Rejoice and Be Converted

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent which is frequently known by the Latin word that opens the entrance antiphon. And that word is laetare. Laetare means rejoice. And as we enter the church on this fourth Sunday in Lent we are met with the command to rejoice.

And on this Rejoice Sunday we are given the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is one of the best-known parables of the Gospels, and it has been covered many times over by better preachers than me. So if you heard it all before, my deepest apologies.

But what strikes me on reading the scriptures for today is how the reading from Saint Paul’s letter ties in with the parable to show us that the life of Grace replaces the life of the Mosaic law, as the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant, the New Covenant which will be sealed by Jesus Christ’s passion and death and resurrection.

Continue reading “Rejoice and Be Converted”

Good Friday Sixth Word

There was a jar filled with common wine. They stuck a sponge soaked in this wine on some hyssop and raised it to his lips. When Jesus took the wine, he said: “It is finished.”

John 19:29-30

The New Covenant is now set. What began Thursday evening as a Seder meal that seemed to be interrupted just when they would have drunk from the cup of consummation is now revealed to be the holy sacrifice of the unblemished lamb, the Lamb of God. Thursday evening, Jesus told his disciples that he would not drink from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

By accepting a bit of sour wine, Jesus is completing the new Passover sacrifice. Where the old Passover freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, the new sacrifice has freed everyone from slavery to sin and death. Those who are marked with the blood of the Lamb through baptism and faith in Christ are freed to enter into the kingdom of God.

The Paschal victim is also the Paschal priest. He offered the perfect sacrifice: Himself. He, who was without sin, took upon himself all our sins. In dying upon the cross, Jesus paid the price that we cannot pay.

The Seder meal was a liturgical memorial of the Passover. The food, the readings, the vestments, and the instructions on how to sit, were all prescribed and unchanging. The new Passover meal is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. More than a memorial meal, it is a mysterious participation in the sacrifice at Calvary.

Jesus has said, “it is finished.” He has drunk from the cup of consummation. He is about to go to his Heavenly Father. He has completed his earthly ministry, and through his sacrifice, he has transformed the Cross from an instrument of torture and death to the means of obtaining eternal life.

Faithful cross! above all other,

One and only noble tree!

None in foliage, none in blossom,

None in fruit thy peer may be;

Sweet the wood and sweet the iron!

And your load, most sweet is he.

Good Friday Fourth Word

When noon came, darkness fell on the whole countryside and lasted until midafternoon. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46

Jesus hanging on the cross, is still an observant Jew. He is reciting the 22nd psalm; the Son of David is reciting a Psalm of David as his life slowly slips away. The Psalms were the hymn book and the prayer book at the time of Jesus. And so Jesus is praying to his God the prayers of the persecuted, the one suffering at the hands of others.

At the same time, Jesus continues to teach his children even as he dies on the cross in front of them. In reciting this famous Psalm, Jesus is pointing to himself in the words ascribed to King David.

Verse 6 of Psalm 22 is: “But I am a worm and no man, scorned by men and despised by the people.”

And the gospel narrative tells us that was indeed what was happening on the ground below him.

Verse 7: “All who see me, mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

Verse 14: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.”

His body is stretched, hanging from the Cross, and soon enough, water and blood will flow from his side.

Verse 16: “A company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and my feet.”

Indeed, the Precious Blood drips from the places the Roman soldiers drove spikes through his hands and his feet.

Verse 18: “They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.”

The verses in the first half of this psalm accurately predict the condition of the Son of Man hanging on the Cross. In the days to come, the disciples of Jesus will understand how the scriptures of their day, what we call the Old Testament, should be read as pointing to him. This psalm of David written centuries before the day of crucifixion only becomes clear after the day of crucifixion.

The tone of the Psalm pivots at verse 22: “I will tell of your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

Verse 24: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.”

Jesus teaches us that suffering for the glory of God has a noble purpose and a heavenly end. This day will be remembered as Good Friday.

Verse 27: “All the ends of the Earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.”

Jesus proclaims the Good News to Jews and Gentiles alike. All the ends of the Earth are offered salvation on this day that is a Good Friday.

Verse 28: “For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.”

Jesus announces his victory over Satan, who discovers on this day, Good Friday, that his rule is merely temporary, and it will end with his destruction.

