Ironically, the Feast of the Ascension is the day we begin our decent back down to earth. For forty days we’ve been contemplating the meaning of resurrection, just as the disciples had been doing. The account in the Act of the Apostles tells us that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” He was imparting his final teachings to them while preparing them for life after his departure. Now, at the very moment of Jesus’ ascension, while the disciples were looking up into the sky, “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’”
The two men dressed in white are the two men who, in Luke’s gospel, spoke to the women who came to the tomb on the day of the resurrection. They asked a similar question of the women at the tomb as they later asked the disciples on the day of the ascension. “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?”
The two men in white are asking the women, and the disciples, to start thinking in a new way. Jesus has been raised from the dead and returned to the Father – he is Christ. They recognize Jesus, however, he’s different. He has a subtle body; he slips in and out of time and space. Doors don’t keep him out, but he’s not a spirit. He eats with them. In John’s gospel the resurrected Christ even makes breakfast for the apostles!
The questions of the two men dressed in white are an invitation to us to stop thinking in the old way when we believed that heaven was separated from earth. Think of the Easter Vigil service when we proclaim, “Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever…Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God.”
We so often listen to these words with our old ears – they only hear messages of doom and gloom – of an angry God demanding reparation for our mistakes. The message of resurrection is that heaven and earth are wedded! Christ himself manifests this in his body, a body that’s not bound by time and space, and yet carries his wounds. When Thomas put his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side he experienced the Christ event, immediately crying out, “My Lord and my God.” In Jesus Christ – heaven is united to earth. In Christ we are made whole and carry God within us.
But we need assistance to begin thinking in the new way – the way of resurrection. We need the Spirit’s assistance to claim the Christ in us – to do what Christ did – to love the way God loves. So, we turn our eyes to Pentecost. Stop looking among the dead for one who is alive. Stop looking to the sky to see where Jesus went. Christ is alive and present to us. Christ didn’t go anywhere. He’s in heaven and on earth. He’s is you and in me. In the Christ in us, heaven is wedded to earth.
“I will not leave you orphans.” These are Jesus’ words to me today. They’re so reassuring to hear. Residing in New York City during this terrible pandemic, I see Jesus’ promise coming through loud and strong every day.
Living across the street from Lenox Hill Hospital, I see the make-shift morgue on the street outside. Every day it reminds me of the sacrificial love of the doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, aids, janitors, and the food service staff who work with the infected every day.
When I hand my groceries to the cashier, I see Jesus’ sacrificial love in action. When I take a train or bus I thank God for these wonderful people endangering their lives every day to keep me moving along. When I get a Fresh Direct delivery, I pray for the wonderful soul who’s making sure I’m fed. When I receive the mail or order a pizza, I hear Jesus’ promise: “I will not leave you orphans.”
I try not to forget the farmers who make sure I get the food I need. I try not to forget the factory workers who make the things I need to function day to day. I grieve for the men and women who died at the Tyson Food plant in Iowa, the unseen and unappreciated heroes. They poured out their lives for me.
I want the economy to come back strong again. But whose economy will it be? These unsung heroes are the poorest paid people in the nation. Their economy hasn’t been changed at all it has only gotten more dangerous to drive the bus or deliver the pizza.
These men and women are maintaining the foundation of my society while I, safe and privileged, wait for everything “to get back to normal.” When that day comes these heroes will remain unappreciated and economically fragile.
As unjust and cruel as our world is, I look to these little people, misused and unappreciated, for inspiration. Whether they know it or not, they’re following Jesus’ commandment because they’re pouring themselves out in love every day. Every day, they whisper to me the great promise: “I will not leave you orphans.”
Father most loving,
thank you for giving me
an opportunity to reassess my commitment
as a disciple of Jesus.
I have for so long forgotten
your “little people.”
May they forgive me,
and may you forgive me.
I was consumed by my desire
for safety and comfort and status.
I’ve forgotten that only love matters –
love that manifests itself in sacrifice.
Thank you for your promise today,
“I will not leave you orphans.”
Acts 6:1-7 1 Peter 2:4-9 John 14:1-12
We’ve just passed the midpoint between Easter and Pentecost, and so we begin to turn our focus from the meaning of the resurrection to the role of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. But before we turn our gaze toward Pentecost let’s review the message of the last four weeks.
