Archive for March, 2016|Monthly archive page

AN EASTER MORNING

Later he remembered that when the phone first rang he felt a twinge pass through him and he caught his breath.  Odd that he had held his hand over the receiver as he listened to the rings and counted them.  He knew how many he had before the answering machine would take over.  When he raised the receiver to his ear, he paused before he spoke the single word, “Yes.”  Afterward she tried to remember how many words it had taken the caller to deliver the news that changed his world.  Had time really slowed and put everything into largo so that there were cavernous pauses between each staccato syllable that allowed him to hear the beat of his heart and the sound of his swallowing?

He sank into the chair and studied the face of the clock on the living room wall.  He wanted to engrave the exact moment into his memory.  The precision of date and time seemed important.  That the date had no other significance seemed important. It wasn’t a major holiday.  No member of the family had been born on the date.  He was sure that no one close to him celebrated a wedding anniversary on the date either. Then he wondered if he would live to see the return of the date on which his eldest son had died alone in a crosswalk on a dark street in a town on the other side of the country.  What was that the officer had said?  Oh, yes.  It had been raining.  Rain might have contributed to the accident.  But so had speed, the caller said.  “Your contact information was on a card in his wallet,” the voice said.  “It’s hard to say what he was doing on that lane at that time of night, alone in the rain.”  There was a brief pause, or was it long?  The voice added the obligatory formula of sympathy.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

A child is not supposed to die before the parent, he thought, even if he is estranged.  How can reconciliation happen then?  He looked at his son’s high-school graduation picture that hung amid the family memorabilia on the dining room wall.  So much promise there, so much hope in those eyes.  What had it come to?

He remembered the last time they had talked, sitting on a park bench, while children played tag and sunbathers lolled on blankets.  Why had he been so closed to his only son?  He shuddered as he remembered that he said, “I don’t want to hear from you again until you get your life under control.”  He hadn’t meant it.  A moment later he had wanted to take back the ultimatum.  Instead, he had sat and watched as the young man with slumped shoulders shrugged and wandered away, disappearing among the other strollers on the path.

Now he thought that he should call the others in the family, his son’s sisters.  But he needed time to sit with this new reality before he brought in his other children.  What could they do about it at this time of night?  He would wait until morning, he thought.  Let them have their rest.

He went to the basement, to the room that had been his son’s, the room that remained just as it was the last night the young man had slept there.  He sat on the edge of the bed and noted how strangely barren the room was.  There were no trophies for sports achievements, no awards or accolades in frames, nothing that said anything about him.  A crucifix lay on the pillow.  An icon of the Mother and Child hung on the wall opposite the foot of the bed.  Why hadn’t he been able to understand his son’s fascination with religion?  Why had he laughed and dismissed the interest as a passing fancy that would fade with the coming of the next season?  He looked at the icon and wondered what it would be like to pray and to believe that there was someone who would listen and care.

He picked up the crucifix and weighed it in his hand.  Why would anyone want such a grim reminder of humanity’s cruelty?  Where was the consolation?  All he could see was defeat in the body that sagged from the crossbeam and the thorn crowned head slumped to the side.  Then he thought of his son’s body on that wet roadway.  He wondered if, with his last breath, he had reached out.  Had he prayed then and experienced its folly?

He carried the crucifix as he climbed the stairs and padded his way to the sofa where he sat and wondered if there had been a reunion with his mother as life left his son’s body.  His wife had grieved the estrangement between father and son.  She distanced herself from her husband after that encounter in the park.  He suspected mother and son had had clandestine meetings and phone conversations.  He remembered thinking that he didn’t care as long as he didn’t hear about them.  Why couldn’t she have understood that he could not accept a son who lived like a vagabond, a beggar, and content to be a street-person and for what purpose?  The father was embarrassed.  Why wasn’t the mother?  Then he wondered if there had been a son and mother reunion, were they looking at him with pity?  Would they forgive him?

The wall clock chimed.  He was startled to note that it was nearly dawn.  He must have dozed.  He thought he must have slept, because the night had flown so quickly.  He was hungry.

