This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

3/6/19 – Ash Wednesday
3/10/19 – First Sunday of Lent
3/17/19 – Second Sunday of Lent (Roman lectionary)
3/17/19 – Second Sunday of Lent (Common lectionary)
3/24/19 – Third Sunday of Lent
3/31/19 – Fourth Sunday of Lent

4/7/19 – Fifth Sunday of Lent (Roman lectionary)
4/7/19 – Fifth Sunday of Lent (Common lectionary)
4/14/19 – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

4/18/19 – Holy Thursday
4/19/19 – Good Friday
4/20/19 – The Easter Vigil
4/21/19 – Easter Sunday
4/28/19 – Second Sunday of Easter


March 6 – Ash Wednesday [ABC]

“Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart . . .
Joel 2: 12-18
We implore you, in Christ’s name, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5: 20 - 6:2

THE WORD:

The readings for this first day of the Lenten journey to Easter call us to turn.

In Hebrew, the word for repentance is to turn, like the turning of the earth to the sun at this time of year, like the turning of soil before spring planting.  The Lenten journey that begins on this Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance – to turn away from those things that separate us from God and re-turn to the Lord.

In today’s Gospel, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his listeners on the Christian attitude and disposition toward prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Such acts are meaningful only if they are outward manifestations of the essential turningthat has taken place within our hearts.

Around 400 B.C., a terrible invasion of locusts ravaged Judah.  The prophet Joel saw this catastrophe as a symbol of the coming “Day of the Lord.”   The prophet summoned the people to repent, to turn to the Lord with fasting, prayer and works of charity.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul alternates between anger and compassion, between frustration and affection in defending his authority and mandate as an apostle in the face of attack by some members of the Corinthian community.  In today’s second reading, the apostle appeals for reconciliation among the members of the community, for a re-turn to the one faith shared by the entire Church.

HOMILY POINTS:

As the earth will “turn” toward the sun in the weeks ahead transforming the dark and cold of winter into the light and warmth of spring, so these ashes mark the beginning of a Lenten transformation of our souls and spirits.

The Spirit who called Jesus to the wilderness calls us, as well, to a forty-day “desert experience,” a time to peacefully and quietly renew and re-create our relationship with God, that he might become the center of our lives in every season.

Return to top


March 10 – First Sunday of Lent [C]

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil.
Luke 4: 1-13

                                             
THE WORD:

The Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent is Luke’s account of Jesus’ desert experience.  The desert here is more accurately understood as a wilderness: a dangerous, uncharted place, inhabited by wild beasts and bandits, and (many believed) haunted by demons.

Jesus’ wilderness “retreat” is a time for discerning and understanding his mission as the Messiah.  These forty days are marked by intense prayer and fasting – not out of a sense of penance but to focus totally on God and the Father's will for him.  The three temptations all confront Jesus with very human choices:

Jesus’ encounter with the devil depicts the struggle he experienced during this lonely and difficult time to come to terms with the life that lay before him.  Jesus then follows the Spirit obediently on to Galilee to begin his teaching ministry.
 
HOMILY NOTES:

The same Spirit that led Jesus into the desert leads us into this 40-day “wilderness experience” of Lent, to ask ourselves the same kind of questions, to begin to understand who we are and who we are becoming, to discern what God calls us to be as we journey to the dwelling place of God.

As Jesus was “tempted,” so, too, are we confronted with the many different choices and goals life presents us. 

Return to top


March 17 – Second Sunday of Lent [C]

ROMAN LECTIONARY:
While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Luke 9: 28-36     
                                       

THE WORD:

Luke’s account of the transfiguration is filled with First Testament imagery (the voice heard in the cloud, for example) that echoes the Exodus event.  In Luke’s Gospel, the transfiguration takes place after Jesus’ instructions to his followers on the cost of discipleship.  To follow Jesus is an “exodus” through one’s own desert to the Promised Land, through Jerusalem to the empty tomb, through death to life.  In offering to build three booths (or shrines) to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter and his sleepy companions do not understand that Jesus’ exodus does not end with the glorious vision they have witnessed.  It is only the beginning.