On Easter Sunday we pondered the empty tomb through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Peter looked into the tomb and was confused because it was obvious to him that the body had not been stolen by enemies because the burial cloths were neatly folded and placed at either end of the burial slab. What happened to Jesus? John looked into the tomb after Peter. The gospel tells us that when he looked in “he saw and believed.” What did he believe? Mary Magdalene was so taken up by her personal grief that she didn’t recognize Jesus who had appeared to her outside the tomb. He had to called her name to wake her up to the new reality of his resurrection. Why did Mary need to have her name called before she recognized Jesus? These individual reactions serve as an invitation to each of us to explore our own faith response to the resurrection.
The gospel of the second Sunday of Easter brought us to the upper room on Easter Sunday where the disciples were in hiding. Jesus appeared to them, showed them his wounds, and then breathed his Spirit into each of them. Overjoyed, they reported the event to Thomas who wasn’t there when Jesus had appeared. Thomas refused to believe them. The following Sunday they were all together, including Thomas. Jesus again appeared. He asked Thomas to touch his hands and his side. He was real. He was alive. Thomas responded with a profound profession of faith, “My Lord, and my God!” This is an important lesson for us. The account is warning us not to abandon our connection the faith Community because it’s in that context that we’ll come to see him.
The third Sunday of Easter reinforced the lesson from the previous week. The Gospel gave the account of two disciples fleeing Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection. They had heard that some people claimed to have seen Jesus, but the claim wasn’t enough to keep them in the city. They were too afraid. They decided to seek safety in Emmaus, a town outside Jerusalem. A stranger met up with them as they walked along. It was Jesus. But like Mary Magdalene, they didn’t recognize him. In the course of the journey he explained all the prophecies about the Messiah to them. They later said that as they conversed, something in them began to respond to him at a very deep level. It peaked when they sat down to eat with him. When he broke the bread and blessed it, they recognized him. Jesus then disappeared. Only the bread that he broke remained with them. They immediately returned to Jerusalem. They told the group of disciples that “He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” Two weeks in a row we have been reminded of the importance of the Sunday gathering – the Eucharistic assembly. Thomas met the risen Lord at the Sunday gathering. The two disciples sat down for the Sunday meal and recognized him when he broke the break. The scriptures are clear. We will meet him in our communal celebration of the Eucharist.
The fourth Sunday shifted our view from the resurrection to the cross. In the first reading, we listened to Peter’s Pentecost speech when he told the crowd to look at the cross to discover how to “follow in his footsteps.” In the Gospel of that day, Jesus declared that he is the good shepherd. He invited us to follow him so that we could “have life and have it more abundantly.”
The scriptures for this Sunday teach us that by forgiving those who “do not know what they are doing,” by mourning with those crying “my God why have you abandoned me,” by promising the hopeless that, “today you will be with me in paradise,” we mount the cross with him. At that moment the glory of the resurrection will begin to shine within us and on the world around us.
This week, the fifth week of Easter, we witness Jesus beginning to prepare his disciples, and that means us, for his return to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He began with words of encouragement. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He’s speaking to the disciples who are seated around him, but he’s reaching out – way past them. Recall what he said to Thomas the Sunday after the resurrection. “Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” This teaching is meant for us – you and me. So….
Let’s put our minds in the right place before we go on with this teaching. When we read about the resurrection we might sometimes think – I wish I could have been with those disciples, so that I could have seen him. I wish I could have eaten with him. I wish I could have spoken with him. We have to be careful. That voice speaking inside us is an old voice. It’s the voice from the past, from the pre-resurrection days. It comes from that old part of us that needed to be redeemed. In the New Testament, we hear that voice in those who need to see signs before they believe. Again, remember Thomas, the spokesperson for the old voice. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Isn’t all his doubt coming from that old part of him? We’re in a new time, the time of the Spirit. So, let’s begin to listen to this teaching in a new way.
Jesus begins by telling us, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” If you’re saying to yourself, “This is so encouraging. Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven – after I die!” you’re speaking to yourself with the old voice. That’s not what Jesus is saying at all! Jesus’ teachings are always about the NOW. They don’t look back to the past. They don’t look into the future.
Jesus is describing the time of the Spirit. He’s teaching the disciples about a new NOW. Speaking of his departure he tells them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus isn’t returning to the Father alone. He’s bringing us with him. In fact, he’s bringing all of creation with him, every thing and person from the very first moment of the Big Bang.
