“He has been raised”

Glory to God in the highest! Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ, has been raised. Here is how it has been told in Luke 24:1-12.

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

This version of Christ’s rising from the dead is from Saturday night’s Easter Vigil service, because I find it the most beautiful and inspiring reading.

My two favorite Masses of the year are the Midnight Mass and the Easter Vigil Mass. Both are incredibly moving, with the pomp and ceremony. In particular, the Easter Vigil is full of drama, usually beginning in the dark with everyone carrying a lighted candle. There are seven first readings with their responsorial psalms. Then there’s the Epistle, with its responsorial psalm. And then the Gospel, which announces the discovery that Our Lord has risen from the dead. The lights go on!

Also during the Easter Vigil, the new Pascal candle is commemorated and lighted. And the most stirring Gloria of the year is sung.

That’s been my experience, anyway. I’m sure each parish celebrates the Easter Vigil a little differently in some way. But the basics remain the same. It is a celebration of the discovery that Jesus is no longer dead but has been raised and is no longer in the tomb. And the dawning of the apostles at its meaning and their amazement at its good news. We get to share all of this awesome experience in the Easter Vigil. It’s almost like being there with Mary Magdalene and the apostles.

After the sadness and tears of Friday over the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, today we are overjoyed. And the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (6:3-11) reminds us that this wasn’t just the rising of Jesus from the dead, but it is the dawning of a reality for each of us. For Paul says,”if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” So Jesus has cleared the way for us to resurrection, also.

While Jesus lived among us, he taught us how to live just lives, loving God and our neighbors to the fullest. Dying on the cross and rising from the dead, he made way for our following him into heaven, where that love reaches its glorious height. Glory to God in the highest!

He has been raised. Happy Easter.

“I have given you a model to follow”

First, let me wish you a blessed Good Friday. This is the day we commemorate or recognize the day our Lord died on the cross for us. But first, I want to go back a day to the evening of the Lord’s Supper, which is presented in John 13:1-15.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

During Mass on the Evening of the Lord’s Supper, in Catholic Churches around the world, the priest celebrating Mass re-enacts this scene. A group of twelve is invited to the front of the congregation where they sit, remove their shoes and socks, and the priest washes and dries their feet. Pope Francis did this himself this year, as well.

If you as a member of a congregation have ever participated in this ritual, you know it’s a humbling experience. Before going to Mass you make sure your feet are clean, you wear clean socks that have no holes, and you wear your best shoes. And then you find yourself up before all your fellow parishioners to have a man you admire – your parish priest – humble himself to wash your feet.

Now imagine how the disciples felt. Their master and teacher, Jesus, who has taught them about the Father and about the holy life and the hereafter, and who has healed the sick and cared for the poor and cast out demons, even raised the dead, humbles Himself by washing their feet. And once again, He teaches them, giving them a model to follow.

As I think about this ritual, I reflect on the life of Jesus, the Son of God. Throughout humanity’s relationship with God, we have seen Him as the untouchable burning bush, the voice from on high, the rumbling thunder, the power that etches the ten commandments into stone, the Almighty that breaks opens the sea and the folds it back to quell the pursuing Egyptian army, even the name that must not be spoken. And then suddenly, God comes to us as this gentle, loving, giving, healing, compassionate, humble divinity who takes human form. He lives among us, lives as we do, suffers as we do, speaks as we do, even shows a temper as we do. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus the Christ lived in every way we do except for sin. And in His final night, Jesus humbled Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.

In His final act of love, Jesus is then arrested, beaten, taunted, nailed to a cross, and dies. He suffers the ultimate humiliation of Crucifixion, exposed for all to see.  Talk about humble.

The washing of the feet is a prelude to Christ’s crucifixion and glorious ascension into heaven. I read a meditation on this ritual that said that this observance today is a way of washing away the dust of life and ushering us through Good Friday and into the Easter celebration.

Today, then, we are in the midpoint of this holiday. Today we remember Jesus’ death. But we are also mindful that it was through His death that He was to be reborn and that in His death and rebirth that He made it possible for us to be reborn. In so doing, he has given us a model, a path, to follow.

 

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled”

This reading from Luke 18:9-14 seems appropriate during this election season. It also seems appropriate for the many times I see people boast that they are Christians.

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What exactly is a Christian? Who is a Christian? Anyone who posts it as an identity on their Twitter or Facebook profile? Anyone who watches TV evangelists Sunday mornings? Anyone who occupies a place in a church pew?

There was a time when it took courage to say that you were a Christian. When actual Christians were actually put to death for their faith. Today in America, it’s quite common to be a Christian. But many use their claim to be Christian as a cudgel to “clobber” others, to win ideological arguments, to show that they are better than others. There is even such a thing as cultural Christians, people who don’t attend church but who say they follow the cultural and moral teachings of the Christian faith. They use it as a crutch to feel superior to others while hardly following the word of Jesus the Christ.

Being a Christian is not about how you’re better than others or great simply because you follow Christ. Jesus makes that clear in this reading. Other readings make it clear that the true Christian is a servant of others above all other earthly things. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” So few in the public square seem to heed this warning. So few in the private square do as well.

If you’re truly a Christian, you listen to the words of Christ.

 

 

 

“Neither do I condemn you”

Today I bring you a story of God’s true mercy. It involves not someone who was poor or sick or widowed (from what little we know), but certainly someone who was condemned and abandoned by the authorities of her community. It’s from John 8:1-11.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

We live in a world in which authority figures and those who cleave to their every word openly condemn others. Often they choose which sins they condemn in public and which sinners get the public shaming. Notice here that the scribes and Pharisees condemned the woman but not that man, for instance. Of course, in this story from the Gospels, the scribes and Pharisees did this to test Jesus, but it was also the practice of those times to bring adulterers before the crowds for stoning. It was their law. In fact, stoning was the punishment for many infractions.

Today, we don’t stone people, fortunately, although there are those who would like to see the practice brought back. Self-righteous people who, like the scribes and Pharisees, can readily see the sins of others but who don’t admit to their own sins. But as a society and culture we have other ways of dealing with sinners and those we assume are sinners. Public shaming, for instance. Shunning. Talking about them behind their backs. Enacting legislation that punishes people whom we don’t like or for acts we don’t like, while having more tolerance for people or acts that we are less likely to condemn because of our prejudices – or perhaps because we secretly perform those acts ourselves.

The lesson for us here is that Jesus was presented with someone who supposedly was caught in an act that was against Jewish law. And when confronted with it and when expected to act on it, Jesus showed the woman the mercy and dignity others would not. He who was without sin, who could justly have condemned her under the law, refused to condemn her. Without his example, those who were sinners by their very human nature, would have stoned her.

So who are we today to not follow Jesus’ example?

Every one of us is a sinner, yet we choose to cast stones (metaphorically speaking) against others who are sinners. Sometimes those others aren’t the sinners we think they are, although by their human nature they must surely be sinners of some kind. And by Jesus’ own words and by his example, we are guided and led and commanded not only not to “stone” another person, but not to judge them.

If you say you are a Christian, if you believe you are a Christian, how can you not put down that stone? If Jesus will not condemn a sinner, how can you not do likewise?