HOMILY NOTES:

The season of Lent calls us to transfiguration: to transform the coldness, sadness and despair around us through the compassion and love of Christ Jesus.

The transfiguration of Jesus is a turning point in the Gospel: the beginning of a new exodus, Jesus’ difficult “Passover” from crucifixion to resurrection.  As his disciples, we, too, are called to experience the Passover and exodus of Jesus – an exodus from the impermanence of this world and our own sinfulness to the reign of God, a “passing over” from this life to the life of God.

That same touch of divinity that the three disciples see in Jesus exists within each one of us, as well:  God is present within us, animating us to do good and holy things; guiding our steps as we try to walk justly and humbly in the ways of God; enlightening our vision with wisdom and selflessness to bring the justice and mercy of God into our world. 

“God places us in the world as God’s fellow workers – agents of transfiguration.  We work with God so that injustice is transfigured into justice, so that there will be more laughter and joy, so that there will be more togetherness in God’s world.”  (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

Return to top


March 17 – Second Sunday of Lent [C]

COMMON LECTIONARY:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Luke 13: 31-35

THE WORD:

The Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod seeks to kill him – given the growing tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, their warning is more probably an attempt to frighten Jesus away than a concern for his safety.  Jesus stands his ground in the face of that threat; in obedience to the Father, his work of reconciliation and healing will not only continue but will triumph even over death.  In this scene, Luke sets the stage for Jesus’ final confrontation with the Jewish leadership.

The final verses of today’s Gospel are Luke’s record of Jesus’ lament over the city of Jerusalem, the holy city has failed to realize its destiny as God’s “city of peace.”   Jesus sees himself as the last in the line of prophets who will meet his end in Jerusalem, but his death will be the birth of a new Jerusalem (a new “house”) where God will gather his faithful people.

HOMILY POINTS:

As Jesus confronts the city of Jerusalem with its self-absorption and lack of faith, this season of Lent calls us to realize our failings to live the faith that we profess, to cross the chasm that often exists between what we say we believe and how we actually live those convictions.

In our own Jerusalems, we often try to destroy what we fear or do not understand; like Herod, we dismiss or discredit anything that threatens our own comfortable view of the world, we discourage or frustrate any change that will upset our own safe little world.  Christ instills in us a vision much greater than ourselves, a spirit of servanthood that embraces all men and women as brothers and sisters, a sense of justice and hope that seeks reconciliation, forgiveness and compassion above all else.

Return to top


March 24 – Third Sunday of Lent [C]

“A person had a fig tree planted in his orchard:  ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.  So cut it down.  Why should I exhaust the soil?’
“The gardener replied, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.”
Luke 13: 1-9    
                                        

THE WORD:

The belief prevailed in Jesus’ time that disasters and catastrophes were signs of God’s anger against sinful individuals or people – those massacred in the temple by Pilate’s soldiers during what the Romans perceived as a “revolt” and the workers who were killed when the tower they were building collapsed must have been horrible sinners.  Nonsense, Jesus says in today’s Gospel.  In this present age, neither good fortune nor calamity are indicators of one’s favor or disfavor with God.  In the age of come, God will judge the hearts of every soul, regardless of their situation in life.

The parable of the fig tree is a parable of crisis and compassion: the fig tree draws strength and sustenance from the soil but produces nothing in return.  Its only value is as firewood.  A similar fate awaits those who squander their lives in greedy, selfish pursuits.  God is the ever-patient gardener who gives every “fig tree” all the time, care and attention it needs to harvest.

The parable of the fig tree has been called the “Gospel of the second chance.”  The vinedresser pleads for the tree, asking that it be given another year to bear fruit.  We always live in the hope and mercy of God who keeps giving us “second chances” to rise from the ashes of sin to rebuild and reform our lives.  

HOMILY POINTS:

Despite the sadness and tragedy that can cut down our lives in disappointment and despair, God continues to plant in our midst opportunities to start over, to try again, to rework things, to move beyond our hurt and pain to make things right.

Unless our faith takes root within us and becomes not just the rituals we perform but the values that inspire them, we are like the barren fig tree in the vineyard: lifeless, giving nothing to others, good only for firewood.  

