’s Gospel to reveal that he is none other than I AM, the Author of life.

Good Friday dares us to believe this, then invites us to re-enact the story and find our own place in it. Here in Kansas City, some will walk the stations of the cross through downtown, stopping to remember the suffering of those on the margins, the outcasts, imprisoned, the troublemakers and losers who dare to rebuke our systems and the values they enshrine for winners. Jesus refuses to go away but continues to call dreamers of a different world, more just and compassionate, more human, even as God is human, and who promises friendship to anyone who believes in truth and love.

Today we enter the dark interval between the death of the Jesus and the promise of resurrection. Walk a lonely mile with us, and see what happens.

Do This in Memory of Me

Posted on 24 March 2016 by patmarrin

“Do you realize what I have done for you?” (John 13:13).

Jesus repeats the foot washing symbol inspired by Mary’s foot anointing in Bethany as his final lesson before dying. The disciples, especially Peter, are shocked to have Jesus, their teacher, kneeling before them in the role of the lowest household servant. But it is not just a sign of service Jesus is giving them. Like Mary’s lavish gesture of love, Jesus is also inviting them to die to themselves in order to pass with him through death to new life. Mary’s anointing was for his burial. Jesus is baptizing his disciples’ feet to prepare them to walk with him through the waters of death to freedom.

The Last Supper repeats and fulfills Passover's Seder meal , the central liturgical act of the Jewish people. Each year, families gather to share lamb, matzah, bitter herbs, eggs and wine to remember the night God liberated them from slavery in Egypt.

In tonight’s Holy Thursday services, Christians will commemorate this commemoration. The readings will recall the first Jewish Passover, the institution of the Christian Eucharist, and John’s account of the foot washing scene at the Last Supper.

This action by Jesus was so powerful for John that he does not feel the need to include the Eucharistic meal recorded in the other Gospels. To wash one another’s feet was to convey the essence of the shared meal of bread and wine. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus tells his stunned disciples at the end of the foot washing.

Of all the liturgical actions ordinary Catholics are invited to participate in, the annual foot washing ceremony is clearly the most demanding and fulfilling. It is done differently in different parishes, but where people are encouraged to wash one another’s feet, it has its fullest effect.

Removing our shoes and stockings, standing barefoot, perhaps calculating whose feet we will wash ahead of us or who will wash our feet, this is all part of the moment. Some people wash and dry, some bend to kiss the feet of others. There are awkward smiles, some embarrassment over feet not prewashed, or gnarled and misshapen by a lifetime of standing or some past injury. In our do-not-touch world of hand sanitizers, powder and perfume, we are reminded just how personal our feet are, and how difficult it is to let another touch us.

Jesus may have had this in mind in telling us to remember him by this gesture. His hands and feet were ruined by crucifixion, his arms and legs distended and twisted in agony as he bled to death and breathed his last from the cross on a world that had rejected his offer of love. He wants us to be with him in this love, to know the cost of it.

What are we to remember from this night? Simply this: If we die with him, we will rise with him. To prepare us for such daily dying, it is enough for us to wash one another’s feet.

Second Chance Mercies

Posted on 23 March 2016 by patmarrin

"Surely it is not I, Lord?" (Matt 26:20).

We move from John to Matthew for a second account of the Last Supper and the chaos among the disciples when Jesus predicts that one of them will betray him. Each one in turn asks, "Is it I?" Even the betrayer is fulfilling the scriptures: "The one who shared my bread has lifted his heel against me" (Ps 41:9).

Why all this shame and blame, this cowardice and denial, at the very moment when Jesus is about to fulfill his mission to save the world by his death? What other important institution remembers its founding members in so disparaging a way for their utter failure to grasp the message of their leader?

The only possible explanation is that their failure was built into the story to prepare them for what was to come. The message they were to deliver to the world was that God's mercy overcomes even the greatest sins and failures. They were the first recipients of this unconditional, reconciling love, so what they gave was what they had received to the core and in their very bones.

The tragedy of Judas serves to fulfill the scriptures and to preserve our freedom to reject God's forgiveness. But who is to say that grace did not, in the end, save even Judas? Two men hung that day, one on a cross the other from a tree; the one giving his life for the other. In this, Judas is the greatest Apostle, for he demonstrated that God's compassion surpasses our self-rejection and rescues us in spite of our ignorance and pride. Judas is the worst-case scenario at the outer limits of love, yet God goes there to find the lost sheep and brings it home.