If we truly believe this, the conclusion of his teaching will have a profound influence on our lives as Christians. “The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
We have so much to think about as we begin to refocus our sights on the presence of the Spirit in us. Jesus continues with this teaching in next Sunday’s Gospel passage. But for now, I suggest that you return to this week’s passage in prayerful meditation. Silence the old voice within you. Listen to the new voice as you revisit the passage. Make sure you allow Jesus to teach you directly. Don’t think about the past or the future. Place yourself in the NOW and remember: “Blessed (how happy) are those who have not seen and have believed.”
REFLECTION: Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 2:20b-25 John 10:1-10 Luke 24
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41 1 Peter 2:20b-25 John 10:1-10 Luke 24
We’re going to focus our reflection on the first two readings of the day. The first is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s part of the account of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit overshadowed the disciples who had been in hiding since the death of Jesus. It was such a noisy event that people outside on the street thought the disciples were carrying on because they were drunk! They were, in a way. They were drunk with the Holy Spirit.
Filled with the Spirit, Peter stepped out of hiding and delivered a powerful address to the crowd. He didn’t mince his words. He stared right into the crowd. “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom your crucified.” Strangely, the crowd wasn’t angered by his words. Instead, they were “cut to the heart,” and asked Peter, “What are we to do, brothers?”
Peter answered them without any hesitation. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the Holy Spirit…Save yourself from this corrupt generation.”
I’m going to leave this scene from Acts for a moment to continue to the second reading for the day which is taken from Peter’s First letter. In this portion of the letter, Peter expands on what he declared on Pentecost by defining what it means to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
He writes: “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” Interesting. He says that “Christ suffered for you” but he doesn’t say that Christ suffered to appease his angry Father who was offended by our sins. Instead he’s saying that Christ suffered to show us how to suffer – “to follow in his footsteps.” We’re at the heart of Peter’s teaching here! However, we have to think of Jesus and the cross in a new way in order to understand it.
He uses the word, “Christ.” A word we use frequently, often connecting it to Jesus (Christ, the Greek translation for the Hebrew word for Messiah, opr “the anointed one.”) The readings today are inviting us to consider a fuller meaning of this word. I’m going to step away from the scriptures for a moment to listen to what two modern day mystics said about the meaning of “Christ.”
Fr. Teillard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist who died in 1955, reflecting on the Christian teaching that God is love, wrote: “God’s first ‘idea’ was to become manifest – pour out divine, infinite love into finite visible forms.” Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan theologian and spiritualwriter, extended Fr. Teillard de Chardin’s idea in a reflection he gave in 2018. “‘The Big Bang’ is now our scientific name for that idea; and ‘Christ’ is our Christian theological name. Both are about love and beauty exploding outward in all directions.” With their insight in mind, let’s ask ourselves a very important question. Who is Jesus “Christ?”
Jesus is the union of the human and the divine at a particular time and in a particular place – Jesus of Nazareth. “Christ” is the eternal union of matter and spirit – what Fr. Teillard de Chardin referred to as “God’s first idea.” Peter, in his Pentecost address, and in his First Letter, isn’t calling us to be like Jesus. He’s challenging us to be “Christ,” as Jesus was “Christ.”
Let’s start putting all this together. In the Pentecost address Peter asked the people “to repent and be baptized.” Repent is a very bad translation of the word “metanoia.” For English speakers, repent means to stop sinning. Metanioa means to take a new direction in life. To be baptized doesn’t mean to have one’s sins washed away. It means we redirect our lives by immersing ourselves in the “Christ” mystery, the mystery of death and resurrection.This is clearly articulated in the prayer we use to bless the baptismal water. “May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life.”
Peter’s invitation to “repent and be baptized” is a call to redirect our lives toward the “Christ” mystery. He’s teaching us that when we make the commitment to walk the way of “Christ,” we “save ourselves from this corrupt generation.” We see the Divine Love in all people and all things.
The crucified Jesus was tortured, humiliated, abandoned and shamed, and yet he prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” His desperate cry, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” embraces all of suffering creation in the healing arms of Divine Love. “Today, you will be with me in paradise” is an invitation to every person, good and bad alike, to take a new path, to walk away from the horror that “this corrupt generation” inflicts on itself and God’s earth. It calls everyone to begin to walk the road towards resurrection. Peter is teaching us today that when we see the world through the eyes of the crucified “Christ,” we begin to “follow in his footsteps.” We have begun to “put on Christ.” We have begun to attach “Christ” to our name.
REFLECTION: Luke 24:13-35
Throughout the Easter Season we reflect on the meaning of the resurrection. Today, the third Sunday of Easter asks us to reflect on a very interesting account of the resurrection. It takes place on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, but it doesn’t take place at the tomb nor does it take place in Jerusalem. Jesus appears to two disciples who are fleeing Jerusalem. They’re walking along the road leading to Emmaus, a village, seven miles outside Jerusalem. They, like many of Jesus’ disciples, are fearful that the religious authorities will soon be seeking to arrest them.
