What Is Easter To Us?

“They were filled with amazement” (Acts 3:10).
 
There are different levels of amazement, from happy surprise to earth-shaking wonder. Some experiences can only be described as encounters with God.  Something transcendent has touched our lives and changed everything, especially the way we see reality itself.
 
When Peter and John healed the cripple at the gates of the Temple, the man first walked, then began to leap in the air as he accompanied them, praising God at the top of his voice. Something amazing had happened. For most of his life he was like a man unborn who now leaps in the womb at the signal that a whole new life is about to begin for him. After years of being trapped in his paralyzed body, he is suddenly brought to life and liberated.
 
The two disciples fleeing Jerusalem after the disastrous events of Good Friday are turned around by a stranger who opens their minds and their eyes to the resurrection. They are transformed, and they race back to Jerusalem to tell the others they have seen Jesus on the road and in the breaking of the bread. Hearts broken by disappointment and despair now burn again with joy to see the secret plan God had hidden all along in the Law and the prophets.
 
The church provides 50 days after Easter for us to engage the mystery of the resurrection and its implications for us. This may be because at first it seems like just a spiritual idea or something that happened long ago to Jesus.  What difference does it make to me? Is resurrection only about what happens after we die?  Or is it somehow a present opportunity to open ourselves to a continual sense of wonder and amazement at what God is doing for us and, through us, to others?
 
Appropriating the power of Easter faith is, like all spiritual growth, a gradual process of insight, awareness and even experimentation.  Can we go beyond ourselves and our usual routines to love and serve others in new and greater ways? If Easter faith has removed from us the shadow of ultimate death, what new  risks are we willing to take to  accompany and advocate for those who are more vulnerable than we are? Do we really believe that Jesus is hidden among the poor and in the most vulnerable? Can we see his face in the poor,  hoping we will stop to acknowledge him and stop show him some compassion?
 
If Easter is only a beautiful idea or a liturgical season that coincides with spring, it will quickly fade from our minds until next year. But if Easter is something we experience each day, then our lives will be filled with amazement.  For if our hearts are open and we ask for it, God will invite us into the mystery of Jesus and the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Woman, Why Are You Weeping?

“They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:11).
 
Mary Magdalene can rightfully claim the title given her by Pope Benedict as “Apostle to the Apostles.”  She is the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared on Easter morning, and he sends her to tell the other Apostles that she has seen the Lord. She is the first to preach the Good News. 
 
This tradition, so embedded in the Gospels, might have resulted in a very different role for women in the church today had it not run into another tradition that took historical precedence. That tradition is the one that says that because Jesus chose only men to be apostles, only men can be bishops and priests. The exclusion of women from ordination has been been interpreted to mean that women also cannot preach.
 
If this outcome seems to frustrate the logic of today’s Gospel reading, then how appropriate it is that the evangelist puts in the mouth of Mary, and all other women who aspire to imitate her, the words, “They have taken my Lord away…”  The Gospel writer may have deliberately preserved the tension of competing traditions in the early church to insure this question would continue to be debated by subsequent generations.
 
And debated it has been is being, despite an attempt by a previous pope to ban even the discussion of women priests. There is energy trapped here that will not go away until it is resolved. The question of the equality of women is essential to and inseparable from the Resurrection itself. St. Paul writes that “there is neither male nor female, for you all are all one in Christ” (Gal 3:28).
 
So in the joy of Easter, proclaimed from our pulpits by men, we can still imagine how much more complete the Gospel might sound if women were allowed to do what Jesus told Mary to do on that first Easter morning. “Go tell the others.”
Instead we have enough tears to baptize us all and to water the seeds of hope that someday this reality will finally happen. 
 

Christ Is Risen and Goes Before Us

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away from the tomb quickly, fearful yet overjoyed ,,,” (Matt 28:8).
 
The first week after Easter presents us with appearance stories from all four gospels: Mary of Magdala encounters Jesus at the tomb; two disciples on the road to Emmaus meet a stranger and learn the meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death; the assembled apostles see, touch and eat with Jesus; some disciples rendezvous with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberias.
 
These varied accounts tell us that the early church struggled to grasp the implications of this astounding event, which seems to have pierced the time-space continuum and revealed a new meaning and purpose for the world and for human existence in God’s eternal plan.   
 
The church devotes 50 days for us to reflect on this mystery and its implications for us. Our risen Lord is now in the world, so the question for us is how and where can we find him to share in his redemptive life and work? If Jesus is especially with the poor and the oppressed, as he told us he would be (Matt 25), how do we accompany and serve them in the struggle for a more just, peaceful and loving world?   
 