Verse 30: “Men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.”

The song that begins with a cry of despair, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” ends in the confident trust the Son has in the Father. For Jesus knew that day would be known as Good Friday to the coming generation, for on the Cross that day he brought deliverance to a people yet unborn.

Good Friday Second Word

One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion blasphemed him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.” But the other one rebuked him: “Have you no fear of God, seeing you are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said: “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

Is this life that we are living all there is to life? Or is it a time of preparation for our eternal life? The two thieves on the crosses next to Jesus highlight the importance of this question. As we approach our death, our attitude towards eternal life makes itself clear. If we have acted our whole lives as if there is no after-life, then the most important thing at the moment death approaches is prolonging our earthly life. The wicked thief is here, using whatever he can to motivate Jesus to save him from the grim reaper.

If, on the other hand, we live in knowledge that there is an after-life, then at the end of our lives we are focused on going to the right place, since we are going to be there forever. The good thief sees his earthly life ending and asks Jesus to save his eternal soul.

When we see Jesus on the Cross, it is a vision to which we must respond. Either he is what he says he is, or he is an utter fool. If he is a fool, he deserves to be mocked for his weakness. But what if we don’t see as well as we should? If we have let the habit of sin persist to a great extent, it prevents us from seeing clearly. So we are like the wicked thief, encountering the font of justice, and mocking him.

But if we see even in a limited way who he really is, he will offer us the healing power of his love. When our eyes are no longer clouded by the habit of sin, we see more clearly that he is King of All and Lord of the Universe. What looks to some to be a loser in life – dying a despicable death – is the king of eternal life, the victor over sin and death.

Both thieves recognize the power of Jesus, one more fully than the other. The good thief recognizes that He is the Son of God, made Man. And that he is going to his eternal glory at the right hand of the Father. Both thieves know Jesus is no ordinary criminal on the Cross. The one who does not see clearly mocks him for his worldly weakness, but the other acknowledges his eternal kingship. One will not ask for help, while the other asks for salvation. We need to remember that Jesus gives us ultimately what we truly want.

Jesus, by his obedience – even unto death on a cross – turned this dark day into Good Friday. Jesus made this day of disaster the day death was defeated. He continued to offer himself to anyone seeking salvation even as he himself was dying. That’s how much he loved those thieves, and he loves you and me just as much.

Call out to Jesus. Receive salvation.

The Passion is a Great Act of Love

palmsundaymosaicToday is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. And it is a special Sunday in the church year because we actually get two readings from the Gospels. At the very beginning, right before we processed in, we read the story from the Gospel of Mark about Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The crowds were excited to greet him. They put their cloaks down on the ground in front of him. They spread leafy branches, and they cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

Then we just read the very long passion from the gospel of Mark which picks up the story in the middle of the night from Thursday into Friday. And the tone of the story is completely different from Palm Sunday. Even among his disciples, people are bickering, people are nervous, people are weak; they begin to abandon Jesus in his hour of need. One of them hands him over to the Jewish authorities for a show trial, and the passion is fully under way. It will culminate in his death on a cross and his burial in a tomb.

The juxtaposition of these two gospel stories reminds us how unsteady is the popular sentiment. The crowd loved him on Sunday, and they shouted “crucify him” on Friday.

Today we see in the readings the stark contrast between the fickleness of the crowd’s heart and the firmness of Jesus’s will to do what his father asked him to do. Though the crowd loves him on Sunday and hates him on Friday, Jesus is still Jesus through it all. He has the strength not to be attached to the adulation on Palm Sunday, and he has the strength not to give up through the pain of Good Friday. What is it that he has that gives him such strength?

Continue reading “The Passion is a Great Act of Love”

Lent is Love

Today is the second Sunday of Lent, so the Lenten disciplines have either taken hold or they haven’t really. Hopefully, we have added some prayer to our lives that wasn’t there, or we have changed some aspect of our regular prayer activity. And prayer is some form of communication or conversation with god. In prayer, we talk to our Lord and we listen to our Lord. Hopefully we have added some aspect of almsgiving to our life in Lent. Almsgiving is giving away money to people who have less. It is a work of Mercy. And almsgiving helps us grow in being more generous people. And hopefully the third Lenten discipline, fasting, which is giving up something that is good, has helped us grow in our understanding of detachment. Remember, we’re not supposed to give up something for Lent that we shouldn’t be doing. That’s why we give up peppermint ice cream rather than cursing. And the something we give up should be something that we could do on Sunday, because the Sundays of Lent are not included in the 40 days of the Lenten fast. Sundays are feast days, even in Lent.