They’re not walking along in silence. They’re engaged in deep and distressful conversation about what had happened to Jesus. He was a great prophet. He proved it in both his teaching, and in the wonderful acts he performed. So many people were hoping that he was the one who would redeem Israel making it an independent nation again. Ironically, their own chief priests had handed him over to the occupying authorities, demanding that he be crucified.
As was common in those days, another traveler walked up to them and joined them. It was always safer to travel in groups. When he asked what they had been discussing, they looked at him as if he were from another planet. Everybody knew what happened over the past few days. It was strange but, even though they were speaking with him, they didn’t recognize him. It was Jesus himself who was walking along with them.
So, they told him about Jesus the Nazarene and explained how he died. They added events that had just taken place. They told him of the report of some women who had gone to the tomb earlier in the day and had seen a vision of angels who announced that Jesus was alive. Others went to the tomb and found it just as the women had described, but the body of Jesus wasn’t there.
Here the account begins to move beyond mere reporting. The traveler took over the conversation with a bombshell of an announcement. “O how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into his glory?” Then, as they continued along the way, he taught them. “Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.”
Let’s take a moment to digest what the account has told us before we move on to its dramatic conclusion. This is an account of the resurrection. It involves two disciples who don’t yet know about, nor understand, the resurrection. Notice, there are two of them traveling together along the way. By noting that there are two, Luke is harkening back to another event in his Gospel: Jesus sending out seventy-two men, two by two, on a missionary excursion. He gives them clear instruction as to their mission. “Whenever you go into a town and are made welcome, eat what is set before you, heal the sick in that town, and say to the people there, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’”
These two people have abandoned the mission – they’re fleeing. They’ve forgotten all they’ve learned from Jesus. They’ve even forgotten their own scriptures – the books of Moses and the Prophets. Jesus reminds them of all they’ve forgotten. As he does so, we’re told at the end of this account, their hearts were burning! Remember that powerful comment Jesus had made: “I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49) Here it is! With their minds opened to the deepest meaning of the scriptures, Jesus, their companion and fellow traveler, set their hearts on fire! But the account isn’t over.
“As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”
These two disciples, enlightened by the scripture and their hearts aflame with the divine fire, are joined at table with this truly marvelous man. He assumes the role of the host. “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” This was what Jesus did with them many times. This is what he did with them the night before he died. They looked at each other. This is Jesus!
In that split-second it takes to catch each other’s eye, he had disappeared. “So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, ‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two recounted what had happened on the way, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
If you think this account is the end of the story, you’re so wrong. This is mystory. This is your story. The early Christians were called “the followers of the way.” We’re still walking along the way those two disciples traveled.
Maybe we’re fleeing because we fear the cross. Maybe we’re confused by the empty tomb. But the account is assuring us that he’s walking with us whether we recognize him or not. He’s with us when we venture into the empty tomb of our hearts. He’s with us when our hearts begin to burn with the divine flame.
But two things are for sure. We’re still discovering him in the scriptures. We’re still breaking the bread. The moment will come when our hearts will burn and we will recognize him, even for a brief moment, in the breaking of bread.
My Dear Parishioners and Friends,
The parish office, our communications hub, is shut down. The office’s source of energy, Angelica Contreras, is at home, keeping herself, and us, safe. I don’t have the incredible facility she has in working with Publisher, the program from hell used by our bulletin company. So – we can’t get a bulletin out to you until she returns. Our cook, Marlon McPhail, is presently in quarantine in his home after a difficult two-week battle in the hospital. We’re so happy that he’s coming along well. We’re glad that Angelica is keeping safe.
However, there is someone who manages our website, Angela Boccia. She posted this reflection for me. Thanks Angela!
REFLECTION: Luke 20:19-29
We’ve just “celebrated” Easter. No one went to church. No one wore fantastical hats and walked up and down Fifth Avenue. Kids didn’t fight over chocolate bunny rabbits. Families didn’t gather for lunch. One of the brothers who lives here at St. Jean’s lamented, “I never in my life thought I’d experience an Easter like this.” So true! Whoever though we’d experience an Easter hiding behind closed doors, walking the streets wearing face masks and shunning the people around us.