We all in some way betray God's first overture to us, and we all fail because it is built into the human journey to learn from our mistakes. Holy Week seeks us out, even from the outer limits and the back streets of human immaturity and pathos. Come home, God calls, to yourself and to the community of sinners becoming saints. There is always hope. Look at the Apostles.

Will You Follow Me?

Posted on 22 March 2016 by patmarrin

"Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later" (John 13:36).

One of the traditional hymns we sing at our church this time of year is titled "That Lonesome Valley." Just as Jesus had to walk that lonesome valley by himself, so will each of us. It describes the final steps of every human life and, in particular, the decisiveness of faith. No one else can believe for us or surrender for us.

Holy Week becomes that lonesome valley for Jesus. The readings from Isaiah 49 and Psalm 71 show how the church later came to understand the meaning of Jesus's final surrender to the will of God. He is the Son of Man, the Servant called from his mother's womb to restore justice to creation and right relationships to the world. Resistance will be terrible and the cost total, but the Servant trusts that God will deliver him, even from death itself.

In cinematic fashion, the camera shifts from Jesus to those around him to record their reactions. Yesterday's Gospel showed Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus for burial. Today we continue the story as Judas is revealed as betrayer and Peter, the chosen leader of the disciples, learns that he will deny Jesus three times in his hour of crisis. These two failures warn us of the difficulties ahead.

The camera then swings around to find us, each one of us, in the huddled group of disciples, our faces confused and fearful as it becomes clearer just what is about to happen to Jesus. Our faith, so sure in happier times, is shrouded in hesitation and darkness. Has it come to this, Lord, that you will ask us to suffer as you are about to suffer, to surrender everything for your sake?

Jesus must go on ahead of us. What he accomplishes by his violent death will open the way for us. But we will have to enter the lonesome valley some day, all by ourselves, choosing to believe that he is the Way. Now is the time to pray for the strength to surrender ourselves to him with all our hearts. Welcome to Holy Week.

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Anointing at Bethany

Posted on 21 March 2016 by patmarrin

“I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).

We begin the events of Holy Week by trying to imagine how Jesus himself approached the last tumultuous week of his earthly sojourn. Did he know the psalms that described a Servant enduring great suffering with trust that God would not abandon him? Did he meditate on the poignant songs in Isaiah that foretold the rejection and death of that same Servant for the sins of others?

A choral piece I heard years ago conveyed this dark interval perfectly in its closing lines: “The loneliness of his death was no greater than the loneliness of his life.”

Who could Jesus turn to for understanding. He had his Abba in the sleepless nights of prayer as he and the disciples camped in the Kedrom Valley near Jerusalem with thousands of other pilgrims arriving for Passover. But for human support, these men seemed almost obtuse in their failure to grasp what was about to happen.

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday only reinforced their sense that victory was coming soon. A banquet in Bethany at the house of Lazarus, Jesus' most spectacular miracle, alive and seated at the head of the table, confirmed their confidence that God was with them and the messianic age was imminent.

Then the mood was shattered by a woman, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, when she entered the hall and began to anoint the feet of Jesus for burial, pouring out a fortune’s worth of aromatic nard, wiping them with her hair. The powerful perfume filled the house, stirring the indignation of Judas, who objected to its extravagance and cost. Jesus rebuked him and acknowledged Mary, the only person in the room who understood that he was going to die.

One Chapter later in John’s Gospel, Jesus will repeat Mary's act of love by washing the feet of the disciples, a gesture so deliberate that in the fourth Gospel it replaces the institution of the Eucharist as the ultimate sign of God’s self-emptying love for the world.

To emphasize that only the women fully understood this love, John and the other evangelists were compelled to record the truth that the men disciples were so stunned by the reversal of fortune that followed later in the week, they abandoned Jesus when he was arrested and executed. Only the women and a single disciple stayed to witness his death, and the women were first to encounter him as raised from the dead.

It is only by some strange amnesia and paradox preserved in the story that the church Jesus left to witness his redemptive gift continues to exclude women from its most sacred rituals of remembrance. Would we even know of Easter had their grief not carved out the empty space within history for this rebirth of hope rising from the shroud of despair and the stone of disbelief that sealed the tomb?

Jesus was not alone. The Abba was with him to receive his final cry and breath from the cross. Standing around that cross were his mother, Mary of Magdala and the other women from Galilee. A single disciple, also beloved by Jesus, was there to record this fidelity so it could not be denied or dismissed. And us, we are there as well, are we not? The choice is ours as together we enter Holy Week, 2016.

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Donkeys Needed.

Posted on 19 March 2016 by patmarrin

“The Master has need of it” (Luke 19:34).