Brown bread broken lay on the plate before him.  A mug of last night’s coffee steamed as he stirred in the sugar.  He spread a bit of jam on the bread and tasted its sweetness.  He swallowed.  Such simple things give comfort.  For a moment he could hear the laughter and conversation that used to emanate from the kitchen table when his young family sat to meals in those days before his son’s strangeness emerged and the family fractured.  He could hear the voices and feel the presence.

EASTER SUNDAY – March 27, 2016

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:1-4

Or

A reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians 5:6b-8

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:1-9

Afternoon Gospel:

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke:24:13-35

It never fails.  The magic, or better, the mystery, the wonder of Easter inspires awe.  For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, Easter is a springtime feast – albeit, early spring this year.  Easter coincides with the return of life to things barren through the winter months.  Skies clear and warmth returns to places so dark and cold not that many weeks ago.  Trees burst forth with new green leaves and brilliant blooms.  We watch, amazed, as once again the earth shrugs off winter’s death and experiences life’s return.

Easter is about that cycle.  If we are to get the celebration, it is important for us to understand that what we do is not to look back to an event past and fixed in time and place.  The celebrations of the Holy Week Triduum and Easter are not the stuff of a passion play, wherein we re-enact what Jesus suffered so long ago.  Take your lead from what Jesus said in the course of the Last Supper after inviting those present to eat the bread that is his body and drink from the cup that contains his blood; the tense is present.  This is my Body.  This is the cup of my Blood.  Do this in my memory.  Here, the word memory means more than the act of calling something to mind.  As Jesus uses the word, to remember makes everything present.  Do this and I am with you, is what Jesus says.

Easter, like all Jesus’ actions, is timeless.  There is one dying and rising.  We are caught up in that on-going transition.  Our lived experience determines the intensity of Easter’s impact.  If we know nothing of dying, if we have dulled our senses or have ignored the plight of so man around us, Easter can mean little more than providing an excuse to buy new clothes and have a big dinner.  If we know dying, if we have stood on the brink of despair or have known betrayal, if someone we know and live is dying or has died, if we have paid attention to the world’s woes and wars. Suffering can seem indomitable and death, the final victor.  That is the space in which we ought to be to celebrate the event that destroys the grip all those terrors may have over us.

On Easter Sunday, Churches everywhere fill to over-flowing.  The usual and regular attendees arrive and sometimes are chagrinned to find their accustomed places in the pews occupied by interlopers.  It isn’t appropriate to joke about Easter Catholics.  The fact of the matter is, some of them might be clinging to faith by their fingernails and will have come among the Assembly hoping against hope.  They are like those first ones at the tomb who had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and had seen the last drops of blood and water flow from his pierced side.  Mary of Magdala, when she saw the stone rolled away from the entrance and the tomb, empty, concluded that someone had stolen Jesus’ body.  She ran back to the disciples with her dire news that became an occasion of grace for Peter and the other disciples, the one Jesus loved.  On Mary’s word, they ran to the tomb, saw the stone rolled away, peered inside, and upon entering, believed.  The practice continues every Easter.  Some of those peering inside do experience a restoration of their faith.

Easter is a time for remembering.  We are seized by Easter, by Christ Jesus in his rising.  That is why, in the Vigil celebration of Easter, the Elect are baptized.  That is why each Liturgy of Easter during the fifty-day celebration of the Feast begins with the sprinkling of the Assembly with water from the Font.  In the wonder of Easter, we are renewed in our Baptism.

What happened when we were baptized?  St. Paul reminds us.  The language is stark, blunt and basic.  You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.  When we were plunged into the waters, we died.  We witness a death every time we witness another enter the Font.  But what we witness is never the end.  The newly baptized come through the waters and rise out of them on the other side, on their way to the Table.  The skies open.  The earth quakes.  Thunder claps.  God speaks and claims the beloved as new life begins, the life that is hidden with Christ in God, the life that will never end.  Death is not forever.  Life is for those who do what Jesus does.