Though we can’t gather safely, we do have a gospel passage we can privately ponder this Sunday after Easter – the account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb and Thomas’ disbelief. Strangely, the darkness we’re experiencing as individuals, as a city and as a world community, can assist our understanding of this resurrection passage.
The account from the Gospel of John is given in two parts. Part one takes place in the pre-dawn darkness very early Sunday, the morning of the resurrection. The Passover moon was setting. Mary Magdalene went to the garden tomb where Jesus had been laid to rest and discovered that the tomb was empty.
She ran back to the disciples who were in hiding in Jerusalem. Peter and John immediately ran back to the tomb with her. Peter looked inside and was puzzled. It was obvious that the body of Jesus hadn’t been stolen. All the wrappings that had been used to cover his body were neatly folded up and lying on the shelf where the body had been. What happed to his body? John too looked in, “and believed.” We’re not told what he believed. But there is a by-the-way comment in the account: “They still did not understand the scripture which said that he must rise from death.” Peter andJohn went back to the other disciples leaving Mary at the tomb.
Weeping and alone, Mary bent over to look into the tomb again. What was she thinking? What was she expecting to see? Did she think that she, Peter and John had somehow managed to not see his body?
But the tomb wasn’t empty when she looked in. There were “two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus hand been, one at the head and the other at the feet.” The strangest conversation followed. “Why are you weeping?” She answered them as if what she was seeing was perfectly normal, and their question quite reasonable. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Evidently that was the end of the conversation because Mary stood up and turned away from the tomb. Through her tears she saw a man standing near her. He asked her the same question as the angels. “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener she accused him of taking the body. “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” The most important moment of her entire life then took place. He spoke her name, “Mary.” He spoke it with such tenderness and understanding that it reached into her soul. It touched her heart with light and fire. She was overcome with love. She recognized him! Tears still streaming down her face and her throat tight with emotion she managed to speak one word, “Master.”
She had fallen to her knees and was holding on to him. He told her not to cling to him and gave her a mission. “Go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.” It seems strange that Mary would have immediately left him to return to the disciples. But she did.
Mary related his message. The group spent the entire day thinking about what she said, discussing it with one another. What did John, who had looked into the tomb “and believed,” have to share with the others? What else did Mary share with them?
We shift to part two of the account which takes place at sunset that same Sunday. The disciples are still in hiding. Earlier that morning, when Mary had told them that she had seen Jesus and related his message to them, Thomas wasn’t with the group at that time. A long day of discussion and confused emotions was coming to a close. As the sun was setting fear began to take hold of the group.
Suddenly Jesus was with them. Each one immediately recognized him. He was vibrant and strong…but…wounded. The crucifixion had left its mark on him. His hands and feet were pierced, and his side bore the wound of the soldier’s lance. He immediately greeted them with Shalom. Then he did to them what he had done to Mary; he sent them on a mission. “As the Father sent me so I am sending you.” Then he went up to each of them, breathing his Spirit into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” He vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Late that night Thomas returned to the group. We’re not told where he was or what he was doing. It suffices to know that he was outside where it was dark. As soon as he entered there was mayhem as they all began shouting that they had seen the Lord. Thomas, shocked by their madness, quieted them down by dramatically declaring to them, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands, and can put my fingers into the holes that the nails made in his hands, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe!” An unsettled silence blanketed the room. The scene ends.
The account then brings us to the same room the following Sunday. The entire group was there, including Thomas. Again, Jesus was suddenly standing with them. Again, he greeted the group with a simple “Shalom.” He then turned to Thomas. “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand. Put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” Awestruck, Thomas then made a profession of faith. “My Lord and my God.” With that, John’s account of the resurrection ends.
There are five characters who carry the teaching in this two-part resurrection account: Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, the group of disciples and Thomas. Each one’s experience of Jesus was different, but each one saw Jesus while it was dark. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in the predawn darkness as did Peter and John. Jesus appeared twice to the group in the evening. Thomas left the darkness of the night to join the gathered disciples. What does the darkness have to do with these five?
In the Gospel of John, darkness is that energy which is in constant conflict with the divine energy, symbolized by light. In his prologue to the Gospel he announces this theme so clearly. “All that came to be had life in him, and that light was the light of the human race, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.”
Mary Magdalene fell into the darkness that’s spawned by despair. Jesus was her Rabboni, her Master. She revered him. He had driven seven devils out of her. She loved him. His unjust and gruesome death blinded her. She no longer saw the light.
Peter, carrying the heavy burden of his denials, was lost in the darkness of betrayal. How could he have abandoned him? How could he ever forgive himself?