The challenge of the Gospel is to take up the crosses of our lives — the crosses that are part of every human experience — and transform them into vehicles of resurrection, seeds for new life, the means for bringing light and hope into life’s winters capes of darkness and despair. 

Christ calls us to embrace the hope of the fig tree and the determination of the gardener, to remember that God’s endless grace enables us to experience the promise of resurrection in every “death” and Good Friday we experience.  

Return to top


March 31 – Fourth Sunday of Lent [C]

“My son, we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32 
                                            

THE WORD:

The parable of the prodigal son, as today’s Gospel is commonly known, is probably the most inaccurately titled story in all of literature.  Jesus’ tale tells us less about the boy’s sin than about the abundant mercy of his father who forgives his son and joyfully welcomes him home even before the son can bring himself to ask. 

The father in today’s Gospel parable is held up by Jesus as the model of the minister of reconciliation.  Note that when he catches sight of his son in the distance, the father runs to greet and embrace him before the prodigal can even open his mouth to begin his carefully rehearsed speech.  The father welcomes his son joyfully and completely, with no recriminations, no conditions, no rancor.  A parent’s love is the very reflection of God’s love for each one of us – love that always welcome back, love that reconciles and heals, love that perseveres through every hurt and heartache.

The father’s joy stands in sharp contrast to the prodigal son’s brother, who cannot even bring himself to call the prodigal his “brother” – in confronting his father, he angrily refers to the brother as “this son of yours.”  This parable of forgiveness and reconciliation (found only in Luke’s Gospel) reveals a God of such great love that he cannot bear the loss of a single child.  Jesus holds up the father as the model of the love and forgiveness of God the Father that we should seek in all relationships.

HOMILY NOTES:

Jesus calls us not to condemn or gloat or belittle the prodigals among us but to enable their return, to keep picking them up no matter how many times they fall, to open our arms and welcome them back again and again and again.
 
Forgiveness demands that we be play all three parts in the drama of the prodigal son: to be the prodigal son, facing up to our own culpability and selfishness that causes division and hurt; to be the forgiving father, being openhearted enough to make the first step to welcome back into our lives those who have hurt us; to be the older brother, putting aside our own hurt and outrage (no matter how justified) for the sake of reconciliation and peace within our families and communities.

Like the prodigal, we all have those “pig sty” epiphanies: when we finally face the mess our selfishness, our insensitivity, our dishonesty have made of our lives and the lives of those we love.  Lent calls us to embrace God’s grace: grace that enables us to lift ourselves out of the mud of our sins to reconnect again with family and friends, grace that empowers us to jettison our selfishness and deceptions and re-create our broken lives in the healing peace of the Risen Christ.  

The word “forgiveness” comes from the Greek word meaning “to let go.”  That is the heart of forgiveness: letting go — letting go of our desperate grasp of the past so that we can turn toward the future with hope.  The older brother’s resentment and anger makes it impossible for him to move on.  Jesus calls us to embrace the example of the prodigal’s father: to let go of our anger and embrace — for our own peace — the possibilities for reconciliation with our “prodigal” sons and daughters.  

Return to top


April 7 – Fifth Sunday of Lent [C]

ROMAN LECTIONARY:
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
John 8: 1-11

THE WORD:

The story of the adulteress is a later addition to John’s Gospel.  A cherished tale from the then rich oral history of Jesus’ life, it was added to John’s text probably in the third century.

Once again, the scribes and Pharisees set up a trap to discredit Jesus.  According to the Mosaic code, adultery was considered among the gravest of sins, punishable by death; but the law of the Roman occupiers forbade the Jewish authorities to impose and carry out the death sentence on anyone.  The dilemma facing Jesus, then, is this:  If Jesus condemns the woman, he undermines his own teachings on forgiveness and puts him in conflict with the Roman authority; if he does not condemn her, he breaks faith with the covenant Law.
  
Jesus’ response to their hypocrisy challenges the Jews’ understanding of judgment and authority:  God reserves the role of judging others to himself; to us belongs the work of forgiveness and reconciliation.  God’s commandments are addressed to each one of us as individuals to keep.  We are called to judge our own actions and pass sentence on our own lives.