The Emmaus narrative, the Gospel for afternoon Mass on Easter Sunday, ought to resonate with most of us and reflect our own experience.  Two disciples, devastated by the crucifixion of the One they had begun to think of as Lord, are on the road to Emmaus.  Broken hearted, they exchange recollections of Jesus when the Stranger comes upon them and asks them what they are talking about as they walk along.  Stunned, thinking that everyone must be aware of what has happened, they tell the Stranger about Jesus’ suffering and death and how they had hoped in him.  The Stranger, unrecognized by them, invites them to journey with him through their Scriptures and see there all the references to the Messiah’s suffering and death.  Certainly the texts were familiar.  Their application for them was not.

They come to a fork in the road that could end their walk together, but the two press him to stay with them.  As the sun sets, they sit at table.  The Stranger took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  In that sacramental moment they recognized him as he vanished from their sight.  He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.  This is how he abides.  This is how he is known, in the action of Eucharist.

What you bring to Easter will determine what you experience.  If you bring brokenness, if you bring fear, if you bring consciousness of sin and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, if you bring longing, you will know what it means to look into emptiness.  If you remember, you will find hope.

As the Word is broken upon over you and your experience is reinterpreted, you may weep, even as you laugh.  Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?  Didn’t we recognize him in the breaking of the Bread?  If the answer to the questions is yes, then you will experience a renewal of faith and the burning desire to go out and tell others what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to (you) in the breaking of bread.

Sincerely,

Didymus

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION – C – March 20, 2016

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 50:4-7

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 2:6-11

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 22:14-23:56

Celebrating the Liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion should not be akin to the experience of attending a Passion Play, much less a viewing of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  It is no wonder that some would expect this Sunday’s experience to be like a Passion Play.  After all, the Liturgy begins with a procession of the palms.  The members of the Assembly carry palms and march along singing Hosanna to the Son of David, all the while imagining what it must have been like the day Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph.

A church in my neighborhood advertised that there would be a special showing of The Passion of the Christ for Palm Sunday in place of their regular Sunday service.  Perhaps there is some merit in that, although for the life of me I can’t think of what it might be.  The film serves as a guilt trip for all who see it.  The last image in the film is of Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding his body as she glares accusingly at the audience.  The only thing missing are words to the effect: Now look what your sins have done.

This Sunday is not meant to be an opportunity for the church to make the people of God more keenly aware of their guilt.  That might be an unfortunate consequence of the reading of the Passion as a dramatic reading, with assigned parts going to the priest, the lector, and the Assembly.  The Assembly invariably winds up shouting at several points during the reading: Crucify him!  Crucify him!  Who wouldn’t feel a twinge of guilt shouting those words?

First, I would suggest adopting a different mindset.  As you enter into the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday, do not imagine this as an opportunity to look back and recreate that awful moment – unless you want it to reflect the original meaning of that word.  After all, this is a moment that should be awe-inspiring, a moment filled with awe.

When we celebrate Liturgy, we are never looking backward.  Rather we are entering into the new.  It is the Living Word that is proclaimed.  Christ’s actions were not once for all.  They are time-less, actions that continue outside of time until time ends.

Second, place yourself in the Passion narrative and live it as we transition to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Every Eucharist renews the Lord’s dying and rising.  Perhaps more precisely, we might see the liturgical action as one of reentering that dying and rising as the Body of Christ that we are.  Do you hear that?  Dying and rising.  No Sunday liturgy, even Passion Sunday’s ends with death.  We celebrate the Lord’s resurrection even on this Sunday.

Paul could not be clearer in this declaration than he is in today’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians.  The Christ he preaches came as the Son of God, but one who emptied himself of his equality with God.  That means that those who looked on, who heard him teach and saw his actions saw nothing that would indicate anything other than a human being saying and doing these things.  The observers who came to recognize Jesus as Lord had to make a leap of faith as they came to believe in something that they could not see.  For some, the crucifixion would be a scandal, the scandal of the cross.  Paul urges the Philippians and us to see things correctly.  Jesus took on the form of a slave and accepted the full implications of being human.  Every human being at the end of his or her earthly existence dies.  Jesus accepted that as his reality, too, even if his dying meant dying on the cross.

Paul says that we should not see Jesus’ crucifixion as a defeat, much less as a sign that God abandoned him.  That is what the world could see and conclude; but we must see exultation and final triumph because God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him the name Lord.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Accepting and believing in Jesus as Lord gives glory to God.