The disciples were huddled together in the darkness of fear. What was going to happen next? The religious leaders had Jesus crucified. Would they be next?
Thomas was treading water in a dark sea of doubt. Was this whole thing a joke? Jesus’ teachings seemed so liberating. His love and kindness were remarkable. He spoke of a new world, the kingdom of God. He was promised a place in that kingdom. But all his hopes and dreams were shattered now! Jesus was dead.
I left John for last because his place in this group of five is very different. He’s the image of the Church, young and filled with energy. He breaks away from the grip of darkness as soon as he looks into the empty tomb. He sees – he believes! Jesus is the light. Jesus blesses the Church through his words to Thomas. “You believe because you can see me, Thomas. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
For many people, even many Christians, Easter Sunday marks an event.It’s the day Jesus rose from the dead. True, but is that all that Easter is?
Easter is the day the stone is rolled from the tomb. Easter is the day the Church, all 2 billion of us, take another look into the empty tomb. What do we see? What do we feel?
Some of us may stoop down to look in but, just like Mary Magdalene, are blinded by personal despair. We would be happy to see only the dead body of Jesus – but we don’t even see that.
Maybe some of us look in and, like Peter, are seized by the shame of our betrayals, our faults and failings, our sins. We wonder if God will ever forgive us. We wonder if we can ever forgive ourselves.
Perhaps we’re gripped by the fear of death like the disciples in Jerusalem. We’re haunted by the terrible question: is there really life after death?
Or like Thomas, we may wonder how anyone can believe in resurrection.
To “see and believe,” as John did, demands that we confront the darkness around us and within us. As I was writing this sentence a close friend of mine who is originally from Ecuador texted me that his sister had died last night, a victim of the corona virus. Ten days ago, he lost his mother. Three days ago, he lost his brother. The three of them lived in Ecuador. In ten days my friend lost his entire family. He couldn’t be with them. He couldn’t speak to them. He couldn’t tell them he loved them.
Today, this Sunday after Easter, April 19, 2020, we chant in unison, “I never in my life thought I‘d experience an Easter like this.” Yes, Easter isn’t the Easter Parade and chocolate bunny rabbits. Today, Easter is that moment the crucified Lord stretches out his wounded hand to my friend and to everyone weeping in the darkness. Easter is the risen Christ offering shalom to us even as we tremble with fear. Easter is that moment just before the sunrise when we look into the empty tomb and whisper, “My Lord and my God.”
My Dear Friends and Parishioners,
It’s a real challenge to write an Easter message this year. There’s just so little that’s normal right now. I’ve watched Pope Francis imparting his Urbi et Orbi Blessing as he stood in an empty Saint Peter’s Square. I’ve watched streamed congregationless Masses from the Cathedral. But it’s all so strange so surreal. I miss my friends and family. I miss being with you at Mass.
We’re in a frightening time right now. A few hundred feet from our church, Lenox Hill Hospital has set up an outdoor morgue in the middle of 76th Street. Happily, I know of only two parishioners who have come down with Covid 19. One was hospitalized, but is now home. The other is convalescing at home. Both are doing well.
Marlon McPhail, the cook for the priests and brothers, was hospitalized with Covid 19 last week. We’re praying for him. We’re being exceptionally careful in the house, washing door knobs and countertops multiple times a day, and staying away from each other as much as possible. For the past three weeks we’ve gone out only to purchase groceries and medications. Each of you, I’m sure, are trying to be as conscious as possible of social distancing, wearing masks when around other people and disinfecting surfaces, phones and hands often.
I think we will realize that history has to repeat itself after this virus is gone. We had to adjust to a new world after 9/11. Eventually, we’re going to have to adjust to a new national and global economy. We can project. We can guess. Most essentially, we must sustain our hope. We adjusted to the aftermath of 9/11. We’ll adjust to life after Covid 19 – but it will be a new world.
Easter is the season of hope as we contemplate the Paschal Mystery- the mystery of life – death – resurrection. On the next page I’ve printed a short parable sent to me by a colleague. It’s a parable of hope. May it bring you some comfort as, together, we battle through these difficult times. God bless each and every one of you.
Fr. John Kamas, SSS Pastor
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
The account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus is, I believe, one of the darkest moments in the Gospel of John. We’re told several things in the first few sentences. Lazarus and his two sisters were personal friends of Jesus. Their home in Bethany was his home away from home. Jesus loved them. Word was sent to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. We can presume that the sisters wanted Jesus to come back to Bethany because they feared for Lazarus’ life.