While the scribes and Pharisees view authority as a license to criticize, ensure and condemn this woman, Jesus sees authority as a gift for transforming her life and reconciling her with God.

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus calls us not simply to follow the “Law” but to embrace the spirit of the Law: not to demand rigid adherence and conformity but seeking instead mutual understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation; not to be satisfied with condemning the sinful and fallen but to bring forth resurrection from the ashes of their sin through understanding and reconciliation.

Confronting the demons of the world must begin with confronting the demons in our own hearts:  We cannot lift the fallen until we realize that we, too, are fallen; we cannot raise others to health and hope until we seek our own healing; we cannot pass sentence on others until we judge our own lives.

Return to top


April 7 – Fifth Sunday of Lent [C]

COMMON LECTONARY:
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made from pure nard, anointing Jesus’s feet, and wiped them with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
John 12: 1-8

THE WORD:

The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C of the common lectionary is the Fourth Gospel’s account of Mary anointing Jesus feet with perfume.  This incident takes place six days after Jesus’ raising of Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead, just before Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.  As the evangelist notes in the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel, Lazarus’ coming back from the dead has all of Jerusalem buzzing – and not all of it is good. 

Jesus comes to Bethany, to the home of his good friends, Lazarus, Mary and the ever-busy-with-hospitality Martha.  Mary welcomes Jesus by anointing his feet – not washing them with water, the usual courtesy – but with nard, a very expensive fragrance imported from Northern India.  This precious spice must have cost Mary everything she had.  Her extravagant act rocked her sister’s dinner party – but how can you adequately thank someone who gave you back your brother?

Judas, the keeper of the company’s purse, objects at this wasteful extravagance (the Fourth Gospel’s description of Judas here is the most devastating picture we have of Judas in the Gospels: he is described as a thief, a manipulator, a betrayer).  While Judas’ protests sound reasonable, he’s not fooling anyone.   Jesus deflects Judas’ objections.  Mary’s act of kindness is exalted by Jesus as a prelude to the wonders that are to come.

HOMILY POINTS:

Mary’s act in today’s Gospel is not a matter of extravagance and waste but one of gratitude and love.  Her gift comes not from the extra she could spare but from her own need, her own poverty.  She expresses with a liter of ointment a love she feels in the depths of her soul, a love that is beyond any words she knows to adequately express it.

In today’s Gospel, while Judas and the other guests deride Mary for her ostentatious display, Jesus graciously accepts her act of loving hospitality.  In doing so, Jesus transforms her humiliation into joy, her ridiculous display into a prayerful offering. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus lifts up and calls forth the good from everyone he meets — from the most despised tax collector to a little boy’s offering of his lunch.  As Jesus transforms the lives of these “real” people, so we are called to do the same: to accept one another, to love one another as God has accepted us and lifted us up and loved us.  

Broken as an act of welcome to her beloved friend, later to be broken as an act of courageous compassion to anoint the body of the crucified Jesus, Mary’s small jar of spices is an example to all of us of the “fragrance” of joy and peace, of comfort and care with which we can fill our own “houses” when we dare to “waste” our own time and energy to “break” our own “vessels” of humility and selflessness in the spirit of God’s Risen One.  

Return to top


April 14 – Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Palm Sunday [C]

THE WORD:

The Blessing and Procession of Palms:  Luke 19: 28-40

Typical of his Gospel, Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem portrays the coming of a Messiah of peace.  The kings of antiquity rode horses when they came in war, but entering Jerusalem on an ass indicates the “kingship” of peace and service that Jesus has come to exercise.  The crowds who welcome Jesus into the city greet him with words similar to the song of the angels in Luke's nativity narrative:  “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Another uniquely Lucan detail is the fact that the people do not wave palm branches as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Luke’s crowds place their single most valuable piece of clothing – their cloaks –on the ground to honor Jesus.  The holy poor of Luke’s narrative place all that they have at the disposal of their Messiah-king.

