My Lord and My God

“In God’s great mercy, God gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3).
 
We should not be disappointed to realize that all three of today’s readings were written for a generation Christians toward the end of the first century. The description of the growing faith community in Acts, the excerpt from the Letter of Peter and the Gospel story about doubting Thomas were written for people experiencing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus not as direct eye-witnesses, but in the same way we encounter it today, namely, through their gatherings for the Lord’s Supper to read the scriptures and celebrate the Eucharist.
 
They, like us, believed that their baptism made them members of the risen Body of Christ, promising them a new life with a divine destiny.  Like the Apostles, they were facing persecution, meeting behind locked doors out of fear and dealing with doubts about whether Jesus was really with them.
 
It was not theology or ritual that held them together during this crucial transition from the first generation of eye-witnesses and preachers to the expansion of the church into the Greco-Roman world.  For their faith to survive, they needed to experience the immediacy and effectiveness of that faith as a way of life. They needed more than a second-hand witness. They needed to encounter the same mystery of the crucified Jesus that had radically altered and transformed the lives of the first believers.
 
They are just like us. How we experience the risen Christ in our faith communities today will determine whether we will live our Christian lives with the same radical intensity.
 
Thomas’ desire to touch the wounds of Christ should be our desire and prayer as well. Why be satisfied with someone else’s witness? Why should we settle for a vague assent to what has so often and for so many of us become a routine Sunday morning Mass? So Today’s Gospel describes three things we ought to insist on as evidence that Jesus is really alive and among us: 
 
The first is an experience of profound peace, an inner calm that overrides the common anxiety, guilt and fear that are part human existence itself  How can we be real disciples if we live consciously and unconsciously in the shadow of death and the threat of suffering?  How can we be followers of Jesus if we are paralyzed from ever acting freely or taking any risks to advance justice or even to use our talents fully? So much human unhappiness is rooted in knowing we are not really living. The Peace of Christ liberates us to the larger adventure of life and love that Easter people take for granted. If we don't need to fear death, then nothing less than that should intimidate us from living a full and even daring Christian life.
 
Secondly, we ought to experience the Holy Spirit of forgiveness Jesus breathed into his disciples in that upper room. In John’s Gospel, it was the same final exhalation Jesus breathed from the cross to forgive his murderers. It is the power he breathes into us to forgive others as a way of life that never ceases or gets bogged down in keeping score or passing judgment, draining us of compassion and joy.  If we feel the same desire to forgive that Jesus inspired, then his Holy Spirit is alive in us as surely it was in the first disciples.  
 
Third, we should expect to enter intimately into the wounds of Christ when we welcome one another at Mass, as we let the brokenness of others be our own in community. Not just a polite concern, but real compassion that exposes us to the struggles of others, invites us to weep with those who weep. Then we will know in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup the crucifixion of Jesus in those around us.  Then we will know that we are members of the body of Christ now redeeming and healing our broken world. 
 
Thomas speaks for all of us when he demands an encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus as the basis for his discipleship.  We will have this encounter only if we ask for it with faith, eyes open to what the world cannot see or understand because such faith demands so radical a response.

Thomas, like his fellow believers, realized that he did not need the physical presence of the historical Jesus, or the pierced hands and side of Jesus’  body nailed to the cross 70 years before to experience the truth of the resurrection. What he received when he asked for proof was a mind-boggling, heart-rending revelation that the same Jesus who had died on Calvary was none other than his “Lord and God,”  present before him in the Word and the Eucharist and in the baptized members of the church. 
 
Do you really trust that everything you need to live your Christian life fully and freely is present when you worship with your faith community this weekend? Do not be afraid to be Thomas. Make your prayer as deep and as explicit as you can, then believe with all your heart that Jesus will be there to reveal himself to you.This is how we celebrate Easter.

Fully Restored to Restore Others

“It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).
 
This story from John, like Luke’s story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, summarizes the emerging understanding of the risen Jesus by the early Church. Just as Luke’s account explains the role of suffering in the mission of Jesus, the account of the encounter between the disciples and Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias reveals that forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel.
 
Peter has been prepared to lead the Apostles not by his success but by his failure. Proud, boastful Peter falls apart in crisis and denies three times that he even knows Jesus, who then dies on the cross.  Peter must bear the terrible burden of his cowardice with no chance to seek forgiveness from his dead friend. In his own mind, he is beyond redemption, the greatest sinner of all. How can he ever reconcile this with Jesus’ confidence in him?
 
The triple protestations of love Peter makes around a charcoal fire on the beach (so like the fire on that fateful night in the court of the Sanhedrin), delves deeper and deeper into Peter’s conscience. The wound of his denial must be opened up all over again before the balm of unconditional love and healing can be applied. 
 
This is the very Gospel Jesus asks him to carry to others. God forgives every failure, God is merciful to sinners, even the greatest among them. Jesus revives Peter from his prolonged grief and regret to enable him to preach from his own bitter experience of the overwhelming graciousness of God.
 
When Pope Francis speaks of himself as a sinner, or says that God first showed him mercy and then called him, he is confessing a profound truth from his own personal conversion experience.  Mercy is the foundation of his recovery of the radical Gospel. 
 
Only when we encounter God in a similar way, crying out from our failures and sinfulness, will we understand the joy of the Gospel, the homecoming of the Prodigal Son, the liberation from self-destructive lives that the tax collectors and prostitutes experienced in Jesus. Only when we have fished all night and caught nothing will we know the dawn of hope that Jesus alone can bring us.
 

Take the Next Step

“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see” (Luke 24:38).
 
Much is made of hands and feet in the resurrection stories, or for that matter, in the Gospels themselves.
 
The biblical idea of our feet seems to emphasize an obvious truth—that wherever our feet are going, the rest of us is sure to follow.  We are told in the psalms to rejoice in the feet of those who bring good news. Pilgrims know that they have actually reached the Temple, for “even now our feet our standing in your precincts.”
 
Mary anoints the feet of Jesus in Bethany. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. When the women meet the risen Christ they instinctively grasp at his feet. And in today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus reassures his dumbfounded disciples that it is really him by telling them to look at his hands and feet, to touch them to know that he is not a ghost.
 
In the accounts describing the ascension, when Jesus departs the last thing his disciples see are his feet disappearing into the clouds.
 
We who live in a time when shoes are both the norm and even a matter of style, what can all this business of feet mean to us?
 
Perhaps we can reflect on what we learn each year by having our feet washed by others on Holy Thursday, or what we learn about the human reality of the members of our faith communities by stooping to wash someone else’s feet, even ritually. The condition of people’s feet tells stories; of those who are aging, those who have stood all their lives because of their jobs, or those who can or cannot care properly for their feet. 
 
Jesus, even in his risen state -- what we imagine to be a glorious body -- has deliberately retained the marks of his crucifixion. He wants his disciples to know of his suffering. He wants anyone who turns to him for help to experience that the hand extended toward them is also wounded and bears the marks of the nails. He wants us to recognize that when we walk with him on the road, we will know him immediately by his feet in step with our own.
 
This is an odd focus for a meditation on the incarnation of God in our world, or on the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet the Gospels thought it was important enough to point to it repeatedly.  What story do your feet have to tell? And even more important: Where are your feet headed?
 

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.
 

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