Good Friday was the end of the journey for the Pilgrim God, Jesus Christ. After 33 years of walking and talking with human beings he ended his pilgrimage on earth by dying on the cross. Easter Sunday was the beginning of his life as God Triumphant, his life beyond death.
Every Christmas we display the Nativity set which reminds us of the cast of characters that form part of that story about the joy of birth. In today’s Passion account about suffering and death there are many parallels to the narrative of Jesus’ birth. The wooden contraption that holds the Savior is not a manger but a cross. The swaddling clothes of the newborn are replaced by the seamless tunic for which soldiers throw dice. There is no star of Bethlehem to illuminate the darkness; rather, there is only the darkness of Golgotha to cover the light of day. The lowing cattle are not there, but vultures of both the winged and human kind hover about. The shepherds and their sheep are replaced by the soldiers and their lances. The Kings from the East are gone with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; in their place stand the poor and empty-handed peasant friends of Jesus and two thieves. Mary is there again but this time she is not the young girl of eighteen filled with the joy of a newborn child. She is instead the fifty-something mother watching the death of her middle-aged son. Joseph her husband is gone; replaced by another Joseph, her son’s friend.
Today’s gospel finds Christ writing in the dust. This is the only time that Christ writes.
Perhaps it was a “love letter in the sand” that Christ wrote, because in his very gentle way he forced the accusers to look at themselves first and ask themselves that all-important question, “Am I without sin myself so that I should throw the first stone?”
Imagine a couple on their 25th wedding anniversary. They have been together in good times and bad, raised children, stuck with it through arguments, sickness, and troubles at work and home. They built a home, supported each other when their parents died, celebrated together when their children married. and joyfully welcomed beautiful grandchildren. On the day of their silver anniversary, the husband comes home from work with a bouquet of roses and a bottle of champagne. He kisses his wife, hands her the flowers, pours the champagne, and offers a toast, saying that he couldn’t have wished for a better twenty-five years. His wife sips the champagne and responds, “Thanks, honey. But looking back, I think I definitely could have found someone better than you.”
In the fifth century Saint Augustine gave the following warning to his people: “We know that the day of eternity is coming and it is good for us to know this. It is also good not to know exactly when it will come. This forces us to prepare for eternity by living a good life now. It is in our power now to decide whether our eternity will be in heaven or in hell. Right now is the time when we can determine what our eternity will be. God mercifully hides the moment when our earthly life will end but he even more mercifully delays its ending so that we can have more time now to prepare” (Commentary on Psalm 36/1, # 1).
On Good Friday, April 5, 1520, the great artist Raphael died. During the obsequies of this thirty-seven-year-old artist, his last painting, The Transfiguration, stood as a testimony to his genius. This painting, later finished by Raphael’s pupils, now stands in the Vatican museum. Copies can be found throughout the world.
Have you ever been to a secluded place, by yourself, just to think about things and be quiet, be still? This would be somewhat like going on a retreat. How would you spend your time alone? When I go to a secluded place, I like to walk and think things over. Sometimes I’ll stop and sit down to keep on thinking, appreciating, thanking and just to marvel at the sights and sounds. But wouldn’t this time alone also be a good time to evaluate our lives? Wouldn’t this be a perfect time to reflect on our sins, our mistakes and shortcomings and consider how we can do better next time? Wouldn’t it be a great time to pray and find God; to praise and thank him for the many blessings he has given us in our lives?
What do you think God is asking of you today? What are you willing to give to God? Are there limits to your response? Can you name them? In what ways do you hold back, ignore, or even say no? Why?
What must it have been like to be in the physical presence of Jesus? What we know for certain is that there was something very attractive about his insight and about his presence that drew large numbers of people towards him. Of course, he was also a great healer. His ability to cut right to the heart of an individual’s experience, empathize with their fragility and see their fear was the first step in bringing about their healing. His Divine Wisdom cut through the conventional teaching of the law in order to reveal a deeply human common sense. This mercy-filled common sense expelled demons, healed diseases of the skin, opened the eyes of the blind and even awakened the dead.
