Easter’s Good Friday

The Passion According to John

For a moment I invite you to look at this Passion that we just heard from John and this day that we now celebrate, Good Friday, from a different perspective. Over the centuries as a Church we have often only looked from one direction and that’s where we have just come from, the Lenten Season. It was a time of sacrifice, a time of giving up, but when we do we gather today in sadness despite the fact that on the first day of the Lenten season we’re told not to do that, not to be gloomy. That’s not the point of Good Friday despite the fact that we often do it not just with this day but with our lives, and in particular, we become fixated on our hurts and live a life of victimhood. What I invite you into, though, is to look at it as John did some 70 years after the death of Jesus and from the lens of resurrection, from the lens of Easter.

I have said for the past few weeks as we looked at the stories coming from John that he’s a very different interpretation than what we just heard back on Palm Sunday and Matthew’s Gospel. In John’s, from beginning to end, Jesus is conscious of what he does and is aware of not only the choices he makes but also how others respond to him and react to what he does and doesn’t do. Today’s Passion is no different and so it’s not just Jesus but John who’s writing to his community that views from that same lens. In the other gospels, it’s Jesus who is interrogated by everyone as the chaos ensues around him. But not in John’s. It begins that way, but being aware and being conscious of it all, Jesus turns the tables as he does throughout the gospel. It goes from him being on trial to him putting everyone else on trial and interrogating them, without getting trapped into their own chaos and confusion and struggle for power.

With that understanding, even to his own death, there is a point to everything that John conveys through images and events in the passion. One of the images that we tend to just flash by is the one, nearing his death, where Jesus has this encounter with the beloved disciple and Mary. He says behold your son and behold your mother. For John, the message he conveys to his community in that moment that a new family, a new community forms out of this moment. They are no longer simply bound by blood or by tribe but by something more. It’s not to say that blood or tribe just suddenly goes away, but as his community forms and this new family takes shape, it’s now the eternal Christ that unites them as a people. For John, what dies on the cross are the bonds that often separate us recognizing from the beginning, as his gospel begins, that it is the Word, the eternal Christ, that lives forever. It’s why it’s a solemn day but not a sad day. From the ancient Church it’s been this passion that we have heard as a people, not to embrace a victim mentality or viewing life through the lens of what was, but rather the new life and the new community that forms.

It’s followed up, as the death of Jesus takes place, when a soldier then thrusts a lance in the side of Jesus and blood and water flow out. For John, it all comes together in this moment, life and death, and the birth of a new people, a new family, a new community, flows when blood and water break forth. In the beginning was the Word John tells us and now in this moment, it’s not a lance that thrusts forth but rather new life. It’s the perspective that John tries to convey to his community. This celebration was about coming together to retreat and to reflect upon where we have come from and where the Christ now tries to lead us.

I can stand here and ask everyone of you in this church about the suffering of the world and our lives and I would bet that all of us would be able to identify the great sufferings that occur, from the smallest of children blown up by bombs to people killed on the streets, those suffering with great illnesses and so forth, but even that is about the perspective we have on life. It’s so easy to live the life of victim and that is one of the theories that has been drilled into us about Jesus and why this day happens. We could live in what was, embrace our hurts and how we have been wronged or somehow cheated out of something, but, quite honestly, then we might as well live our lives stuck on Palm Sunday and the lenten season and never move beyond. That’s not the grace of this day for John and nor should it be for us. That season of our lives has now ended and a new one is being given to us, a new beginning, as blood and water burst forth from the side of Jesus.

As we continue this journey and these days of retreat, we are once again invited to look at it from a new perspective, one that offers life rather than more resentment, loss, and victimhood. It serves us no good anyway. What are the symbols and images that seem to be touching our hearts at this very moment, where the Word now tries to break forth in our lives. We live our lives in hope and are called, as Jesus is in John’s Gospel, aware and conscious of who we are and what we do in the face of such suffering, often brought on by our own unawareness, and to be freed to embrace the new life. In the end, for John, it all comes down to this as Jesus breathes the spirit upon this new community as he takes his last breath. Yes, something dies but what remains is the eternal and it is the eternal Christ that stands as our truest bond as community and as family.

Passing Through

Exodus 24: 3-8; Hebrews 9: 11-15; Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

Passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle…

These are the words we hear from the writer of Hebrews today, coupled with countless images in the first reading and gospel today about the preparations for some kind of memorial or celebration of sorts that are taking place in their lives. Of course, for the disciples, whether they know it or not, it’s a time of preparation for the loss that they are about to experience in the death of Jesus. We all know when we have important events in our lives the great deal of preparation that comes with such events, such as weddings and births and so many other milestones that we mark. Jesus even uses his impending death as an opportunity to prepare his disciples for something greater. We also know the preparation comes with a great deal of stress at times, people upset and angry at times, heck, we know it can be a painful time for people, and yet, when that baby is born or we watch the smiles and the love of a newly married couple, it seems all but forgotten.

