Sunday, April 25, 2010

4 Easter


April 25, 2010

Psalm 23; Revelation 7.9-17; John 10.22-30

+ As hard as it is to believe, Easter was almost one month ago. BUT, we are not out of the Easter season yet. We are now smack dab in the middle of the 50 days of Easter. And, every year, smack dab in the middle of Easter, is this wonderful Sunday which we popularly call “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It is on this Sunday that we are reminded that Jesus is truly the Shepherd who has come to us to lead us and guide us.

We are reminded on this Fourth Sunday of Easter in our Psalm—that soothingly familiar Psalm 23 that we have recited together at more funerals than we can even count. We are reminded of it in our collect, in which we pray that “when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.” We are reminded of it our beautiful reading from Revelation (one of my favorites), in which we hear that “the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And, of course, we are reminded by Jesus himself in our Gospel reading for today when he talks about the sheep knowing his voice.

I think there’s a reason this Sunday in the midst of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. The sad thing is that the luster and mystery of Easter is, by this time, beginning to fade a bit. Easter is now, for most of us, a past event. The beauty and glory and the joy of that event is behind us and we are looking forward now.

But it is good for us to take time, now one month after Easter, to remind ourselves that we are still in the Easter season. In fact, our entire lives are, in a sense, living within the Easter Season. And throughout out Christian lives, we are confronted again and again with this issue of mystery.

We, like the Jews in today’s Gospel, want absolutes. We want clear answers to our questions of faith. We want to know if Jesus is truly the Messiah. We want to know if Jesus is who he says he is. We want to know if the Gospel is true. We want to know if this incredible event of Easter really happened.

And in our demand for absolutes, we tend to gloss over the kind of absolute answers Jesus gives. I don’t think he can lay it more plainly than he does at the very end of today’s Gospel: “the Father and I are one.”

“The Father and I are one.”

Does it need to be any clearer? Do we need more of an explanation than this? The fact is—yes, we do. We are of the kind of people who do need to ponder this and wrestle with it and struggle with it and, at times, doubt it. We are not the kind of people who swallow statements like this easily.

And that’s why absolutes don’t always work for us. If Jesus did in fact truly say what the Jews wanted him to say, they—and we—still wouldn’t believe. We need to let Jesus be who he is to those of his and time and to us.

That statement, “The Father and I are one” really does, when we let it, pack a punch for us. It strikes us at our core and digs deep. And over time, it blossoms into a statement of absolute truth.

This Easter season is a time in which we ponder the Easter event. We look at it like this statement Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. In a sense, Jesus' Oneness with the Father is the verbal expression of what the Easter event is. In Jesus’ Resurrection we are shown the truth of that statement. In that event—in that “work” of Jesus—we see without a doubt that Jesus and the Father are truly one. When gaze long and hard into that glorious light of the resurrection, when we can look at it any longer because it so dazzling, so mind-boggling, so good that it almost doesn’t seem to be true, what we come away with is the affirmation that, yes, Jesus and the Father are one and here, in the Resurrection, is the proof.

For us, we live constantly in the tension between our faith and the absoluteness of Jesus’ statement. Some days, for some of us, it is so clear. It makes such sense. But for the majority of us, it is a struggle. It is a struggle to believe. And since all of us have such little time to ponder and debate these subjects, we oftentimes just go our way with a morsel of faith or doubt.

But, despite out busy lives, what I have found so remarkable about our faith is that, in those other moments of life, when everything has fallen apart and we find our selves struggling to keep our heads above water—when we deal with the onslaught of emotional or physical problems that come our ways—it is in those moments that, sometimes, our faith in things like the Resurrection and in the belief that Jesus and the Father are One are not debatable arguments or vague theological debates. In those hard and difficult moments of life, this belief oftentimes sustains us and holds us up. In those hard moments of life, our faith keeps us afloat and gives us strength to get through what we need to get through.