A few years back, on a warm Sunday in August, I was sitting in my sister’s backyard following a family barbecue. (It’s good to think of such things in the midst of a harsh winter, and be reminded that the fine weather will come again.) The rest of the family had gone, leaving me, my sister and her husband, and a young couple from next door. During a pause in the conversation, my four-year-old nephew, Matthew, who was sitting on my lap, slowly leaned over to the neighbor - who was very pretty and, let us say, dressed for summer - looked up into her face, and said in the voice of a twenty-year-old, “You have the prettiest blue eyes.” We all laughed, and the young woman said, “Well, thank you, Matthew! But my eyes aren’t blue. They’re green.” And without missing a beat, and in the same adult voice, Matthew replied, “Green is my faaavorite color!”
Happy Dependence Day! That’s right, it’s Dependence day, not Independence Day. Let me explain.
It seems easy to judge and target James and John, as well as the other apostles upset at them, for they all wanted the same thing: to stand out and be “on top” with a sense of success and superiority. After all, hadn’t they learned anything about discipleship and self-giving? Jesus journeyed at length with them and had just told them for the third time that in his mission, he was going up to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die and be raised on the third day. But the apostles never seemed to get it! Their energy was taken up-as it can be for any of us-in the business of comparison and climbing.
In general, there are three sorts of questions we encounter daily. First, there are things that sound like questions, but really aren’t. Second, things that don’t sound like questions, but really are. Third, there are real questions.
For instance, when we walk by someone we know in an office hallway or on campus or at the store, one of us says, “Hi! How are you?” Usually, we don’t want a real answer. If the person we have greeted stops and starts telling us about his recent medical exam, or about her mother in Altoona, generally we aren’t happy about it. It wasn’t a real question.
Can you imagine what those final words of Jesus that we hear today might have meant to the people gathered in the little synagogue of Nazareth on that Sabbath day two thousand years ago! In fact, if we were to have continued reading we would have heard that initially their reaction was very positive. They spoke highly of Jesus and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. But they were also a little puzzled, for these were his neighbors; they had watched him grow up; he had played with their children; they knew him well and so wondered what this carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary, could mean by “this passage is now fulfilled!”
We live in very uncertain times. Where are we going as a world, as a nation, as a church? Our political environment at this time is very charged, to say the least. The debates about the direction of our country have, at times, been fierce, even to the point of incivility.
There was a popular movie released several years ago called Finding Nemo. One scene in it was when Nemo, a young clown fish, ends up in someone’s aquarium. As the “new fish on the block,” he had to prove himself worthy of living in the tank with the other community of fishes. To do so, during his first night, he was awakened by the other fishes and told that he had to go through the ritual that would initiate him into the group. This ritual required him to have the strength and courage to pass through a difficult part of the tank that had a strong current and forceful air bubbles. Determined to be a member of the group, he collected himself, thrust himself forward, went through the strong waters, and successfully passed the test.
Whatever else the feast of the Epiphany may be, whatever role it plays in the life of Jesus, and whatever place of honor it holds in the calendar of the Church, every child knows its true meaning: Christmas vacation is over, and school is back. As a kid, just hearing the word “epiphany” used to make my stomach scrunch and my pulse jump, as I felt the primal nausea shared by all students when, after a long and happy break, school once again closed its claws and snatched us away from our sleds and snowballs and, more importantly, our televisions.
Christmas is a time for families to be together. We have our Christmas dinner together; exchange gifts; we come here to church to celebrate the Eucharist; we visit our friends and relatives – the list is endless. We thank God for our families; they are God’s gifts to us.
In some of your homes under your Christmas tree, you might find one example of the recent spate of novels and biographies that seek to examine the founding fathers of our nation. It all started with the biography of John Adams and has created a cottage industry of research authors. You can now find out everything you wanted to know about Ben Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. These are the names of the men we think of whenever we see the tableaux of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The year 1809 was a part of a period of history not greatly different from our own time. Military might was the dominant theme of the day. Napoleon and his armies held the upper hand and seemed destined to rule the world. Battles and victories made newspaper headlines. And most people thought that these were the truly important events of the day. This was naturally so because the armies were enormous and the battles were cataclysmic. This size and intensity fooled the world.