Continue reading “Lent is Love”

Responding to Reality

In the Old Testament reading today, we have the famous scene known throughout the rest of the Scriptures as the waters of contradiction. The Israelites are faced with troubles: they are thirsty and they are in the desert. This reading resonates with us today because we are faced with the corona virus phenomenon, and we are concerned. When something bad happens, the question we often ask is, “why?”

The Israelites ask themselves, “Why are we here thirsty in the desert?” And they quickly come up with an answer: “Moses did it to us!” From the comfortable distance of history, we can see that they came up with the wrong answer. Moses was their savior, the man who led them out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was a prophet, who conversed with God and conveyed God’s power through the entire Exodus story. It was Moses acting as God’s agent who brought plagues and pestilence upon the Egyptians and spared the Israelites so everyone knew clearly that God loved his people and would save them from their earthly tribulations. Continue reading “Responding to Reality”

Into Your Hands – The Seventh Word

seventhword

Into your hands I commend my spirit.

St. Anselm taught that the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was something only a man must do and only God could do. Jesus is true God and true man, one person of the Trinity with two natures. Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped but came down in love and took on the form of human flesh. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He shared with us in everything but sin. His sacrifice is now complete. His establishment of the new Passover meal is now complete. His earthly ministry is now complete. Sharing in our humanity he will endure death.

With this last word he continues to teach his children. Perfect in every way, he is the perfect rabbi. He reminds us that death is – even for us – a temporary condition. Our spirit will live forever. Our soul is immortal, and Jesus shows us the way because he is the Way. He says into your hand I commend my spirit. Jesus has shown through the passion that he is not merely the victim but is also the priest. He is choosing his path at the end of his life. He chooses to be with his father in Heaven forever. We need to choose our destination. If we participate in the life of Christ, if we take up our cross and carry it to our Calvary, if we choose mercy over judgment, then we choose to commend our spirits into the care of our heavenly father. We choose to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus and the father. Continue reading “Into Your Hands – The Seventh Word”

Behold Thy Son – The Third Word

thirdword

“Woman, behold thy son … Behold thy mother.” [John 19: 26, 27]

As Jesus hangs from the Cross, his body weak from the night being tried by the Sanhedrin and Herod before being flogged by Pilate and sent to carry his Cross to Golgotha, he is naked and alone. Thieves on either side, Roman soldiers standing guard, he has none of his disciples to comfort him in his last hours of earthly life. Only two are there close to him.

His mother Mary is there with the youngest apostle, John the baby brother of James who are the sons of Zebedee. Mary knew more than anyone on Mount Calvary that this crucifixion was the execution of an innocent man. How her mother’s heart must have ached as she saw her son mistreated, whipped and finally hung upon the Cross to die slowly in the cruellest public death imaginable. Yet she has joy even at this darkest hour. She chooses to share in Jesus’ suffering, standing at the foot of the Cross. St. Ambrose writes, “I read of her standing, but not of her weeping.” Yes, she grieves, but it is a fruitful and mysteriously joyful grief. Continue reading “Behold Thy Son – The Third Word”

Pretty in Pink

LaetareIncipit

This is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, and you have probably noticed that we swapped out the regular Lenten purple vestments for these special rose colored vestments. The Fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as “Laetare” Sunday because Laetare is the first word in Latin of the entrance antiphon for today. It means “Rejoice!”

Years ago, before we began to sing hymns at the start of Mass, the first word you would have heard would have been the cantor singing “Rejoice!” As the procession moved toward the altar, the people and the choir would sing the entrance antiphon. Since an entrance hymn is more common today, this Sunday is better known for the very well-known parable of the prodigal son, which we just read.