As we continue our journey through this glorious season of Easter, as we make our way still basking in the glory of the Resurrection, as we find the reality of this incredible event fading a bit and doubts coming forward, let us cling to the fact that we are the sheep of the Lamb who is the Good Shepherd, who has come to us to care for us. In those moments of doubt, we can hear his voice. And in those moments of doubt, we can cling to the fact that he does truly know us. And as we follow him, we know that he truly does lead us to springs of living water where we will find eternal life and we will never perish.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

3 Easter



April 18, 2010

John 21.1-9

+ I just got back yesterday from the Cities, where I gave a poetry reading with Gin Templeton at True Colors Bookstore. I had a great time, but the real highlight, of course, was spending time with my best friend from high school, Greg.

As most of you know, it is a great experience having a best friend, especially one you’ve had since high school. Over those many years, your friend has seen you in your best and your worst times. Let’s face it, what’s worse than your teenage years? And of course, in a friendship, like any other relationship that lasts that long, there are high points and there are low points.

There are moments when the relationship is right on track. Everything flows. The two of you click. Then there are those moments when it all seems like an out-of-control roller coaster ride. You fight. You argue. You can’t stand the sight of the other person.

Greg and I have had both of those times. We’ve had great moments when everything is just fine (those majority of our friendship has been like that). But there were also moments when it wasn’t so great. We argued. We didn’t talk to each other (once, for six months).

And there have been other times when our friendship just has been on the back burner—when we’ve had other things that have been more important than our friendship. Greg’s marriage, his children, my priesthood were all things that, at times, have taken precedence over our friendship.

And when you know someone very well—when you know someone better than most other people—there are moments in which it isn’t that hard to hurt someone. Blatant honesty in a close friendship is not always a good thing. Sometimes it is very easy to feel betrayed or to unintentionally betray your friend with even the smallest, most innocent comment. Those are some of those lowest moments in friendship. When you know you have hurt someone you have cared for, hurts sometimes just as badly as the person who has been hurt our actions.

No doubt, the disciples in today’s Gospel reading felt somewhat the same way. For us, the Resurrection we celebrate at Easter is a time of joy. It is a time for us to truly rejoice in this experience of the risen Jesus. But for those eleven, seeing Jesus resurrected must’ve been joyful, yes, but that joy no doubt quickly gave way to shame. After all, every one of them betrayed Jesus. They turned away from him in his greatest time of need. They ran away from him like scared children and left him to face his trial, torture and murder alone.

I have been reading a wonderful book, Made for Goodness by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho. Tutu actually writes about this encounter of the resurrected Jesus with the eleven. He writes:

“What the disciples did not expect was to have to face the one they had betrayed in the sure knowledge that he knew of their betrayal. They had failed miserably. They must have come with more than little trepidation to their first encounter with the risen Christ.”

And probably the one who came with the most trepidation was none other than Peter. There wasn’t a greater failure than Peter. Peter didn’t just mess up once. Three times Peter betrayed Jesus. And his betrayal wasn’t just some unintentional betrayal. He publicly betrayed Jesus. He almost proclaimed his betrayal to anyone who would listen. And this was not just some simple slip of the tongue. It wasn’t something done in the heat of the moment. Peter betrayed Jesus not once. Not twice. But three times.

Probably of all the apostles, Peter’s pain over his betrayal was the worst. Certainly he was the most anxious to be a follower of Jesus, to do right by Jesus. And to turn around so completely and betray Jesus so horribly, was no doubt one of the worst times in Peter’s life.

But in those moments when we’ve felt like Peter, when we’ve been smacked low by our betrayals, there is no greater feeling than to reconcile and to be forgiven by a friend we have hurt.

And what we find today is that moment between Jesus and Peter. For each of Peter’s betrayals, he has been given a chance to make right the wrong he did. Three times, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter finally says the right thing. And three times Jesus tells him to go out and do the ministry he called Peter to do.

It’s a great lesson for those of us who have betrayed others. And it’s a great lesson for us, who, as Christians, have, at times betrayed Jesus in our spiritual lives as well. We, as Christians, often betray Jesus. Sometimes we do it with our lips, when we disparage our Christians faith or deny our faith in various ways. We betray Jesus when we act one way in church in Sundays and then act another way the rest of the week. We betray Jesus when we call ourselves Christians and then don’t act like Christians, don’t speak like Christians and don’t do the ministry of Christians. We betray Jesus as Christians when we become lazy and complacent in our faith—when we think going to church is enough, but then not living out in our lives what we are strengthened to do here in church. But more often than not we betray Jesus when we don’t follow him in all that we do. We betray Jesus when we don’t act like followers of Jesus. We betray Jesus when don’t speak like followers of Jesus. We betray Jesus when we ignore those people who need us and who need our compassion and care. And sometimes we betray Jesus when we simply don’t go out and feed Jesus’ sheep.