For two days Jesus made the decision to stay put.
When he finally announced to the disciples that he would return to Bethany they protested because the last time he was there a hostile group tried to stone him. Jesus then announced that “our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”
Here we begin to enter the darkness with Jesus. Lazarus was dead and has already been laid in the tomb.
The religious leaders were plotting to kill him, and when he finally got to Bethany it was clear that Martha and Mary felt that he had abandoned them in their hour of need. When Martha greeted him at the gate of the town she told him quite bluntly, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” When Mary came out to see him she threw herself on the ground weeping, repeating what her sister had said. When Mary left the house to meet Jesus the townsfolk who were sitting shivah with her followed. They, too, were weeping loudly.
In Lazarus’ death Jesus was most certainly foreseeing his own death that would take place during the nearing feast of Passover. The sadness and hopelessness of Mary, Martha and the people gathering around him seemed to have overwhelmed him. “He became perturbed and deeply troubled.” When he came to the tomb he broke into tears. Many of the mourners criticized him. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” John’s Gospel doesn’t include Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead, he places it here, in Bethany. With a command Jesus reached into the darkness engulfing the world around him. “Take the stone away!” Martha immediately protested. “Lord, by now he will smell: this is the fourth day since he died.”
“The one he loved” has been in the tomb four days. This detail was meant to emphasize the finality of Lazarus’ death. Jewish tradition held that the soul hovered around the body for three days. His soul had most certainly entered the world of shadows.
Jesus prayed aloud to his Father – he prayed that everyone around him would believe that he was sent by God. Then he cried out – a cry so intense that it pierced the walls of death. “Lazarus! Come out!”
Try to picture what happened next. “The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with strips of material, and a cloth over his face.” Picture it! How would he come out with hands and feet tied and blinded by a veil over his face? I can only picture him squirming out of the entrance of the tomb
– head first. At Jesus command, Lazarus was born again!
I can’t stop my reflection here. I’m compelled to move ahead to John’s account of the burial of Jesus. “They took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried.” This description is so similar to Lazarus’ burial and yet so radically different.
Jesus’ body was carried to the garden of Adam’s sin – the sin that brought death into the world. But….Jesus was put into “a new tomb.” No one had ever been buried in this tomb. Adam and all his descendants had been buried in tombs just like Lazarus’. The tomb sealed Adam in the kingdom of shadows. But now….Jesus, the new Adam, was buried in a new tomb, one in which no one had ever been buried before. This new tomb was the doorway to the Kingdom of God.
Recall what Jesus taught. “I am the door. Anyone who enters through me will be safe; and will go in and out and find pasture.” Remember what Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha. “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Every account of the resurrection of Jesus dwells on the image of the empty tomb. We’re invited to stand before it and to listen to the words of Jesus. “In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit.”
Today, I invite you to clothe yourself in faith. Stand before the empty tomb, the garden tomb in which Jesus was buried. In prayer, listen for him to cry out your name. Listen! “Be unbound! Be set free!”
The story of the man born blind begins innocuously. Walking along the road on a Sabbath day, Jesus and his disciples passed a man who had been blind from birth. Some of the disciples asked a question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Most of us raise similar questions when we see a child or adult who was born with a severe physical challenge. We don’t usually ask who sinned, but we might ask, “Why did God allow this to happen?” In Jesus’ day illness was viewed as a punishment from God for a sin. Poverty was viewed in the same way. Jesus’ answer was simple; nobody sinned. Good answer. But he added, “It is so that the works of God may be made visible through him.” They must have just begun processing the statement when Jesus threw them totally off track with what must have seemed like a non-sequitur. “We have to do the work of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” Then Jesus gave an even more confusing statement. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” With that statement the conversation ended. Jesus went over to the blind man, spit on the ground, made some mud, and rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes. He then told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash. He did as he was instructed and returned able to see!
Can you imagine the joy the man experienced?! But his joy was to be quickly frustrated because some people who knew him began to argue about him. Some recognized him as the blind beggar they had known, but others, incredulous, said he just looked like him. They listened to the story of his healing and asked him where they might find Jesus. He told them that he didn’t know. His answer frustrated them even more so they took him to the Pharisees who immediately politicized the healing and condemned Jesus for having broken the Sabbath rest. They asked the blind man what he had to say about Jesus. His answer infuriated them. “He is a prophet.”