And yet, there is that image from the writer of Hebrews, of the passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle and the two passages in Jesus’ life, first from that tabernacle we call Mary’s womb to the great tabernacle of the tomb that opens the doors, wide, for the eternal, even before the very eyes of his disciples. There are these great passages that we mark in our lives as well, yet, very much one and the same in some ways, of the passing through. But we gather here today mindful of this feast and mindful of our own preparations in life for an experience of the eternal, not simply at the end of our time but at this very moment, revealed and opened to us through and in this Eucharist that we celebrate.

Yet, by the time we get here much has probably gone on, sending texts, busy with the kids, working, or whatever the case may be, myself included, that we must ask ourselves what kind of preparation have we made to allow ourselves to enter into and pass through this more perfect tabernacle, mindful of our own call to be a temple of the Spirit? If you read Mark’s gospel from beginning to end, when you finally get to this point of the preparation for the Last Supper, there is a dramatic slowing down that takes place and more meaning to the preparation than for anything else in the gospel. Go into the city, a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water, go to the upper room that is already furnished and ready for us, you can almost begin to see ourselves with the disciples preparing for what they thought was a meal and a memorial but as always, Jesus has something more in mind and will once again invite them to a new place and an new understanding of himself that they won’t readily accept or understand. All they can do is take it all in and allow it to transform them.

But there’s also great detail in this passage from Exodus. We hear about erecting an altar, the twelve pillars, sacrifice, the splashing of blood, the reading of the covenant aloud, again, we can begin to step back into a different reality that there is something that I am witnessing before my eyes and yet, somehow know that there is something deeper going on that is not seen, invisible in a sense, that is in someway speaking to me in a place that is so deep and yet beyond that it is beyond comprehension, another invitation to pass through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, birth and death taking place before me and yet within at the same time. The images are dramatic and life-like, transforming in a way that can’t be described, done by the grace of God.

This feast we celebrate today in the Body and Blood of Christ is about all of it. It’s about the preparation that we make and that we allow God to take within us. It’s about the sacrifice and even the splashing of blood. Yet, as much as it sometimes seems beyond us, and it is, we come mindful of just how close this God really is, all at the same time. Maybe, and most importantly, it is about the seen and the unseen. It’s easy to be fooled when we see bread and wine just as much as it is to easily be fooled by people that turn out exceeding expectations. Our eyes can deceive us as much as they can invite us into the passing through of the greater and more perfect tabernacle and a deeper experience of life and death in this Eucharist. We see one thing, but in due time and with ongoing preparation, the eyes of our hearts and souls take over and finally we begin to see the true essence, not only in this Eucharist but in our very lives.

A Changed Vision

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10

The first reading today from the Book of Genesis probably sounds rather bizarre to us, especially if you’re a parent or grandparent. I can’t image anyone wanting to be in Abraham’s position today as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. What makes it even more bizarre is we know the back story and the waiting and questioning that Abraham and Sarah did in their lives in wanting to give birth and now here he is about to do something that we’d consider quite crazy! The obvious connection between this reading and Jesus is of course the sacrifice of the son and the Son. Yet, like in our own lives, it’s often not about the obvious; there’s often something deeper going on in our lives that is beyond words and understanding and maybe by means of reflection, can we ask ourselves if we’re willing to give up and sacrifice what’s most important to us?

Again, think of the context of their lives, Abraham and Sarah. Think about how they struggled in life and with God, how they would question and wonder and doubt what it is that God was doing in their lives, working on them constantly. When they learn that they were to give birth to a son they laugh in the face of God! When they can finally let go of the doubts and how they thought God should act and what God should do in their lives, somehow shorting them of something they felt they should have in the birth of a child, the Spirit begins to break through in their lives. The same thing happens with Abraham in this reading today. He think he understands what God is calling him to do, again, in his own need to grow and change over time and in life, is being called to see and hear and listen from a different point of view. In that moment, the Spirit breaks through his life and his soul begins to expand, “countless as the stars in the sky and sands of the seashore”. Once again, Abraham is invited into a deeper place, a more radical place in his own life in becoming the father of faith and living the will of God.