But the great thing about all of this is that, no matter how many times we may betray Jesus with our lips or in our actions, no matter how many times we betray Jesus by being hypocrites, Jesus always, ALWAYS, gives us an opportunity to make right the wrongs we have done. Jesus is always quick to forgive and quick to help us make right the wrongs we have done in our relationship with him and with others—and even with ourselves.

In those moments when have turned away from Jesus—when we have not tended his sheep—Jesus always offers us that question: “Do you love me?” Do you love me by following me? He asks again and again. Do you love my by loving one another? Do you love me by feeding and tending the ones I give you to feed and tend? Each time we say yes, we are making right the wrongs we have done to him and to others. Doing so only affirms that friendship we have with him and with one another. Doing so only builds all of us up and makes everything just a bit better.

So, let us be prepared to say “Yes” to Jesus when he asks us if we love him. And let that Yes be more than an affirmation of our faith. Let it also be a call to action. Let our yes to Jesus be the beginning of tending and feeding those who need us and who are calling to us for that care. When we do so, that yes of ours becomes the most joyful sound we can make during this Easter season and throughout our lives as Christians.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Please join

JAMIE PARSLEY & GIN TEMPLETON

for a poetry reading/art presentation
from their new book


This Grass

Poems by Jamie Parsley Paintings by Gin Templeton


6:30 PM
Thursday, April 15, 2010

True Colors Bookstore
4755 Chicago Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN 55407
612-821-9630

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2 Easter


April 11, 2010

John 20.19-31

+ As you know, I enjoy reading theology. I think it’s a good thing that a priest actually enjoys reading theology. What you probably don’t know is that I enjoy even reading atheist theology. And I have read it all. From Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris (who are probably the most famous of the best selling atheists of recent years), from Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre to H.L. Mencken and Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the notorious founder of American Atheists—I think I have read them all.

I enjoy reading atheist theology because it’s often, surprisingly enough, quite insightful. It challenges me. It helps me develop a critical eye about the Church, about theology in general and about my own personal faith in particular. And none of us should live in a vacuum, certainly not priests. It’s good for all of us to step outside our comfort zone and explore other areas.

What disturbs me about atheist theology isn’t it’s anger, its rebellion, its single-mindedness about how wrong religion is. What disturbs me about atheism is how simple it is—how beautifully uncomplicated it is. And I think in many ways it would be so easy to be an atheist. Let’s face it—it’s easy to not see God anywhere. It’s easy to look up into the sky and say, we see no God. It’s easy to believe that science has the only answers and that everything is provable and rational. And, it’s a nice, safe way to look at life.

There are no ghosts, no demons, no angels. There are no hidden secrets. There are no frightening unanswered questions about existence. No one is watching us, looking over us, observing us. No surprises await us when we shed this mortal coil and head into the darkness of death. There is no hell, and no heaven.

As the poet Tory Dent (1958-2005) wrote in her poem “Immigrant in my own life” as she was dying of AIDS:

“At least when I was dying, I knew where I was going:
Into atheistic air and dirt, into the Atlantic Ocean…”

I get that. I almost—ALMOST—envy that. And when the atheists start raging about the white-bearded male god who sits on a throne in heaven, I realize: if that is what they don’t believe in, then…I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in that God either. I don’t believe in a God that is so made in our image. I don’t believe in a God that is simply a projection of our own image and self. Who would want that God? We might as well go back and start worshipping the pantheon of pagan gods our ancestors worshipped. It’s so easy to say there’s no God. It is easy to say that we live in some random existence—without purpose or meaning. That is the easy way out.

For us, however, as Christians, it isn’t as easy. Being a Christian is actually quite hard. Yes, we do believe in the existence of God.