As guerilla theater, Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was brilliant. It fulfilled the messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 of God’s victorious champion arriving in utter humility, but, for provocation, also ridiculed the imperial theater of a Roman general entering a conquered city astride a white stallion surrounded by armed troops, standard bearers, trumpeters, and trailed by prisoners of war. Only Jesus' symbolic cleansing of the Temple exceeded it for insolence and bravado. The Temple establishment and the Roman procurator got the message, and within a week Jesus was hanging on a cross with other subversives to show the Passover pilgrims that Rome would brook no dissent.

Contemporary examples of this kind of daring challenge to the establishment are rare. Perhaps without knowing it, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, chose a garbage workers strike in Memphis as the setting for his assassination. Archbishop Oscar Romero used his pulpit to tell Salvadoran soldiers not to obey orders to kill their own brothers and sisters, and then made himself an easy target for a sniper while saying Mass the following week.

In the debate over whether Pope Pius XII might have done more to protect the Jews under Hitler, Dorothy Day suggested that he could have ridden a donkey into Berlin. Only a cartoon could show Jesus arriving in the Vatican on a donkey, confused by the enormous basilicas, clerical presence and commercial atmosphere, asking directions to the vicar of Christ. How did so humble a beginning end up as a center of power and wealth?

Pope Francis will celebrate the events of Holy Week, beginning with today’s reading of the Passion by Luke. Francis has done a lot to strip the office of pope of the trappings of power and privilege, but the Gospel of liberation and the church of the poor and for the poor are still barely visible through the fog of complicity between religion and money. It is really up to us, the millions of baptized followers of Jesus, to be Jesus in the world, missionaries of mercy and sharers in the redemptive suffering still to be made up in the body of Christ.

Our smallness and insignificance matches the symbolism of the donkey, a beast of burden, obedient to the Master’s voice and nudge as we carry him into the heart of the city that rejects him. Have courage. Take the next step. Listen, then act. This is our time to be the church God wants, for our own sake and for the sake of all our brothers and sisters.

Donkeys needed.

Posted on 19 March 2016 by patmarrin

“The Master has need of it” (Luke 19:34).

As guerilla theater, Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was brilliant. It fulfilled the messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 of God’s victorious champion arriving in utter humility, but, for provocation, also ridiculed the Imperial practice of a Roman general entering a conquered city astride a white stallion surrounded from armored troops, standard bearers and trumpeters, and trailed by prisoners of war. Only his symbolic cleansing of the Temple exceeded it for insolence and bravado. The Temple establishment and the Roman procurator got the message, and within a week Jesus was hanging on a cross with other subversives to show the Passover pilgrims that Rome would brook no dissent.

Contemporary examples of this kind of daring challenge to the establishment are rare. Perhaps without knowing it, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, chose a garbage workers strike in Memphis as the setting for his assassination. Archbishop Oscar Romero used his pulpit to tell Salvadoran soldiers not to obey orders to kill their own brothers and sisters, and then made himself an easy target for a sniper while saying Mass the following week.

In the debate over whether Pope Pius XII might have done more to protect the Jews under Hitler, Dorothy Day suggested that he could have ridden a donkey into Berlin. Only a cartoon could show Jesus arriving in the Vatican on a donkey, confused by the enormous basilicas, clerical presence and commercial atmosphere, asking directions to the vicar of Christ. How did so humble a beginning end up as a center of power and wealth?

Pope Francis will celebrate the events of Holy Week, beginning with today’s reading of the Passion by Luke. Francis has done a lot to strip the office of pope of the trappings of power and privilege, but the Gospel of liberation and the church of the poor and for the poor is still barely visible through the fog of complicity between religion and money. It is really up to us, the millions of baptized followers of Jesus, to be Jesus in the world, missionaries of mercy and sharers in the redemptive suffering still to be made up in the body of Christ.

Our smallness and insignificance matches the symbolism of the donkey, a beast of burden, obedient to the Master’s voice and nudge as we carry him into the heart of the city that rejects him. Have courage. Take the next step. Listen, then act. This is our time to be the church God wants, for our own sake and for the sake of all our brothers and sisters.

Come, Follow Me

Posted on 18 March 2016 by patmarrin

"In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice" (Ps 18).

Today's first reading from Jeremiah describes a prophet besieged by his critics and enemies. Jeremiah is a reluctant prophet to begin with, saying that God seduced him into being a messenger of doom to an unfaithful nation. God's word came to him like fire in his bones. The only way to get relief was to preach it.