The disciples will get there eventually. Their own vision and hearing is still limited to what they are being called to, despite the invitation that they are given in today’s Gospel. The glory is revealed before their very eyes and yet they are warned not to tell others of the experience. Jesus knows quite well that they aren’t there yet and it would be from a place of authenticity yet because their vision and their own ego and thought pattern of who God is and who and what it means to be the Christ; they remain limited in the midst of the unlimited. It won’t be until their own interior lives are rocked by the Cross that their own vision and hearing begins to change and the transfiguration will begin to make sense, not as something seen beyond them but rather something that unfolds within them and to live the more radical life of love that God calls them to in their lives. They have to come down off the mountain and out of their heads in order to not just think who this God should be but to experience the God they will come to know. Sometimes the most important thing we have to give up and sacrifice is the way we think, our opinions, our judgments that we hold onto, even the ones that we hold about God before we can embrace that radical life that we are called to as disciples.

As we continue this journey through the lenten season, we pray for a breaking through in our own lives and in our own journey as individuals and a community. Lent, and these readings, are a good reminder of how limited we can become or allow ourselves to be limited, avoiding a change in our own vision of life and God or our inability to hear that voice of God calling us to come down off our own mountains that we create for ourselves and delve deeply into our humanity and to see the divine within, straight to the Cross of Calvary, leading us to a more meaningful life, one filled joy, a life with an expansion of soul as Abraham experiences when never growing weary of God who remains faithful through it all, always trying to break into the world and into our sufferings in order to bring life and love, for as Paul tells us today, nothing can separate us from that love. God calls us to that more radical way of living, a life filled with love and meaning; a love that leads us to even sacrifice what we have deemed most important to us and, in turn, a love that expands from the stars of the sky to the sands of the seashore.

My Soul Shall be Healed

DT 18: 15-20; I Corinth 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

I attended the retreat day for the Northeast Catholic Community and one of the main themes that you hear is how attached we become to these buildings where we come to pray and worship. Rightfully so…from birth to death, this is where we gather; it holds a great deal of memories for us and it’s hard to let go. This is nothing new. If you read back even into the Book of Exodus, you hear the same struggle between God and the people. There is always this tension of going to a particular place to experience God, while at the same time, God’s trying to break the mold and into the world. When we hold onto it, we sometimes begin to lose the essence of it, of the sacred space and what’s inside. We start to miss the symbolic nature of this building beyond the walls and the memories, the symbolism of our own sacred space, the very depths of our souls, when we gather here.

Now flash forward to the readings we hear this weekend. One of the common themes of Mark’s Gospel, and I dare say our own lives, is there is constant movement from in and out of different places. Today they aren’t in just any old place, they are in the synagogue of Capernaum. When we hear that Jesus and the disciples are inside, our ears should perk up because something different is about to take place. There will be a lesson of sorts for the disciples. Ironically, what they encounter in this sacred space is a man with an unclean spirit. The last thing we think we would find in this sacred space is an unclean spirit, and yet, they do and we do. There is a continuous breakdown of the separation of sacred and profane space to simply sacred space, in which even unclean spirits can dwell. Notice also that the unclean spirit does not speak in the singular. The spirit says, “What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” But Jesus isn’t going to be intimidated by such spirits but he isn’t there to destroy them either. The challenge for us humans is, we become accustomed to the unclean spirits, holding onto our own memories, hurts and all, in our own souls, our sacred space, in you and me, to the point where we begin to identify with them. We begin to identify with our sin rather than the grace and spirit of God. When they encounter Christ and when we begin to live through Christ, the unclean spirits begin to lose our grip on them, we identify less with them, and we begin to live out of the place of grace and be led by the Spirit of God.

I do believe Moses found that place. We talk about him never getting to the Promise Land, and maybe not physically crossing into the Land, but Moses found it within himself. He found that sacred space and also battled the unclean spirits, the false prophets from within; he had to have in his life. He could not have done what he did in leading the people if he did not do his work and find his true essence as a person and who he was created. His journey is our journey, of cleansing and letting go of what holds us back from living life to the fullest. He warns people Israel today that they too must take the same journey and will encounter false prophets along the way, their own unclean spirits. Don’t become identified with them; they will not lead to holiness and wholeness. They will pass and when they begin to crack, the facade they create, God’s grace and the true prophetic voice will once again lead the way to the Promised Land in the beyond and within.

I do believe it’s the anxiety that Paul speaks of in his continued letter to the Corinthians. He kind of throws all of us under the bus today in that we all have our worries, but we also begin to identify with those worries. They have a way of taking over our own sacred space and we begin to live out of a different place and trust a different voice, the voice of the unclean spirits within. We keep doing the same thing over and over again, holding onto what was and the memories begin to take hold. Healing is where he tries to lead the people of Corinth, a life of reconciliation and surrender. We become, as he states, worried about pleasing the other, thinking our life depends upon it, while failing to please God and living as if that’s all that matters; a life in the fullness of the Lord.