When I am finished with this sermon, we will all stand and profess what we believe in the Nicene Creed that lays out quite clearly exactly what it is we believe as Christians. That Creed is not easy. It’s actually quite complicated. In it, we say we believe in complicated things like the Incarnation, the belief that, in Jesus, God has become actual flesh and blood. Or to use the words of the Creed: We believe that Jesus is “God from God, light from Light,/true God from true God…”

Or the Resurrection. We believe that Jesus, God in the flesh, having been murdered ‘[on] the third day…rose again…”—in his flesh and blood.

And we believe these things not because we’ve seen them with out own eyes. We didn’t. We are essentially taking the word of a pre-scientific (dare we say “primitive”) group of people who lived two thousand years ago. We believing what a group of pre-Enlightenment, Pre-rational, superstitious Jews from a backwater Third World country are telling us they saw.

But believe because we know, in our hearts, that this is true. We know these things really did happen and that because they did, life is different—life is better, despite everything that happens We believe these things in true faith. We didn’t see Jesus while he was alive and walking about. We didn’t see him after he rose from the tomb. We don’t get the opportunities that Thomas had in this morning’s Gospel.

Doubting Thomas, as we’ve come to know him, refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected until he had put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus. It wasn’t enough that Jesus actually appeared to him in the flesh—how many of us would only jump at that chance. For Thomas, Jesus stood there before him, in the flesh—wounds and all. And only when he had placed his finger in the wounds, would he believe. It’s interesting to see and it’s interesting to hear this story of Doubting Thomas.

But, the fact is, for the rest of us, we don’t get it so easy. Jesus is probably not going to appear before us—in the flesh. At least, not on this side of the Veil—not while we are still alive. And we are not going to have the opportunity to touch the wounds of Jesus.

Let’s face it, to believe without seeing, is not easy. It takes work and discipline. A strong relationship with God—this invisible being we might sense, we might feel emotionally or spiritually, but we can’t pin-point—takes work—just as any other relationship in our life takes work. It takes discipline. It takes concentrated effort. Being a Christian does not just involve being nice on occasion. Atheists do that too. Being a Christian doesn’t mean just being ethical and moral. Atheists do that too—sometimes better than we do.

Being a Christian means living one’s faith life fully and completely as a Christian. It means being a reflection of God’s love, God’s Presence, God’s joy and goodness in the world. As St. Augustine said, “Being a Christian means being an Alleluia from head to toe.”

One of my favorite stories comes from the East. One day a group of people were arguing about God. One group said to the other, “You’re not worshipping God the right way!” The other group replied, “’You don’t understand anything about God. We are the only ones who truly understand God.’ Finally, in desperation, they went to a wise man. The Wise man listened to them argue, then said, ‘Once, I gathered a group of blind people together. I put them together in a room with an elephant. I asked them then to describe the elephant to me. The blind people felt the elephant—felt its skin, its trunk, its tusks, its ears. Finally one of the blind people said, ‘This elephant is like a giant tea pot.’ Another blind person said, ‘No, this elephant is a huge mountain.’ Still another said, ‘Neither of you are right, this elephant is like a brightly colored diamond shining the sun.’ And finally, one blind person said, ‘I see no elephant. There is no elephant.’”

In a sense, we are like blind people groping at the elephant when we try to understand who and what God is in our lives. We make our guesses. We see God as we want to see God. We often form God into our image when we can’t do anything else. And when we can’t do any of that, we do the easiest thing of all. We say, there is no God.

Now, for Thomas, he saw. He touched. It was all clear to him. But we don’t get that chance.

“Blessed are those who believe but don’t see,” Jesus says this morning.

We are those blessed ones. We are the ones Jesus is speaking of in this morning’s Gospel. Blessed are you all. You believe, but don’t see. We are the ones who, unlike the atheists, are able to look up into the sky, into the depths of space, and, unable to see God with our eyes, we still have faith. We are the ones who believe in the Resurrected Jesus not because we can rationally explain it but because we listen with the ear of our hearts and we know in our core of cores that it truly happened. We can’t objectively make sense of it. Sometimes all we can do is profess it with our lips, and experience the joy of this resurrection and somehow, like sunlight shining us and sinking deep into us, we simply bask in its glory.