The Passion:  Luke 22: 14 – 23: 56

Throughout his Gospel, Luke’s Jesus has preached the joy of humble servanthood.  In his final hours, Jesus exhibits that same great generosity, forgiving spirit and abandonment for the sake of others.  Only in Luke’s account of the Passion does Jesus heal the severed ear of the high priest’s servant.  He does not rebuke his disciples for falling asleep during the garden watch.  He urges the women of Jerusalem not to be concerned for him but for themselves: if such injustice can befall the innocent Jesus (the “green wood”), what horrors await an unrepentant (“dry”) Jerusalem?   At the Place of the Skull, Jesus’ crucifixion becomes an occasion for divine forgiveness: he prays that God will forgive his executioners and promises paradise to the penitent thief crucified with him.  Even Jesus’ final words on the cross are not words of abandonment but of hope:  Luke’s Crucified does not cry out Psalm 22 (as he does in Matthew and Mark’s narrative) but prays Psalm 31: 5-6:  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Luke’s Jesus is the Suffering Servant whose death for the sake of humanity will be exalted in the Resurrection three days hence.

Reading 1:  Isaiah 50: 4-7

Reading 1 is taken from Deutero-Isaiah's “Servant songs,” the prophet's foretelling of the “servant of God” who will come to redeem Israel.  In this third song, Isaiah portrays the servant as a devoted teacher of God's Word who is ridiculed and abused by those who are threatened by his teaching.

Reading 2:  Philippians 2: 6-11

In his letter to the Christian community at Philippi (in northeastern Greece), Paul quotes what many scholars believe is an early Christian hymn (Reading 2).  As Christ totally and unselfishly "emptied himself" to accept crucifixion for our sakes, so we must "empty" ourselves for others.

HOMILY POINTS:

There is a certain incongruity about today’s Palm Sunday liturgy.  We begin with a sense of celebration – we carry palm branches and echo the Hosannas (from the Hebrew “God save [us]”) shouted by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city.  But Luke’s account of the Passion confronts us with the cruelty, injustice and selfishness that lead to the crucifixion of Jesus.  We welcome the Christ of victory, the Christ of Palm Sunday, but we turn away from the Christ of suffering and of the poor, the Christ of Good Friday.  These branches of palm are symbols of that incongruity that often exists between the faith we profess on our lips and the faith we profess in our lives.

Luke portrays, in his account of Jesus’ death, a Christ of extraordinary compassion and love, who forgives those who betray and destroy him, who consoles those who grieve for him, whose final breaths give comfort and hope to a condemned criminal who seeks reconciliation with God.  The broken yet life-giving body of the Crucified Jesus calls us to embrace that same “attitude” of Christ, that we may bring the same healing, reconciliation and hope to all the broken members of his body.

The Gospel calls us to take on what Paul calls the “attitude of Christ Jesus” (Reading 1) in his passion and death: to “empty” ourselves of our own interests, fears and needs for the sake of others; to realize how our actions affect them and how our moral and ethical decisions impact the common good; to reach out to heal the hurt and comfort the despairing around us despite our own betrayal; to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. 

In our remembering the events of Holy Week, Jesus will turn our world and its value system upside down: true authority is found in dedicated service and generosity to others; greatness is centered in humility; the just and loving will be exalted by God in God's time. 

Today’s liturgy confronts us with the reality of the cross of Christ: by the cross, we are reconciled to God; by the cross, our lives are transformed in the perfect love of Christ; by the cross, Jesus’ spirit of humility and compassion become a force of hope and re-creation for our desperate world.

Return to top


April 18 – Holy Thursday [ABC]

“If I, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.”
John 13: 1-15
This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.
Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14
As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11: 23-2
6

THE WORD:

The centerpiece of John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper is the mandatum – from the Latin word for “commandment,” from which comes the traditional title for this evening, Maundy Thursday.  At the Passover seder, the night before he died, Jesus established a new Passover to celebrate God's covenant with the new Israel.  The special character of this second covenant is the mandatum of the washing of the feet – to love one another as we have been loved by Christ.