From the confines of these walls to the confines of our souls, if that is even possible, the unclean spirits exist and we spend our lives discerning these spirits and identifying which are unclean and which are of God, Holy. They aren’t meant to be destroyed, but simply to be let go and set free as when they encounter Christ today, the true prophetic voice. When we try to do it ourselves, they only consume us all the more. It can only happen with an encounter with the divine from the very depths of our souls and seeing them from the place of grace. Only the divine can help loosen their grip on us and loosen their grip on our identity that we can live from the sacred space and be led by the Spirit of God. We pray for the awareness of those spirits in our lives and community. We pray for a break in the facade. We pray, as with Moses, and certainly the strength of not being intimidated in Christ, that we may live our lives from our true identity, from and within the divine indwelling of our very heart and soul leading to the Promised Land and a fullness of life today.

The Longing of Silence

Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64: 2-7; Mark 13: 33-37

In 1964 Simon and Garfunkel released their hit Sound of Silence. Of course, many of you know it was a tumultuous time in the world and country, let alone the Church at that time. The Vietnam War was escalating and dragging on, bloodshed in the streets, the civil rights era was growing as segregation comes to a head, and even post-Vatican II in the life of the Church, felt like everything was in upheaval. In the midst of this all, this song, Sound of Silence is released, prophetic words at that time and possibly today as well when it feels as if we are right there again, tumultuous times in the country, community, and world, facing upheaval. What makes their words prophetic was their recognition of how comfortable we had become with darkness, even referring to it as friend. It’s as if we become accustomed to fear and violence, often leaving us feeling helpless and saying, “that’s just the way it is.”

In our own words of faith, they speak of the longing for the voice of reason and the voice of God to speak and rise up to something new. It is that which is squashed and told we are to fear, leaving us lonely and longing on a deeper level, wanting more, and yet, feeling like we must settle for what was. At times, feeling as if the silence is deafening and uncomfortable that we’d prefer to stay put rather than sit with what is uncomfortable, the longing within. Even the naysayers pick up on it all and convince us that the world is about to end, fear mongering, and it is in this present form, but as people of faith, we must also look at it as a birthing of something new and a letting go of what was, making space for our longing to give birth to new life, to a new way of living. Whether we like it or not, it is almost always coupled with violence, but isn’t the birth of a child somewhat painful and violent? Yet, life breaks forth beyond the pain and darkness.

Much of what we hear during this season, especially from the prophet Isaiah is an acknowledgment of that longing of people Israel and us as well. We hear that today, that over time, the hearts of people Israel have grown hardened by avoiding the silence and the longing within, thinking it can be answered and fulfilled outside themselves. It takes place following the exile as Isaiah crafts this prayer for a return of God’s favor to the people, an intervention by God into their lives. You would think a people that experienced the violence, bloodshed, famine, and overwhelming death would be quick to change their ways, and yet, what Isaiah witnesses is a people that slowly return to their old ways, a return to what brings comfort, trying to fill the longing of their hearts as individuals and a people in ways that just won’t work. As time passes, the voice of God begins to silence and the people are left wandering in their own lostness, wondering, where is their God who had led them out of exile, the God who had moved them beyond exodus, over and over again, the faithful God and potter who Isaiah speaks of in this prayer.

The disciples will quickly learn as well about that deep longing within as the ministry of Jesus ends at this part of Mark’s Gospel which we pick up in this new year, and from this moment on, the voice of Jesus, like it did for people Israel, will grow silent. As his voice grows silent, the disciples and Jesus experience violence and bloodshed. Once again the political and religious leaders will use fear, as is so often done today, to control and to squash that voice and eventually, kill it on the cross. Jesus and the disciples know all to well about that longing and the deafening silence that often ensues in these tumultuous times, times of uncertainty that leave us running for something else and something more, thinking it will be filled in other ways rather than sitting with our own uncomfortableness, our own interior silence and longing.

We know all to well during this season that there are many things that grab our attention and fill us with excuses as to why we don’t have time for prayer and silence. We have shopping to do, somehow trying to find that perfect gift, we have baking, card writing, and all the rest, and before you know it, it’s Christmas Eve and Advent has passed us by. My experience, that longing then begins to show itself the day after Christmas, when we couldn’t meet expectations, when it wasn’t the right gift, and so on, and we start to feel it within. As we enter into this season of Advent, these prophetic voices invite us into silence. They invite is into our own uncomfortableness. When we sit with it long enough, even if it’s a few minutes a day, God can begin to transform the longing into life, rather than us buying into the fear over and over. We all have it within us and we all need silence otherwise we act out that longing in so many different ways. The sound of silence can be deafening and avoided quite easily in our lives, but in giving birth, which itself is quite painful, God wants to meet us there to give birth to that longing into a newness of life.