Seen or unseen, we know God is there. And our faith is not based on seeing God here in front of us in the flesh or proving the existence of God, or finding scientific proof for the Resurrection. Because we have faith that one day, yes, we will see God. Because Jesus died and was resurrected, we too will die and be resurrected. We too will live a life of unending perfect sight in God’s presence. We will, on that glorious day, run to God and see God face to face. And in that moment, our faith will be fulfilled.

Blessed are we who believe but don’t see now. The Kingdom of Heaven is truly ours.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday


April 4, 2010

Luke 24.1-12


+ Alleluia! Christ is risen
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Now I know most of you might expect me, as your priest, to be doing very devout holy and Godly things during Holy Week—like fasting and pondering Our Lord’s journey to the Cross (which I did do this week). But the other night I also went out with some friends—probably not a very priestly thing to be doing during Holy Week. Some of these friends were church musicians who understood keenly what Holy Week is like and how it is truly is a long and sometimes very difficult week for those of us who work in the church.

At some point, in a moment of cynicism, I lamented : “Jesus only hung on the cross for three hours but Holy Week last SO long!”

Afterward, I regretted that comment. I realized I was missing the point of Holy Week and, more importantly, I realized how easy it was of me to allow that creeping, nagging cynicism that is sometimes a part of my nature to creep in. Cynicism is a battle to fight, let me tell you. It is so easy for me to fall into it, to make snarky comments about a situation—even a holy situation, like Holy Week. And if I let my cynicism win out, this Day that we celebrating today—this glorious and wonderful Easter Day—would not mean as much as it does to me. If I let my cynicism win out, this day becomes a cartoonish kind of day for me. If I gave into my cynical side, this day becomes so distant and abstract from my life that I can no longer relate to the beauty of it. It becomes a caricature of my faith and my hope and soon my faith and my hope would simply shrivel and die.

Let’s face it, Easter does, at first glance, or without much thinking, have the feel of a fairy tale or a fable. We are often warned—perhaps cynically, though perhaps not—that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is—whatever “it” might be. Easter, to the cynic, seems just like that. Easter sounds entirely too good to be true. It is almost Pollyannaish. Everything bad—everything horrible—everything terrible—has been made right. Betrayal has turned into forgiveness. Defeat has turned into victory. The downtrodden have been raised up. Death has turned into life.

It’s so easy for me to be skeptical, especially after seeing my own share of ugliness in this world. It’s so easy to say to myself: How could something this wonderful happen? But then, on a morning like this, when we have gone through all that we have gone through liturgically and spiritually these last three days—Maundy Thursday with its last supper, its agony in the garden, its betrayal; Good Friday with its torture and murder of Jesus; Holy Saturday with Jesus lying dead in the tomb—here we are. We are, after all that darkness, in this moment of blinding bright light. We are here, celebrating this morning after three days of agony and death. We are exulting in this gloriousness, and as we do, it really does seem too good to be true.

But here, in this wonderful moment, skepticism has died. Doubt has dissipated like a cloud. And there is, in this one shining moment, a crystal clarity. Everything negative has been turned to a positive. Death has been conquered by life. What we have feared most has been destroyed.

In this moment, when our faith is renewed, it truly does seem like a reality and not an abstract philosophical or mythical or make-believe occurrence. What Easter is all about is that—right now—in this glorious wonderful, beautiful moment—we are alive. We are alive and breathing and we have been given hope to continue on being alive. And, in addition to all of this, we are so acutely made aware of one other amazing fact: our God is alive. Our God is alive and active in our lives. Our God wants us to experience and have all of this Easter joy in our lives.

And this day promises us that this moment of aliveness we are experiencing now does not have to end. This moment of joyous life we are experiencing this morning is being promised to us, without end. The eternity promised to us in Jesus is that this Easter joy—this renewed and living joy—this joy that, even now still seems so new and so fresh—is promised to us for all eternity and that it will always feel new and fresh.

Too good to be true? It sure seems like it. Pollyannaish? Yes, it really seems that way. But that’s the way God is. It IS too good to be true, but would God do less for us? God, who can do anything—as we’ve seen in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus—would only provide us with something that would seem too good to be true.