Those who believe in Jesus Christ know that he has changed the meaning of the cross, transforming it from an instrument of horror to a sign of hope.  Why else do Christians wear crosses and hang crosses on the walls in their homes?  Why do we begin and end so many important things that we do and say with the sign of the cross?  We believe that just as Christ passed through his death on the cross and entered into glory, so also will we, if we are willing to die with him, enter that same glory.

Passion Sunday is not meant to be a depressing experience, one that stirs up guilt and fosters groveling in that guilt.  Rather, this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word proclaims that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation, not if we believe in Christ’s dying and rising.

What will you bring to this Sunday’s Liturgy?  Some will come conscious that they are in frail health, even bearing the death sentence of a terminal illness.  Some will come conscious of their advancing years and increasing infirmity.  Some will come mourning the loss of a spouse, a child, or a friend.  Some will come bearing the burden of mental illness or permanent disability.  Will the proclamation of the Lord’s Passion help them to recognize their experiences and burdens are shares in the Lord’s Passion?  Will they keep these words like a mantra running through their minds?  If we die with Christ we will live with Christ.

Luke’s Passion makes it clear that Jesus is the innocent victim.  Pilate three times voices his opinion that Jesus is innocent of anything that would result in the death penalty.  Herod comes to the same conclusion.  Both a Gentile and a Jew proclaimed him guiltless.  At the same time, Jesus is the reconciler and consoler.  Exchanging a kiss, he calls his betrayer, friend.  On the way to Calvary, he pauses to console the weeping women.  On the cross he offers hope to the thief who asks to be remembered by Jesus as he enters his kingdom.  Today you will be with me in Paradise.  And Jesus’ last moment on the cross is a triumph of trust and confidence in the One whose will he always sought to do.  Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

When Luke wrote his Gospel and the Passion in particular, Christians were suffering.  It was against the law to be Christian.  Christians were dying at the hands of the Romans.  Jewish Christians were being expelled from the synagogues.  Innocent ones suffered.  Is Luke’s message to inspire them to take courage in the one in whose name they suffer because, if they do, they will come to the same end he did and be raised up?  If they die with him they will rise with him.  God will raise them up just as God raised Jesus.

This Passion Sunday we are mindful of many horrible happenings that defy explanation and could be interpreted as signs of God’s wrath and abandonment.  The sufferings in Syria continue.  Refugees are turned away.  Consider the carnage in various countries of Africa and add to that the numbers dying from HIV/AIDS, malaria and sleeping sickness.  In our own country, is there a day that goes by without the evening news informing us of a mass shooting, or of people doing violence to people?  Then we hear of or may experience the ravages of tornadoes, and floods, snow and freezing temperatures affecting people without shelter, food or electricity.  People suffered in winter’s fury.

Each of these events affords us the opportunity to wonder why bad things happen to good people.  There will be some quick to rant that these terrible events are the results of God’s judgment on a sinful people.

This Sunday will not give us an answer to the question of why good people suffer.  It will, however, give us an opportunity to recognize in those sufferings the ongoing passion of Christ.  When an agnostic asked Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta why she spent herself caring for the sick and the poor in the city, she sat by the bedside of a dying man and sad that when she ministered to one like this, she believed she was ministering to Christ in his passion.  The agnostic documented Mother Teresa’s work.  He was struck by what he had seen and by her answer.  He pondered and found faith.

Passion Sunday tells us that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.  Christ triumphed over sin, suffering and death, and caught us all up into that mystery.  The cross of Christ is our symbol of hope.  He has told us that if we would be his disciples we must take up our cross every day and follow him.  To do that is to have confidence in the face of whatever might threaten to defeat us.  Even if we die, we will live.

So we celebrate Eucharist this Sunday, renewing the dying and rising of Jesus in Bread and Wine.  We will share in the transformation of the Eucharist becoming more and more the Body of Christ, Christ present in us.  Do we remember that each celebration is our commitment to allow ourselves to be sent to be Christ’s presence in the world and be committed to being bread broken and cup poured out until all have been fed?  Do we understand that this pouring out of self, this doing what Jesus did, this share in Christ’s passion, will result in our sharing with Christ in glory?

That is really what this Sunday is all about.

Sincerely,

Didymus