(John makes no mention of the establishment of the Eucharist in his account of the Last Supper.  Chapters 14, 15 and 16 recount Jesus’ last instructions to his disciples, followed by his “high priestly prayer” in chapter 17.  The Johannine theology of the Eucharist is detailed in the “bread of life” discourse following the multiplication of the loaves and fish at Passover, in chapter 6 of his Gospel.)

Tonight’s first reading recounts the origin and ritual of the feast of Passover, the Jewish celebration of God's breaking the chains of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt and leading them to their own land, establishing a covenant with them and making of them his own beloved people.

The deep divisions in the Corinthian community have led to abuses and misunderstandings concerning the “breaking of the bread.”  In addressing these problems and articulating the proper spirit in which to approach the Lord’s Supper, Paul provides us with the earliest written account of the institution of the Eucharist, the Passover of the new covenant (this evening's second reading).  If we fail to embrace the spirit of love and servanthood in which the gift of the Eucharist is given to us, then “Eucharist” becomes a judgment against us.

HOMILY POINTS:

The Eucharist, instituted this night, comes at a price all must be willing to pay:  We must become what we have received – we must become, for others, Christ the healer, Christ the compassionate and selfless brother, Christ the humble “washer of feet.”

Jesus, who revealed the wonders of God in stories about mustard seeds, fishing nets and ungrateful children, on this last night of his life – as we know life – leaves his small band of disciples his most beautiful parable:  As I have washed your feet like a slave, so you must wash the feet of each other and serve one another.  As I have loved you without limit or condition, so you must love one another without limit or condition.  As I am about to suffer and die for you, so you must suffer and, if necessary, die for one another.  Tonight’s parable is so simple, but its lesson is so central to what being a real disciple of Christ is all about.  When inspired by the love of Christ, the smallest act of service done for another takes on extraordinary dimensions. 

Tonight is about reliving a memory: the memory of Jesus, the Christ, who begins this night, for our sakes, his great “passing over” from death to life.  At this table, in the cenacle of our own church, the memory of Jesus becomes a living reality.  Jesus speaks to us again and again in the pages of the Gospel book, in the basin, pitcher and towel, in the Eucharistic bread and wine.  The memory we relive tonight and tomorrow and the next day re-creates us, identifies us, makes us who we are as human beings who love, who care, who heal, who forgive, who lift up.

Return to top


April 19 – Good Friday [ABC]

When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  And bowing his head, he handed over his spirit.
John 18: 1 – 19: 42

THE WORD:

John’s profoundly theological Passion account portrays a Jesus who is very much aware of what is happening to him.  His eloquent self-assurance unnerves the high priest and intimidates Pilate (“You have no power over me”), who shuttles back and forth among the various parties involved, desperately trying to avoid condemning this innocent holy man to death.  Hanging on the cross, Jesus entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple, thus leaving behind the core of a believing community.  He does not cry out the psalm of the abandoned (Psalm 22); rather, his final words are words of decision and completion:  “It is finished.”  The crucifixion of Jesus, as recounted by John, is not a tragic end but the beginning of victory, the lifting up of the Perfect Lamb to God for the salvation of humankind.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today, Jesus teaches us through his own broken body.  As a Church, as a community of faith, we are the body of Christ – but a broken body.  We minister as broken people to broken people.  The suffering, the alienated, the unaccepted, the rejected, the troubled, the confused are all part of this broken body of Christ.  In God’s unfathomable love, the broken body of Christ is forever transformed into the full and whole life of the Risen Christ.

As Jesus’ cross becomes a means of transforming death into life, we are called on this Good Friday to use the crosses that we shoulder in our lives as vehicles for “resurrection” in the Jerusalems and Golgothas of our own time and place.

Jesus is crucified every day in the betrayals, condemnations, and crosses taken up and endured by the poor, the sorrowing, the sick, the grieving and the dying -- but the “goodness" of Good Friday gives us reason to hope, reason to carry on, reason to rejoice.  By the grace of the Risen Christ we can transform our crucifixions into Easter victories. 

Today, “truth” stands in front of us in the figure of the humiliated Jesus, the suffering Jesus, the ridiculed Jesus, the crucified Jesus.  Right in front of us is the truth about a God who loves us to a degree we cannot begin to fathom; a God who refuses to give up or reject or destroy his beloved creation — a creation that has hardly lived up to its promise; a God who humbles himself to become one of us in order to make us like him, to realize that we have been created in his image, created by his very breath blown into our hearts.