Last Sunday in my sermon I said that the reason Holy Week is so difficult for us is that, when we experience the betrayal, torture and death of Jesus, what we are really experiencing is our own betrayal, torture and death. During this past week, we found ourselves looking at the events of Jesus life sort of like looking into a mirror. We saw ourselves in that story. We saw ourselves betrayed, and tortured and left for dead. And that is hard. It is something none of us want to imagine for ourselves or for our loved ones.

But, as I also said last week, today also is about us as well. Today—this Easter Day—we are still looking in that mirror. Today, when we look at the Risen Jesus, a Jesus who just days before was beaten and destroyed, we see ourselves in true victory over pain and death. We see ourselves resurrected as well. We see ourselves as truly alive in ways we never knew we could be alive. And that, more than anything else, is what Easter is all about. It is about claiming this glorious Resurrection for ourselves by following Jesus where ever he goes.

Yes, following Jesus means following him along that winding road to the hill of execution, a cross laid on our ravaged backs. Yes, following Jesus means following him to the tomb—to that cold, dark place none of us want to go. But following Jesus also means that, if we are truly following him, we know he will lead us through those ugly and dark moments to this moment.

To this Easter moment, filled with light and life and joy. This is what following Jesus means.

Here we are. It is Easter morning. And we are alive, with Jesus, in this glorious moment of light and peace and glory. In this glorious moment—in this moment of almost inexpressible happiness and joy—in this moment when our cynicism lies shattered at our feet and our memories of a long arduous week of pain and suffering are behind us—what more can we say in this perfect moment except those words that comes bubbling up from within us:

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

April 3, 2010

Matthew 27.57-66

+ This morning of course is a liturgically bare and solemn morning. We gather today in a church stripped to its barest bones. The Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is gone—the aumbry’s door lies open, the sanctuary light is extinguished and is gone. The crosses are veiled in black shrouds of mourning. It is a bleak and colorless place.

It is a time of mourning. It is a time of loss. This liturgy purposely has the feel of a burial service. And liturgically we ponder the fact that Jesus’ murdered and tortured body this morning lies in a tomb.

I truly do love to participate in the liturgy this morning. I love to preach about Holy Saturday. I love to talk about it. I love to mediate on it throughout the year. And I guess I do because it’s kind of an ignored day.

For the most part, Holy Saturday is not given a lot of attention by a majority of churches, at least here in the U.S. In places like Mexico, it is a big day. Holy Saturday in Mexico is also called Judas Day and it is on this day they burn effigies of Judas Iscariot. It is called Judas day because it is popularly believed that Judas committed suicide early on this day. Now, Judas has become one of the most maligned and hated figures in human history. His act of betrayal is seen as the ultimate form of treason and cowardice. And of course, the tradition has always been that Judas, after he went out and hung himself, went to hell. The end of the story.

There have been a few traditions about what happened to his body. One says that he was the first one buried in the Potter’s Field that was used by the money he returned to the Priests. It is also said, to this day, that any body buried in that Potter’s Field decomposes within twenty-four hours. So, like that, Judas—the symbol of deceit—disappears completely, without a trace. It’s a sad end to a sad man.

But there is a little glimmer of hope in all of this. Today, on this Holy Saturday, we also think about a popular tradition in the Church that I really have come to love. The Harrowing of Hell, of course, is the event in which we imagine Jesus, on this Holy Saturday, descending among the dead in hell and bringing them back.

Last year on Holy Saturday I preached about the Harrowing of Hell and referenced the famous icon of Jesus standing over the broken-open tombs pulling out Adam from one tomb and Eve from the other. In fact, I have placed that icon on the votive candle stand in the Narthex. But there is another image I would like to draw your attention to—a more interactive image. That image is, of course, the image of the labyrinth.

One of the many images used in walking the labyrinth is, of course, the Harrowing of Hell. When you think of the labyrinth, you can almost imagine Jesus trekking his way down to the very bowels of hell. There, he takes those waiting for him and gently and lovingly leads them back through the winding path to heaven. On this Holy Saturday, I also like imagine that one person Jesus greets and leads back is, of course, the new-arrived Judas. Judas was, after all, one of the closest of the apostles. And Jesus knew from the beginning what Judas was going to do. In a sense, Jesus needed Judas to fulfill his destiny on that cross. I can imagine, then, that Jesus, upon reaching the bowels of hell on this day, sought Judas out especially, embraced him and quietly led him out, along with the others. It’s lovely to imagine and, whether it’s true or not, I like to cling to that image.