Winter’s Tight Fist

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It’s been hard to take at times, the tight fist of winter.  It seems like with every reprieve that comes, a taste of spring, winter comes with greater force and vengeance.  Yet, even with the sun’s angle growing in the sky and days getting longer, there’s something comforting about winter’s solace.  There’s something about hunkering down and hibernating in our own way that, as much as we want it to end, we still hang onto it.  We complain about it’s wrath.  We question why it continues.  We wonder if we could ever get out of bed in the morning, in all his darkness, winter hangs tight.  Even in anticipation of light and life, with melting snow and the passing of days, we hold back from accepting winter as a part of life’s cycle, as a part of God’s plan for creation to wait with patience for life, not on our terms or in our time, but not until spring is ready, not until winter tries to give his last laugh and his own gasp for life.

So true of our own spiritual life and the ongoing tension of life and death, of winter and the spring of our lives, our own spring awakening.  We too get comfortable with the dark, the cold, the death, and as much as we say we fear death, our lives often say that what we fear more is not death but life.  Like winter’s tight fist, we tighten up and hold onto all that holds back life.  We hold onto all that keeps spring from happening.  Yet, God is patient with it all and buries the roots deeper for life so that when we finally accept the winter of our own lives and spring begins to take shape, it will bear greater fruit.

Maybe we haven’t been slowed enough by winter?  Maybe we keep fighting it?  What we fight is so often our denial of the winter of life, wanting the forever spring where life always abounds; yet, there is great value in winter, not only for nature and her course, but for the mystery that we call life.  Without death, we remain tight fisted.  Without death we want control.  Without winter we try to direct our own path toward salvation, life, resurrection.  Without death there isn’t much life; the two go hand-in-hand.  Without winter, spring loses its pop.

In these late winter days when we have grown weary of all that winter brings, we can begin to feel the tug within for change, for life.  We can begin to feel the pains of giving birth to life, to buds breaking forth.  In these late winter days we are called to accept winter as part of the mystery we live, not as our enemy or something to avoid and leave, but rather an invitation to allow the roots to go deep, to be buried in the fertile soil that God has been preparing these weeks and months.  At that moment of surrender and that moment of acceptance spring, with all its glory will erupt within and around our midst, regardless of what the calendar may read, and most certainly, regardless of what it looks like and feels like outside our door.

Born Into Captivity

As if there were not enough startling and gut-wrenching details that came out of Cleveland this week, maybe the one that we won’t hear much about is the daughter of Amanda Berry who was “born in captivity.”  Again, without knowing details, this child was born into something most of us will never know, nor will most of us ever know the debilitating effects that it will have on her life, where fear, violence, hatred, and so many other experiences are the norm.  Although most of us face less volatile versions of it in our lives, most do not know the experience of being trapped within the confines of captivity, being born into prison of sorts, where what we think of life is just the opposite of the way God has created.  You’ve got to wonder where she is developmentally?  How does she sleep?  How does she make the huge leap into freedom when, for her, life has been anything but free?

Although we can’t physically put ourselves in this young girl’s place, I dare say the feeling of being trapped is quite common, when it feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders or a heaviness on our chest that keeps us from freedom and seemingly powerless because of the fear that debilitates us.  The reality is, in our quest for being one with God, we often feel trapped in this world.  It so often appears that death is the only way out, and I’m sure at times, all the young women in that “house of horror” probably thought that death would be their only way out, that their only way to freedom was through death.  At least their pain and suffering would end.  At least they would not have to face the trauma of abuse and rape any longer.  What a horrific way to live their lives; what a horrific way for this young girl to be introduced to life, to men, to what it means to be human.

Although they no longer have to face the ongoing trauma of living, or rather, dying, in that house, they will spend countless weeks and years of their lives now being born into true freedom.  Yes, it is something to celebrate, that they have physically been removed from such horrid conditions, but now comes the task of the spiritual birth that they will face, from a soul captivated by fear to a soul that is set free to live as God intended.  That young girl was truly “born into captivity” but now begins the agonizing process of being set free from what  has taken hold of her.  If she, and all of us, remain patient with the birthing process that takes place in our hearts and souls, there is a great gift that awaits; a painful wound will in turn become the sacred wound that will eventually bring life to all.  It’s not easy, and it won’t be for them; but in the end, it is the only way to cross the threshold from captivity to life and freedom.