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Friday, 24 April 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

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.

Sunday, 19 April 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

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.” 

Sunday, 19 April 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

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

PARABLE

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.

Sunday, 29 March 2020 / Published in Church Reflections

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!”

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