This profile describes Jesus toward the end of his ministry, the entire religious establish in full revolt against him and his message of repentance to avoid destruction. The scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests in collusion with the court of Herod and the occupying Romans, turn up the heat on Jesus, threatening to arrest and punish him for challenging their authority.

We enter Holy Week knowing that all of this conflict is going to lead to Jesus' death. The challenge is to understand how his suffering and death is a force more powerful than rejection and violence. We are ushered into the Easter mysteries by re-enacting the last days of Jesus' earthly sojourn and finding in them the story of our own liberation from sin and death.

Each event of Holy Week is rich in fulfillment of ancient prophecies and the central themes of God's Covenant with his people. He is the Passover lamb whose blood saves his people and nourishes them for the Exodus. He is the new Moses proclaiming the new law of mercy. By his death Jesus will fulfill the Law and the prophets and open the way to a new creation, a new heaven and earth in communion with God.

Our formation as Christians does not occur without our participation. Lent has focused us on Holy Week and Easter. Even if we have been distracted and uninvolved up until now, we need not miss the events that begin with Palm Sunday and culminate in the three days that commemorate the Last Supper, Jesus’ death on the cross and the Vigil service that proclaims his resurrection. Now is the time to listen, watch, pray and enter the mystery. This is the story of our own destiny as followers of Jesus.

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Beloved Children of God

Posted on 17 March 2016 by patmarrin

"My covenant with you is this; you are to become the father of a host of nations" (Gen 17:3).

National pride and ethnic solidarity have always been part of history, for good or ill. The story of U.S. immigration has been one of both fierce tribalism and gradual assimilation. The film "Brooklyn" was not just a powerful love story, but also a reminder for this fractious nation that our history is one of welcoming the best the world had to offer, not without great sacrifice and generosity.

God's covenant with Abraham promised him that his descendants would be a great nation. Jewish claims to be God's Chosen People expand to universal salvation with Jesus, who proclaimed a new creation that would go beyond blood and national identity.

Genetic research has uncovered the truth of the common origins of the human species. We are all one human family, and many of us who thought ourselves purebreds are in fact a rainbow of diversity that defies racial stereotypes.

Jesus tells his critics that his real identity transcends both time and place. He is I AM, the human face of the divine Creator come to confront his world and to call us beyond competition to community. Jesus is the beloved Son who wears the coat of many colors, the dreamer who calls us all to a future of unity in diversity.

Those who would divide us or set us at odds with each other are wrong. Abraham attests to this by being not just the father of the Jews, but of the entire People of the Book: Jews, Christians and Muslims, and by extension, the promise made to all humanity. Our destiny in God will transcend race, color, even religion. Now is the time to acknowledge and join together in making this destiny our present reality.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Posted on 16 March 2016 by patmarrin

"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31).

Some scholars say that John's Gospel, the last of the canonical four, is in part a polemic against the rabbinic expulsion of the Jesus movement from Judaism at a meeting in city of Jamnia after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. What had been a rich and diverse theological spectrum of belief before the fall that accommodated the Christians was tightened to protect orthodoxy as the great diaspora of Jews fled Palestine. John's often patent animosity toward the "Jews" reflects the many quarrels going on over just who Jesus was and the validity of his teachings.

With this key in mind, today's passage is a quarrel over origins and authority. Jesus claims not only that he is greater than both Abraham and Moses, but that he is one with God. The "Jews" who rely on the claim to be the children of Abraham and followers of the Mosaic Law are deluded because if they were, they would be welcoming Jesus.

The famous line, "The truth will set you free," is John's affirmation of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. To believe in him is to know the way to the Father. We are confronted here with the core Christian assertion that Jesus is not just another religious figure, but instead he is the path to God. Jesus is the model for full humanity. Those who imitate (follow) him come to full maturity, but then also open up within themselves their divine destiny. Those who reject him reject the image and likeness of God in him and in themselves, limiting themselves to life in this world only and then natural death. Only those united to Jesus will enter eternal life.

God's mercy is like a door standing open in the world that people pass by every day but never enter. Those who do enter begin a process of transformation, first by receiving mercy, then by practicing mercy to others. This process burns away all selfishness and judgmentalism in us until we are like the heavenly Abba, merciful and kind to everyone. We become friends of God in this world, ambassadors for Christ and missionaries of mercy, then pass from this world to friendship with God in the communion of saints forever. This is the Joy of the Gospel, but we must surrender to it to know it, know it to experience it. The truth at sets us free is Jesus himself.

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