I do, because, I will confess, of all the apostles, I sometimes identify with Judas. I think we all do at times. I have betrayed Jesus at times in my life. I have betrayed him both as his follower when I have doubted who he is and what he is. And I have betrayed Jesus when I have betrayed loved ones and friends and colleagues. I have, like Judas, betrayed Jesus when I have grumbled about people behind their backs, and complained and been less than loving of others. I have failed Jesus in those instances when I have allowed the spirit of deception to come upon me and lead me in a dark direction. And there have been times when I have regretting that betrayal—when my betrayal has caused pain in people’s lives.

The image of the Harrowing of Hell—the image of the labyrinth—never becomes more real for me than when I imagine myself as Judas, at that very center—shivering there in the dark, bracing myself for an eternity of separation from others and from Jesus. I imagine myself as the Judas who deserves to have his effigy burned, who deserves to be maligned and shown as the epitome of treason.

And in that dark, cold, lonely place, I, like Judas, am amazed when I see that glimmer of light in the darkness. I, like Judas, am filled with a steadily-growing joy as the light grows larger and bolder and I realize that within that light is Jesus. I, like Judas, am overwhelmed in that moment when Jesus comes to me in my desolation and my isolation and reaches out to me to embrace me and lead me away from that prison that I have made for myself by my foolish actions and cold-hearted ways.

This is what Holy Saturday is all about. Even dead and lying in a tomb, Jesus still manages to make a difference—to do good. Even when it seems like the ultimate defeat has occurred, the ultimate victory is going on, right under the surface. Holy Saturday is that glimmer of light in the darkest places of our souls. And that light that is about to dawn on us tomorrow morning—that light of ultimate and unending joy and gladness—is more glorious than anything we can even begin to fathom in this moment.

So let us this morning, strain into the dark. Let us look with hope and joy toward that light that is approaching us. And when we see him, there, in that light, coming toward us with his arms outstretched, let us run to him with that Easter joy.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Commemoration of the Burial of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Good Friday Evening
April 2, 2010


+ Jesus tonight lies buried in a rock. What seems, at first, to be the ultimate defeat—he has been sealed up and hidden—is more than we can imagine.

For buried as he is in that rock—he has truly become the new foundation of the world.

This is not some cold, impersonal reality. By lying there in death—as we all will do one day—Jesus gives life and warmth to what is, by its nature darkness and coldness. The light of the world has descended into that stone tomb and dwells there, not extinguished, but ready to blaze forth. And by doing so, he vanquishes death from our midst. He shatters that fear of death that lies in the stone foundations of our hearts. By lying there in the deep grave, he forces us to face what fear most and then takes it away from us.

For the moment, with our aumbries and tabernacles empty of the flesh and blood of the sacramental Jesus, the very earth has become that tabernacle. The very earth that Jesus trod and was lifted up over on his cross earlier today has become the tabernacle of his glorious Presence.

On this evening which seems to be an evening of ultimate failure, all we can do is kneel down in silent wonder and know that form that cold rock, warm and glorious life is about rush out and flood the world.

Good Friday


April 2, 2010


+ Last night I spent some time in the Children’s Chapel before the Blessed Sacrament reserved there. I have always loved that time of “keeping watch” with Jesus, while trying to follow St. Alphonsus de Ligouiri’s “Clock of the Passion.”


As I kept watch, I as I pondered that night of agony for Jesus and all that he was going through, I found myself reading a wonderful sermon, preached on Good Friday, March 26, 1880. The sermon is quite long—it’s preached on the seven last words of Jesus on the Cross—a popular preaching theme. But as I came to the end of the sermon, I found what was being said speaking loud and clear to me in that moment of watching with Jesus and for us today, on this Good Friday.


These words were preached by the Reverend George Hendric Houghton (1820-1897), Rector of the Church of the Transfiguration, also known as the "Little Church around the Corner", in New York City.


When I read these words, I realized they spoke better than I ever could of everything I would want to express for this Good Friday—this day in which we stop and ponder the mystery and depth of this holy day.


