Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:1-10; Luke 24:13-35)

In the novel A Day with a Perfect Stranger a woman is seated between two men on an airplane.  One of the two begins to moralize with her.  The other allows her to use the armrest.  Which of the men do you suppose to be Jesus?

On the road to Emmaus the disciples find in Jesus the perfect companion.  He engages and inquires, lets them express themselves and then explains to the point of inspiring.  The shock comes at the end of the journey when they discover in breaking bread with their supposedly new-found friend that Jesus is their gracious companion.

We may wonder what the risen Christ looked like.  The gospels do not offer much of a portrait.  He evidently could be easily mistaken as with Mary Magdalene in yesterday’s passage or even unnoticed as with the two disciples today.  Yet his presence becomes evident in the breaking of the bread.  All this is to say that Jesus reveals himself in the Eucharist where we may meet him daily. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18)

The word “heartbleed” sounds like the description of a romantic but actually is used to name a defect in Internet operations.  The recently discovered defect compromises the security of passwords which everyone uses to identify her or himself in Internet transactions.  As critical as passwords are for computer use, the first reading shows the apostle Peter proposing a new identification – a new password – even more important for the people of Jerusalem.

Peter is speaking on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.  He boldly tells the people of their responsibility for the unjust crucifixion of Jesus.  He also offers them a way to forgiveness for the crime.  He urges them to be baptized in the name of the same Jesus Christ.  More than exonerating the Jews, baptism in Jesus’ name promises them the Holy Spirit.  This gratuitous gift will enable them to live in holy, loving ways that secure them on the road to eternal life.

We who call ourselves “Christians” should not betray the name that has been handed on to us.  It indicates not just a preference but a faith in the incarnation and resurrection of the Son of God.  It promises us as well the Holy Spirit who is lifting us out of the messy world of sin into the higher realm of virtue and grace.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2: 14.22-33; Matthew 28:8-15)

The behavior of the chief priests in the gospel of Matthew might make a saint anti-clerical.  They pay to arrange Jesus’ arrest.  They seek false testimony to condemn him.  They show no compassion for Judas as he struggles with a guilty conscious and much less for Jesus as they ridicule him on the cross.  After Jesus’ death, they ask Pilate for a guard to prevent the abduction of Jesus’ body.  And, in today’s gospel, they bribe the same guard to lie about what took place.  Perhaps some of these incidents may be attributed to the animosity between the Jews and the Christians when Matthew wrote; nevertheless, they indicate some trut,hs about Jesus’ resurrection.

The assertions that the chief priests asked for soldiers to guard Jesus’ tomb and then bribed them to be quiet when the tomb was found empty point to one of the reasons Christians believe in the resurrection.  His tomb, which is marked in a definite place by all four gospel accounts, was found to be empty that Sunday morning, again in all gospel narratives.  Unless the body was stolen as the Jews in Matthew’s account allege, there is no other explanation for its disappearance than the resurrection.

However, our faith in the resurrection is not based on circumstantial evidence alone.  Jesus also appeared to many people after his body was found missing from the tomb.  Today’s gospel speaks of the first appearance to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.  St. Paul will give us a list of his appearances: Peter, the Twelve, five hundred Christian brothers, and, of course, to Paul himself.  Based on their testimony, the empty tomb, and our own experience of the power of Christ acting in our lives, we do not hesitate to affirm that, yes, he rose from the dead to save us from sin and death.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42)

We tend to think of lambs as vulnerable animals.  Do you remember watching cartoons in which the wolf seeing a lamb imagines lamb chops?  But there is at least one instance when the lamb is strong enough to protect all his subjects from harm.  In the Book of Revelation the Lamb of God sits on the throne surrounded by those he has saved.  The Passion of St. John which we just heard features this same lamb in a subtle but telling way.

At the beginning of the Gospel John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29).”  He has in mind, of course, Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross to atone for human sin.  The Passion account does not speak directly of Jesus as the lamb but gives at least three hints that he is the Passover lamb of the Old Testament tradition that needed to be sacrificed for human freedom from the bondage of sin.  In the first place, Jesus is said to be crucified at noon on the preparation day for the Passover, the exact time when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple (19:14).  Then while Jesus is hanging on the cross, the people “put a sponge soaked in wine on a spring of hyssop…up to (Jesus’) mouth (19:29).”  The hyssop is a slender plant that could not possibly bear the weight of a soaked sponge.  It is used here to remind the reader of the hyssop that the Israelites used to sprinkle their doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb.  The blood saved them from the Angel of Death who destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians when the Israelites were fleeing captivity (Ex 12:22).  The last hint of Jesus as the Lamb of God comes as Jesus dies on the cross.  A soldier comes to break his legs so that he can no longer support breathing.  The text says that the soldier, seeing that Jesus had died, sticks a lance in his side perhaps to save himself the trouble of breaking a large bone (19:36).  In any case, no bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken (Ex 12:46). 

Was it necessary for Jesus to be sacrificed as a lamb to free us from sin? we may want to ask.  And, could God have forgiven us our sins without the cross?  No, it was not absolutely necessary and, yes, God might have forgiven our sins without Jesus’ bloody death.  However, without knowing the terrible price that Jesus had to pay for our salvation, we would be less inclined to follow his ways.  Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross gives us both courage and example to give of ourselves for the love of God and the good of others.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(Exodus 12:1-8.11-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)

It has been noted that the Eucharist celebrated today has no ending.  Rather, after Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for continuing reflection.  Similarly, the service conducted tomorrow does not begin with an introduction, nor does it end with the usual blessing and sending forth.  And then on Saturday, there is likewise no greeting as the liturgy gets underway; there is only an exhortation about participating reverently.  The Church deliberately designs the services in this way to teach that Christ’s Eucharistic meal, his passion and death, and his resurrection are but one saving event for all to partake in.

At the heart of today’s gospel Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  It is a symbolic action to be emulated not just by the priest once a year but, much more to the point, by all Christians every day.  It is accomplished by ordinary service like ministers of Holy Communion visiting shut-ins or volunteers driving an elderly person to his or her doctor.  People will regularly do these things for loved ones, but Jesus has in mind rendering similar service to virtual strangers.  As his love extended to every person, so his disciples’ love cannot be limited by prejudice or convenience.

We can take advantage of the time before the Eucharist tonight to reflect on how we may render the service that Christ’s asks and to pray for the grace to implement the plans we make.  If we find ourselves wondering whether we can do it, we should look forward to the Passion of Christ which will be recalled tomorrow to consider what Christ has done for us.  We also might anticipate the Easter service when we are assured of the strength to live out the life to which he has called us.