Like the first disciples, we are called to overcome our fears and doubts, open our eyes to Jesus as he walks on the road with us. We will find him in the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread, and we will recognize, touch and eat with him in our faith communities.  This is how the resurrection will become real in us and for those who witness our faith in action.
 
The world will try to go back to business as usual, but this is no longer possible for us. Everything is changed. We are changed by the promise of new life won for us by Jesus.  Each day he turns to us and says, “Come, follow me." By his grace we can change the direction of history, the fate of the earth,  and the structures and attitudes that resist God’s will for our world  today. 

Easter is not a single Sunday but way of life, a daily process of transformation that will bring us both human maturity and the assurance of a divine destiny -- life in God.  This is the joy of the Gospel. This the day the Lord as made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it!
 
 
 

Breakthrough

“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” (Matt 28:5).
 
Easter has been called the “end of the story appearing in the middle.” Because we now know that love is stronger than death and that Christ has by his cross opened the way to our divine destiny, we can live fully and without fear as his followers.
 
Easter also marks the threshold between the first creation and the new creation, the restoration of God’s original intent for the universe and  for humanity transformed by Christ.
 
The Easter Vigil approaches this central revelation with symbols and storytelling.  A light is kindled in the darkness, and the sweeping narrative of salvation, from Genesis to Gospel, illuminates the biblical passages the church has celebrated since the beginning that show God’s plan to heal the wounds of sin and death through the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus.
 
By his death on the cross, divine mercy was poured out on all of us,  and even more astonishing, while we were still sinners. What no human virtue, sacrifice or legal perfection could merit was given freely from the heart of God. The living Jesus now indwells every community of faith, transforming us by baptism and the Eucharist to be his crucified and risen body in the world for the redemption of the world.  
 
The most effective Easter proclamation comes from Easter People, those who now live the pattern of dying to self in order to rise with Christ in service and compassion.  Easter is not only what happened to Jesus, but what is happening to us.  Love sets us free to live our brief sojourns in this world with courage and insight, knowing we are destined for eternal communion within the Trinity.  
 
How will the world know we are Easter People? This is where our faith moves from idea to action, from belief to practice. The risen Christ in Matthew’s Gospel goes ahead of the disciples into Galilee. There they will find him in the hungry, thirsty, naked, rejected, sick, imprisoned and persecuted (Matt 25). We will know Jesus by imitating his advocacy for the outcast, the widow and orphan, by his openness to sinners, strangers and foreigners.
 
Easter is more than Sunday; it is a lifestyle and a lifelong commitment to be another Christ in the world. What we could not have imagined for ourselves is made possible by his love for us. Our fulfillment is to become the Christ in each of us, uniquely positioned in our specific circumstances to be Christ to others.
 
Whether our life in Christ is hidden or called into the light for the good of others and for some important work, all of us our meant to come to maturity in the promise of our baptisms.  We will do this by carrying our individual crosses—the burden of self in the context of our personal time on earth. 
 
Easter means that, by the power of Christ, even our small lives will share in the glory of God’s redemptive work in history.  What we celebrate today in word, song and ritual, let us live each day. Alleluia. Happy Easter!
 
 
 

The Passion According to John

“It is finished” (John 19:34).
 
American author J.D. Salinger introduced the precocious Glass family in his stories. They appear regularly on a radio quiz show called “It’s A Wise Chlld.” In one episode, one of the children says that instead of giving a speech at Gettysburg, Lincoln, considering the number of casualties at that Civil War battle, should have just stepped forward on the platform and shook his fist.
 
The fact of Jesus’ death by crucifixion must have been such a shock to his followers that it is no surprise the first formal texts about his death took decades to form the core of the four Gospels. What was there to say in the dark interval between that terrible loss and the mysterious event of the resurrection?
 
Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, has Peter say succinctly to the crowds: “You put the author of life to death."
 
How could such a thing happen?  God sends his beloved Son into the world to show us how to live, and the “world” rejects him. 
 
There is little need for a homily at today’s Good Friday services. We have the Passion according to John to focus our hearts on the mystery of God’s love for us while we were still sinners.  God rejects our rejection and offers us risen life with Jesus. But we must respond.  By opening our hearts to so overwhelming a love, we will open our lives to Easter.
 

Our Baptism to Serve

“Master, are you going to wash my feet?” (John 13:6).
 