Houghton writes at the end of his Good Friday sermon:


“[Good Friday] is…indeed a day when, if we have eyes that can weep, hearts that can feel, bosoms that can swell with pity and compassion for the woes and sufferings of a fellow-man, ours should be the bitterness and fullness of grief and the tenderness of sympathy for Him who, as on this day by His bitter passion and death upon the cross, redeemed us from the everlasting bitterness of eternal death. It is a day when we should heed the call which we are so soon to hear made to us, as it were, by the Mother of our Lord:


“’O come and mourn with me awhile;

O come ye to the Saviour's side;

O come, together let us mourn;

Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.’


“It is, too, indeed a day when we should pour forth the fullness of or love and gratitude, as never on another day, to Him who lived us and gave Himself for us. But it is a day for something more than penitence, and pity, and love. It is a day for the lowliest adoration, for the highest worship. If it be, indeed, God that hangs upon the cross, God that is dying for us, what utmost homage is there that is meet enough for us to offer to him? Surely it is the day when as never on another the words should go up from our lips and from our hearts: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto the Lamb forever and ever.’ Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. ‘Crucified! we Thee adore!’


“’To Christ, who won for sinners grace,

By bitter grief and anguish sore,

Be praise from all the ransomed race,

Forever and for evermore.’


“It is a day when above the Miserere for our sins, the dirge of our lamentation for the dying, and the Domine dilectissime of our love for our Redeemer, should rise from our innermost heart and soul to Christ our God, the Te Deum laudamus of our adoration. Let us fail not then, that in our private hallowing and observance of this day, there be indeed paid unto Christ our God such homage, such adoration, such worship, as on scarcely another.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday


+ I have this week been reading a wonderful little devotional book called Colloquies and Prayers for Holy Communion, which were culled from the writings of Richard Meux Benson, one of the founders of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. Benson died in 1916 and this book was published in 1934. The language is a bit dated for our modern ears. But the message is strong and wonderful, even now.

For this Maundy Thursday, I would like to share with you an adaptation I wrote from one of these meditations which is entitled “The Passover which Jesus desired”.

The Passover which Jesus Desired

after Richard Meux Benson, SSJE

He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22.15-16


O Jesu, how great that you came to us! You found your glory in raising us from the earth to heaven. This was your desire. In this way you made your glory shine above the heavens. You did not devise to be lifted up above the earth; rather you divided all, that you might gather up the whole world into the unity of the house of God.

Jesus:

My child, it is my joy to be the redeemer of all. Feed on me, and you shall find the renewal my glorified body gives. You shall be strengthened with my Spirit. You shall be freed from the bondage of this world of death. I have come to give my flesh for the life of the world.


O Jesu, as you lead me out of the power of darkness into your kingdom of grace, be with me always during my pilgrimage. As you bring me through the waters of death, bring me to the living heights of the heavenly Zion. As you desire, teach me to love the mysteries you have shown us. Oh that I, needy as I am, might have a true hunger to receive you as you, in your fullness, give yourself to me! O let your desire to feed me with your love create in the desire of holy love to taste your sweetness and to feel the charge of your strength.

Jesus:
My child, blessed are they that hunger and thirst for that righteousness that is found in me. You will never gain the righteousness that God required by the law of Moses. Grace and truth come to you in me, that you may rise out of the shadow of death and rejoice in the light of God’s righteousness.

O holy Jesu, let me feed on you and praise you for your glorious power. This food is sweet to all faithful souls. O let me experience its overwhelming power as often I share in the divine mysteries, while I, clear-headed and collected, walk in your sanctifying presence within me all the days of my life.
O Jesus, I can I praise you? Teach me to live worthily that life you desire to make your own. Let your life shine our in my life.

Jesus:
My child, while you seek to live in my power remember also the bitterness of my passion and death. Do not think that I call you to share triumph any other way than by participating with me in my sufferings. My power if a living power, and you must show the reality of life-giving influence upon you. I have borne this world’s hatred. I have lived faithfully in the Father’s love. So you also must suffer at the hands of world, if you will love God and abide in my love.

O Jesu, let me feed on you now under the veil of this Sacrament, that I feed on you eternally in the glory of your unclouded brightness. United me with you, that I have no other life but yours.