We’ve all heard many times the story of the younger son who desires right now the inheritance that will be his when his father dies at some point in the future. We see the hard justice of that younger son blowing through his inheritance on various forms of dissipation. We nod in acknowledgment at the younger son’s growing wisdom, when he realizes that the servants at his father’s house have a better life than he has, and he commits to swallowing his pride, and going back home, and asking to be treated not as a son but as a servant. We understand the father’s joy at seeing his son, and we marvel at his immediate forgiveness of the son’s misbehavior, and we can see the love behind the decision to reclaim the boy as his son despite the bad things he has done. We can empathize also with the older son, and his peevishness when he learns that the prodigal son is welcome back into the family. And we can sympathize with his sense that justice does not seem to have been served.

You may have heard other preachers recast this story as the parable of the loving father, for the father’s act of love and mercy is the hinge of the parable and his words of welcome give it its power. I’m going to go in a different direction today. I am struck by the theme in the readings today of the power of God’s word to cause change. This is Laetare Sunday, or “Rejoice” Sunday. The power of God’s word should cause us to rejoice.

In the first reading from the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, the Israelites have crossed the Jordan River and are now in the promised land. And the Lord said to Joshua, “today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” With the word of the Lord, the sins of the Israelites are wiped away. They can go into the new land rejoicing, just as we were called to come into the Lord’s house today rejoicing.

We chanted today from the 34th Psalm, and one of the verses reads: I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. The voice of the Lord freed me. The word of God has more power than the strength of any single man or indeed of all men combined together. The Psalmist rejoices at his deliverance, just as we should be filled with joy as we head toward the Passion of our Lord in a couple of weeks.

St. Paul, in the second letter to the Corinthians, tells those Christians, “the old things have passed away.” When we put on Christ, when we confess Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, when we call on the word of God, the old things of our lives have passed away. The word of God makes all things new.

The parable of the prodigal son shows the same power of the holy word and the joy that it brings. Remember why Jesus chooses to tell this parable. Jesus tells this parable in response to complaints from the good religious people of the day that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. These good religious people were in those days trying to follow the Mosaic Law, which detailed the many ways a person could become ritually unclean and outside of the law and therefore officially, a sinner. And tax collectors were the worst kind of sinners. Tax collectors were empowered by the Roman state to shake down the people of the region to whatever degree was needed to bring in the revenue they had promised to Rome. The religious leaders were like the older brother in the parable: not joyfully living the law but grimly following the letter of the law.

At the invitation of Jesus, these sinners — and even worse, tax collectors — are invited to share a meal with the famous Rabbi. It’s a scandal. When you think of the older brother’s reaction to the father’s decision to welcome back into the family the younger brother, it’s the same sort of scandal as having a meal with sinners. The older brother’s outrage is understandable.

It is the word of the father in the parable of the prodigal son that has removed the reproach from the younger son. When the father tells the servants to bring the finest robe and put it on him, and to put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, it is the same as the Lord saying to Joshua, “today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” The younger son experienced the words of the psalmist: “I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” The father joyfully answers the younger son and delivers him from all his shame and humiliation.

Our God is calling to us. If we approach him, and if we listen to him, in humility, he will share his word and make all things new in our lives. This is the power of the sacrament of reconciliation. We go in that box and we declare our faults, and in the person of Christ the priest shares the word of reconciliation, and breathes new spiritual life into us. This is the power of the sacrament of baptism. Our godparents declare for us our faith in God, and the minister shares the words of baptism, and breathes new spiritual life into us. This is the power of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Standing in the person of Christ, the priest says the words that Christ said at that first mass on Holy Thursday, and we receive into our bodies the bread of new life.

This can be the power of Christian charity. With the father in the parable of the prodigal son as our model, we can make all things new in our families and in our lives when we choose the word of mercy, or the word of love, or the word of peace, when there is injustice or discord. St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians implores those people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. If we are reconciled to God, we can be his instrument of peace and mercy.

Our God is calling us to rejoice here in midst of the penitential season of Lent. Laetare Sunday is not like a holiday of pretty pink in the middle of penitential purple. It’s not a day off. It’s a reminder that we are called to joy even as we follow Jesus Christ to the Cross on Calvary. It is our Lenten joy that will make Palm Sunday the beginning of Holy Week rather than the beginning of a death march. It is this joy in the power of the mercy of God and his Word that will make Good Friday a solemn exaltation of the Holy Cross rather than a gruesome day of execution of an innocent man.

Rejoice today on Laetare Sunday while we wear rose vestments. Rejoice tomorrow when we put on purple. Rejoice all the way through the Passion of Our Lord because the Word of God brings with him new life.