The ritual of the washing of feet, as it is practiced in many parishes, is both a moving experience and one of the liturgy’s most teachable moments. 
 
Parishioners are invited to go to one of several stations where towels, basins and pitchers of water are provided. Depending on where you fall in line, you will have your feet washed and then wash someone else’s feet.
 
It might be a stranger, a spouse, a man or woman, adult or child. To meet others through their bare feet is to expose a vulnerability – why we wear shoes and conceal our feet. Feet have their own stories, and it is often the case that it is much harder to let someone wash your feet than to be acting the role of the servant washer.
 
This common reaction helps us understand Peter’s resistance to letting Jesus kneel before him to wash his feet. It is more than just embarrassment. Peter knows that what the Master is doing by acting as servant is an intimate lesson about the kind of leadership he expects from all his disciples, but especially Peter. He knew he was being baptized to a whole new level.
 
Ordinary authority is about taking control, being in charge, giving orders. Jesus is showing them another way. The one who leads is the one who surrenders himself to the needs of the community, who lays down his life for others, who sets the standard of humility and service for everyone.
 
Among the many in our churches who will take part in the foot washing ritual will be some everyone recognizes as those who nurture the community by their readiness to serve. Jesus points to them as models of the same love he had for his disciples.  In other scripture accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus will give himself to the community as food and drink, his own body and blood broken and poured out that we might have eternal life.
 
The liturgy is meant to form us in the image and likeness of Jesus. We come from these rituals prepared to be food for one another, servants within the community and to the world.  It does not take a degree in theology or Bible studies to live this way.  It takes only faith and the desire to be like Jesus.
 
The Last Supper will end as darkness descends on the world and fear seizes his disciples when Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives. They will flee when their Master, who hours earlier had washed their feet, is led away to be tried, tortured and executed.  Each of them will go from ritual to reality as the implications of their commitment to Jesus become clearer. To rise with him they must also die with him. 
 
Jesus looks into each of our faces as he washes our feet. His look of love is an invitation to love others as he has loved us.  We can turn away or we can accept this baptism that seals our commitment to see the story of Lent, Holy Week and the sacred Triduum to its dramatic conclusion at the Easter Vigil.
 
What we commemorate is who we are becoming.  This is the joy of the Gospel.
 

Greater Love

“He who dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me” (Matt 26:21).
 
The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is an inside job, inflicted not by an enemy but by an intimate friend, one who has been part of the inner circle gathered around the common dish.  In Middle Eastern culture, sharing a meal with someone meant you were welcome inside the “nasal bubble” of shared food and conversation at the most personal level. No wonder the scribes and Pharisees were so outraged that Jesus “ate with sinners.”
 
The case against Judas is amplified in each Gospel, and it must have been one of the most shocking aspects of the Passion accounts. Jesus is handed over by one of his own chosen ones, a disciple who dared identify him in the garden with a familiar kiss.
 
The story is also the fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 “Even my friend in whom I trusted, one who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me.”  The 30 pieces of silver, the amount paid for someone with a price on his head, is also linked to Zechariah’s instructions for a Potter’s field where the indigent and could be buried.
 
These scripture passages show how the evangelists sought to understand this betrayal, to say it must have been foretold and therefore necessary to Jesus’ sufferings. In any conceivable narrative, betrayal by a friend would be the deepest wound of all. Someone you love hands you over to death. Someone you have been so close to you that you could take a piece of bread, dip it in the dish and hand it to them.
 
If the mysterious role of human suffering was essential to Jesus’ full immersion into the human condition, as it is for us all, then his suffering encompassed the deepest kind of emotional and psychological assault possible. He was betrayed by a friend.  He is denied and abandoned by his closest disciples. He is rejected by his own people, his own faith community as a heretic. He is treated like a criminal by the state and executed unjustly. 
 
The body of Jesus that was placed in the tomb on Good Friday had endured every kind of suffering imaginable. There is no one who can say Jesus would not understand their agony or isolation. It from this absolute depth of loss that the resurrection will be wrenched as the ultimate sign that love defeats death and that divine mercy is greater than any evil. 
 
We who share intimately with Jesus at every Eucharist can only rejoice that we have such a friend and brother, who did not spare his life but gave himself up for us all.  His gift is our Easter.
 

Success Through Failure

“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; though you will follow later” (John 13:36).
 
Human betrayal is one of life’s most devastating experiences, for both the victim and the betrayer. It reveals just how weak we really are, especially in a crisis. A victim can recover and move on, but to abandon a friend or fail to keep a promise for lack of courage will stay with the one who betrays until they find a way to make amends, if this is even possible.
 