This Good Friday is God’s calling us to a second Exodus journey, marked in the slaying of his Son, the Lamb, who becomes for us the new Passover seder — today is our exodus from the slavery of sin to the freedom of compassion and forgiveness, our “passover” from this life to the life of God.

Return to top


April 20 – The Easter Vigil [C]

“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?  He is not here, he has been raised up.  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.”
Luke 24: 1-12

THE WORD:

Luke’s Easter Gospel brings to completion the ancient prophecies foretold concerning the Messiah.  The two men “in dazzling white garments” at the tomb invite the terrified women to “remember what he said to you.”
   
Remember – not the mere recollection of a previous conversation but to understand with new and deepened insight the meaning of a past action and bringing its power and meaning into the present.  It is in such creative and living “remembering” that the Church of the Resurrection is form.

Typical of Luke, women – who possessed no true autonomy, whose testimony was considered of little value before a Jewish court – are the first proclaimers of the Easter Gospel.  Sure enough, the disciples refuse to believe their wild story (in his original Greek text, the physician Luke describes the women’s story as the excited babbling of a fevered and insane mind).  Peter alone goes to investigate; Luke writes that Peter is “amazed” at what he sees, but still does not understand what has happened.

HOMILY POINTS:

On this night in early spring, we celebrate God’s new creation, the “second Genesis.”  Death is no longer the ultimate finality but the ultimate beginning.  The Christ who taught forgiveness, who pleaded for reconciliation, who handed himself over to his executioners for the sake of justice and mercy, has been raised up by God.  We leave behind in the grave our sinfulness, our dark side, our selfishness, our pettiness – the evil that mars God's first creation.

The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of many good people who share the good news of the empty tomb by their day to day living of the Gospel of compassion and reconciliation.  Like Mary Magdalene and her companions, we can bring into the darkness of our own time and place the joyful light of the Resurrection; into the cold, spiritless winter around us, we can bring the warmth and hope of the Easter promise.

The question asked by the angel of the women on Easter morning is asked of us every morning of our lives:  Why do we seek the living among the dead?  Why do we expect meaning from what is doomed to nothing?  Why do we center our days on things of limited value when God’s love and grace abounds in our lives?  Easter is God’s never-ending invitation to freedom, his raising us up from “tombs” of selfishness and fear and anger and hatred.  

Easter pushes us out of the tombs in which we bury ourselves and challenges us to discover fulfillment in living a life centered beyond ourselves.  Easter throws us out of the lifeless cemeteries where we hide in order to embrace the love of Christ present in family and community.  Easter dares us to look around the rocks we stumble over and find the path of peace and forgiveness.  Jesus has been raised up from the dead.  He is not bound by burial cloths of hopelessness and cynicism.  He is no longer entombed by fear and distrust.  His cross is not the dead wood of shame and ridicule but the first branches of a harvest of compassion and justice for every one of every time and place.

Return to top


April 21 – Easter Sunday [ABC]

[NOTE:  The Gospel from the Easter Vigil may be read on Easter Sunday.]

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
John 20: 1-9

THE WORD:

John’s Easter Gospel says nothing of earthquakes or angels.  His account begins before daybreak.  It was believed that the spirit of the deceased hovered around the tomb for three days after burial; Mary Magdalene was therefore following the Jewish custom of visiting the tomb during this three-day period.  Discovering that the stone has been moved away, Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and the others.  Peter and the “other disciple” race to get there and look inside.  Note the different reactions of the three:  Mary Magdalene fears that someone has “taken” Jesus' body; Peter does not know what to make of the news; but the “other” disciple – the model of faithful discernment in John's Gospel –
immediately understands what has taken place.  So great are the disciple's love and depth of faith that all of the strange remarks and dark references of Jesus now become clear to him.