Then they called in his parents. This is a tense and very sad part of the man’s story. The religious leaders had previously circulated a threat among the population that any followers of Jesus would be excommunicated from the synagogue. This meant segregation from the Jewish population, and the forfeiture of the Jewish exemption of offering incense to the Roman Emperor. This was a serious threat. The blind man’s parents broke under the threat and abandoned their son. When asked about the healing they told the Pharisees “We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he can speak for himself.”
The Pharisees called the blind man in again and began a second interrogation. Aggravated by their hounding him the blind man lashed out at them. “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” With that, they pronounced him a sinner, threw him out of the synagogue and excommunicated him.
The conclusion of the story adds a wonderful dimension. When Jesus heard of the man’s excommunication he tracked him down to ask him a question. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man must have looked at him with puzzlement and fascination.
He had been sitting by the roadside begging, as he always did, when this man Jesus came over to him and initiated his cure. He was blind from the moment of his birth but in a few short minutes a healer put mud on his eyes, he washed in the Pool of Siloam, and could see the light of the sun for the first time. He could see the people along the road. He could see his parents!
But that same day, his parents abandoned him and he was removed from the safety net of the Jewish community. He could see, but he was alone. Jesus’ question offered him hope. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
Was this man, this prophet, the messiah? “Who is he, sir, that I might believe in him.” He looked into Jesus’ eyes. “You have seen him, the one speaking to you is he.” His response came from the depth of his heart. “I do believe.” And he worshiped him. At that moment the once blind beggar saw the Kingdom of God and hope filled his heart.
Like the moral at the conclusion of a Medieval Miracle Play Jesus gave an explanation of what had happened. “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
The blind man represents each of us. Now and then God’s healing hand touches us. We’re asked to respond to that touch – to go to the Pool of Siloam – to wash the spiritual cataracts from our eyes. This may happen to the convert who is seeking God and a deeper life. This may happen to the believer whose faith has become insipid. It may happen to the person who is reeling from a trauma or personal tragedy. It may happen to the person who has simply lost the way.
This story of the man born blind reassures us that God is reaching out to heal us. When we respond to that gesture we will be healed. We’ll see the world differently and enjoy a more intimate experience of God. The story is also telling us that our healing doesn’t exempt up from the tribulations of life. The story is asking us to say yes to God’s healing so that we can bring the light and hope we have received to a blind world.
The whole thing started when Jesus asked a woman for a drink of water. It was high noon. The sun was intense. Jesus was tired. His disciples left him there alone so that they could buy provisions in the little town nearby. After a bit of time, a woman came to draw water. He didn’t have a bucket so he asked her to give him some water. She wasn’t nice at all. She snapped at him. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink!?” A simple request ignited a long-standing hostility – Jews and Samaritans hated each other. He responded to her in a very strange way. “If you knew who I was you’d ask me for ‘living -water,’ and I would lead you to the spring of eternal life.”
Things got stranger. He asked her to call her husband. When she said she had none, he proceeded to tell her all about her life and the husbands she’d had. The reason she came alone to the well during the hottest time of the day was to avoid the other women of the town who were probably hostile towards her because of her life.
She gasped. “You’re a prophet!” But she quickly jumped back to the old antagonism. “You Jews condemned us for building our own temple.” He gently told her that a day was coming when everyone’s heart would be a temple, and then everyone would worship in spirit and truth.
Every time he spoke, something within her was consoled, something was healed.
She didn’t feel so isolated, so unwanted, so unacceptable. She got chills. Looking straight into his eyes she said, “When the Messiah comes he’ll teach us everything.” Could her hunch about this man be correct? He returned her gaze. “I am he.” She gasped.
His disciples returned at that very moment. She left him and ran back to town to tell everyone that she had found the Messiah. They returned with her and, when they saw him, believed what she had told them. They opened their hearts to him, “You’re the savior of the world!”
Today we share this story with our catechumens, the men and women who will be baptized and brought into the Church at Easter. They’ve been longing for that same “living water.” By our sharing the woman’s story with them today, we’re sharing our own stories as well. In our own way each of us met him during the heat of the day as we were searching, either consciously or subconsciously, for living water.
In our personal reflection today, let’s call to mind how we met him. What were the circumstances? Who were the people or events that led us to discover him? What spiritual blocks were removed so that we could let him into our lives? Even though we’ve been baptized we’re still searching for him. Every day is an opportunity to meet him in the heat of that day. Every day we have an opportunity to listen to his words of consolation and healing. Every day we can open our hearts to him. Every day we can point those who are thirsty and searching to the well of living water.