Judas hangs himself in despair when he realizes what he has done. Peter weeps bitterly and will recover only by reliving his triple denial in a heart-rending encounter with the risen Jesus.  All of disciples will in some form or other experience a profound conversion before they are confirmed as Apostles.
 
Isn’t this part of the story, a necessary failure that prepares Peter and the Apostles to preach the gospel of mercy? What they proclaim to others they must first experience themselves. As God forgives them, so they will preach that same forgiveness to others.  Even the worst sin – to deny a friend, to abandon your post in a moment of cowardice – finds forgiveness.
 
Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “One of you will betray me,” probe all our hearts. Like Peter, we think it can never happen to us, yet it does.  Peter is so determined to follow, yet Jesus tells him that he cannot follow now.  Jesus must first open the way to divine mercy by his death on the cross. After that, we will also be invited to walk the same road he walked.  This is the meaning of our discipleship.
 
Holy Week takes us deeper and deeper into the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  The most difficult part may be our need to confront our own betrayals, sins and failures, yet this is how we will understand God’s saving mercy.  Let us go forward, confident that God is showing us in Jesus the path to Glory.

Love Unto Death

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:9).
 
After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus retires to nearby Bethany for a celebration at the home of Martha, Mary and their brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
 
The mood of this victory dinner is pierced by Mary’s act of anointing the feet of Jesus with a very costly liter of aromatic nard, It is a burial rite, and the disciples are shocked. Judas criticizes Mary for an extravagant waste that could have been spent on feeding the poor.
 
Jesus knows that Mary alone understands that he is about to die. He utters the famous line, “You will always have the poor with you,” an indictment of the world’s neglect of those in most need.  The very source of God's compassion is now in their midst, and they do not recognize him. The disciples are about to lose him, and they still do not grasp what Jesus is about to accomplish on their behalf.
 
Mary’s passionate show of love for Jesus was to wash his feet. In Chapter 13 of John's Gospel we will see this gesture again. Her gift to Jesus will be his final gift to his disciples.  Only after his death will  they begin to understand the depth of his love for them.
 

Entering Jerusalem

“He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Matt 27:33).
 
Matthew sets the stage for Holy Week with the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But to reveal the ‘Messianic secret” of Jesus’ glory through suffering, Matthew loads both this account and the longer Passion reading with irony and paradox.
 
In a parody of the entry of conquering generals astride white stallions, Jesus enters the city on an ass. Because Matthew writes for a predominantly Jewish audience, this and subsequent details of the Passion will resonate repeatedly with the words of Isaiah, other prophets and the psalms. Everything that happens to Jesus will fulfill the Scriptures.
 
The Passion we read today is rich in details, beginning with Jesus’ agony in the garden, his betrayal by Judas, the flight of the disciples and the triple denial of Peter. Condemned and abused by the Sanhedrin, Jesus is sent to Pilate, who, despite his doubts, frees Barabbas and hands Jesus over to be flogged, mocked and crucified.
 
The same crowd that deliriously welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday now jeers at him as he carries his cross to Golgotha. The chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, with blind accuracy, scoff at Jesus for saving others but not saving himself. Jesus instead “empties himself” for our sake, taking upon himself the sins of the world.
 
Only the women remain faithful, and they alone keep watch during the dark interval after Jesus’ death and burial. From their grief will rise up the first glimmer of faith on Easter morning. Even then, the chosen Twelve, in hiding, will be slow to understand what has happened.
 
Palm/Passion Sunday is unique in that all of us assembled to mark the start of Holy Week will be invited to share in the dramatic reading of the Passion.  As participants, we are challenged to cross the threshold of faith to accept the pattern of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in our lives. Only by uniting ourselves, mind, heart, soul and strength with Jesus, will we begin to be true discipleship. The memory of Jesus’ passion is a living call to follow him in our own time, whatever the cost.
 
We do not lack irony and paradox today, as the world’s great powers stand poised once again in confrontation, ready to escalate military action as a first option. Jesus’ words, “Put up your sword,” are a reminder that violence leads to violence and has never really resolved any conflict without enormous destruction and the loss of innocent life.  
 
We commemorate the Passion of Jesus in order to take up his redemptive mission in our own time and place.  He revealed God’s way of drawing history toward the beloved community of justice and love. This is how we will enter into that difficult process, but it is the only road to Easter,
 

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