HOMILY POINTS:

While the Easter mystery does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition.  The empty tomb of Christ trumpets the ultimate Alleluia: that love, compassion, generosity, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.  The Easter miracle enables us, even in the most difficult and desperate of times, to live our lives in hopeful certainty of the fulfillment of the resurrection at the end of our life's journey.

The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of every good person who shares the good news of the to bring resurrection into this life of ours: to rise above life’s sufferings and pain to give love and life to others, to renew and re-create our relationships with others, to proclaim the Gospel of the empty tomb.

Today we stand, with Peter and John and Mary, at the entrance of the empty tomb; with them, we wonder what it means.  The Christ who challenged us to love one another is risen and walks among us!  All that he taught – compassion, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, sincerity, selflessness for the sake of others – is vindicated and affirmed if he is truly risen.  The empty tomb should not only console us and elate us, it should challenge us to embrace the life of the Gospel.  With Easter faith, we can awaken the promise of the empty tomb in every place and moment we encounter on our journey through this life.

Easter is about resurrection — not just resuscitation, not just about coming back from the brink, not just about bouncing back from a difficult situation, not just about a near miss when we’ve been spared the worst that can happen.  In fact, the pre-requisite for resurrection is that the worst — devastating loss and death — happens.  And we are changed by the experience.   

Return to top


April 28 – Second Sunday of Easter [C]

“Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  And when he said this he breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . “
Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
John 20: 19-31

THE WORD:

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (for all three years of the Lectionary cycle) is Act 2 of John’s Easter drama.
   
Scene 1 takes place on Easter night.  The terrified disciples are huddled together, realizing that they are marked men because of their association with the criminal Jesus.  The Risen Jesus appears in their midst with his greeting of “peace.”  John clearly has the Genesis story in mind when the evangelist describes Jesus as “breathing” the Holy Spirit on his disciples:  Just as God created man and woman by breathing life into them (Genesis 2: 7), the Risen Christ re-creates humankind by breathing the new life of the Holy Spirit upon the eleven.

In scene 2, the disciples excitedly tell the just-returned Thomas of what they had seen.  Thomas responds to the news with understandable skepticism.  Thomas had expected the cross (see John 11: 16 and 14: 5) – and no more.

The climactic third scene takes place one week later, with Jesus’ second appearance to the assembled community – this time with Thomas present.  He invites Thomas to examine his wounds and to “believe.”  Christ’s blessing in response to Thomas’ profession of faith exalts the faith of every Christian of every age who “believes without seeing”; all Christians who embrace the Spirit of the Risen One possess a faith that is in no way different less than that of the first disciples.  The power of the Resurrection transcends time and place.

HOMILY POINTS:

We trace our roots as parish and faith communities to Easter night when Jesus “breathed” his spirit of peace and reconciliation upon his frightened disciples, transforming them into the new Church.

The “peace” that Christ gives his new Church is not a passive sense of good feeling or the mere absence of conflict.  Christ’s peace is hard work: the peace of the Easter Christ is to honor one another as children of the same Father in heaven; the peace of the Easter Christ seeks to build bridges and find solutions rather than assigning blame or extracting punishment; the peace of Christ is centered in relationships that are just, ethical and moral. 

Jesus’ entrusting to the disciples the work of forgiveness is what it means to be the church: to accept one another, to affirm one another, to support one another as God has done for us in the Risen Christ.  What brought the apostles and first Christians together as a community – unity of heart, missionary witness, prayer, reconciliation and healing – no less powerfully binds us to one another as the Church of today.

All of us, at one time or another, experience the doubt and skepticism of Thomas:  While we have heard the good news of Jesus’ empty tomb, all of our fears, problems and sorrows prevent us from realizing it in our own lives.  In raising his beloved Son from the dead, God also raises our spirits to the realization of the totality and limitlessness of his love for us. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and his side; later he invites the doubting Thomas to touch the marks made by the nails and the gash from the soldier’s lance.  We all have scars from our own Good Fridays that remain despite our small resurrections.  Our “nail marks” remind us that all pain and grief, all ridicule and suffering, all disappointments and anguish, are transformed into healing and peace in the love of God we experience from others and that we extend to them.  Compassion, forgiveness, justice — no matter how clumsily offered — can heal and mend.   

Return to top