Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Link to Mass Readings:

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Palm Sunday is the most bittersweet Sunday. There is so much potential for glory: Jesus rides into Jerusalem to the crowd shouting “Hosanna,” and all the people spread their cloaks on the ground and palm branches before Him. Yet even at the height of His earthly glory, the people still do not understand who He is. They say: “This is Jesus the prophet,” when they should be saying: “This is God who walks among us.”

This is the darkest Sunday, when we re-enact the Lord’s Passion at Mass. No other time in Scripture has sin been so deliberate as when the crowd condemns Jesus. They shouted: “Let him be crucified!” and “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” For something to be a sin, it has to be deliberately done and with knowledge of what is being done. When the Passion is re-enacted, and we say those words along with the crowd 2,000 years ago, we show our participation in the crucifixion of Jesus. The tragedy we celebrate today is not one we are isolated from; it was sin that caused Jesus to be crucified, and we all share in the guilt because we all have sinned.

How alone must Jesus have been. Last week we read that the disciples were fearful to return to Jerusalem because they knew their lives would be in danger. But today we don’t see that, and in fact the disciples fall asleep when Jesus is at his most troubled. Maybe they were fooled by the glory shown to Jesus when He entered the holy city. But Jesus knows exactly what He is riding towards as He enters the city, He knows the betrayals of Judas and the rest of His disciples are coming, the pain and suffering He will have to endure. For three years God gave Him disciples to walk with Him and share in His ministry; but at the end, when everything is at its hardest, God strips everything away from Jesus, down to the very clothes He is wearing. All this so that what was prophesied in Scripture might come to pass.

Even Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” I’ve heard people teach on that moment, that Jesus is quoting one of the Psalms, and while that Psalm starts out with the speaker in despair, it ends with the glory of God. And that’s true. But at the same time, Jesus is the one who has just been scourged, beaten, humiliated, tired, betrayed, abandoned, crucified, and left to die. Though He may not be despairing, and trust God with all His heart and soul, it can still be a cry of pain and hurt. It may be, “I know this had to happen, but did it have to be this bad?”

Who hasn’t felt the same? Even for us who believe, it is hard to deal with pain. When we suffer we feel alone even if we know that God is with us. Sometimes that is cold comfort. Even Jesus was afraid to suffer, and in the garden prayed that if His suffering could be spared then let it be so. But God’s will be done. Always. And God’s will is greater than we can imagine. As low as suffering and pain can bring us, even to death on a cross, God’s will can raise us up even higher.

Palm Sunday is bittersweet. Bitter, because it brings the suffering and death of Jesus. But sweet, because through this God’s will is shown to be greater than sin and death, and because Jesus bore His suffering perfectly, with faith in the Lord, God bestowed upon him the “name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Palm Sunday shows us that Christ can sympathize with our pain, because He has suffered. It shows us that God does NOT abandon us, even in our darkest hour. It shows us that God will carry us through, and raise us even from the dead. At the end of the race there is the glory of God, and we should not lose heart nor hope. Palm Sunday is here, but Easter is coming.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Link to Mass Readings:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

I love the story of Lazarus. I love the power of God displayed in its might, I love the faith of Martha. I love that Lazarus comes out of the tomb still wrapped in the clothes of the dead, and it is the community who unties him. It’s a powerful story, and we should always read it with awe at the love and power of God.

It’s tempting to take for granted that Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s tempting to focus on the metaphor of Jesus raising the sinner to new life; that we are all Lazarus being called from the tomb, still wrapped in the decaying stench of sin. And while that is true, it’s important to focus on what Jesus did, that He said He would bring Lazarus back to life and did so. “I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.”

I think we are often like Martha in this story. We believe in God, but we believe safely. She tells Jesus that if He had been there, He could have healed Lazarus and prevented his death. But she is faithful, and accepts that what has happened, happened. When Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise, she agrees with the safe Sunday school answer. But Jesus says no, that He is the resurrection and the life, and even now Lazarus could rise from the dead because of His power. So this is the choice before Martha: to believe in Jesus, but safely, never asking too much so as not to be disappointed; or to say “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

It’s such a powerful statement. Jesus is not just claiming to her that He is a good teacher, or a miraculous healer, but claiming all His majesty in front of her. It is a difficult thing to accept. We want just enough God in our lives, just enough God to help us do well in school, or comfort us when we are grieving, or help us find our lost keys. But God is so much bigger than that, and loves us so hard it’s terrifying. Martha, like us, has to look Jesus in the eyes and say “Yes, I believe.”

The very last lines of the Gospel read: “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.” The key word is many. Not all. Not all who saw Jesus raise a person from the dead began to believe in Him. It is a fearful thing to understand the living God is here, and it takes courage to believe in Him. This week, as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, let’s pray for God to increase our faith. Let’s pray that we will fully trust God not just with little things but with everything. Let’s risk our faith and open ourselves for disappointment. God is big, and powerful, and mighty to save; let us pray to THAT God, and put no limits of what He can do.

“Yes Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Link to Mass Readings:

“If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

What do we see? Throughout the readings today is the whether or not we can see, and what is visible. In the Gospel, a man born blind is cured; in the first reading, it is not the man who most looks like a king who is chosen. We are reminded today that God sees with eyes that are better than our own, and if we want to see the truth we have to stop trusting ourselves, and trust God instead.

In the first reading, Samuel has to anoint the next king of Israel from among Jesse’s sons. His first thought is for Eliab, who looked the part. But God rejects him, and has Samuel anoint David instead, who we are told is handsome, and makes a splendid appearance. The difference between the two, though both look great, is that man sees the appearance, but God looks into the heart. Eliab was not fit to rule, though he looked like he should. But David, this was the one whose heart God judged fit for His kingdom.

Who do we judge as righteous because of what we see, or judge as sinful? The first reading reminds us not to judge people for ourselves, but to leave that up to God. We are so quick to judge people as saints, or sluts, greedy or selfless. We cannot see the hearts of people, so we should not be too quick to judge in either goodness or evil.

How then, shall we know who is a child of God? In the Gospel, the Pharisees know the law of Moses, and condemn Jesus as a sinner because He broke the law in their eyes. But they are blind, even though they say “they see,” because they don’t notice the Son of God right before their eyes, they are so concerned with judging Him. But the blind man, he knows that God does not listen to sinners. He doesn’t know Jesus from Adam, but knows that Jesus came, and “that I was blind and now I see.”

Paul tells us that we should live as children of light, for “light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth,” but that the works of darkness are fruitless. Like the blind man, Jesus comes to us in our unbelief and darkness. But He brings us into the light, wakes us from the dead, and though we did not know Him before we can now say “I was blind and now I see.” And because we can say that, we know where Jesus comes from. We know He is from God, is God, because of the light He brings into our lives that multiplies itself in goodness, and righteousness, and truth.

Test everything by the light. Expose everything to the light of day. Let no secrets be whispered behind another’s back, or temptations struggled with alone in the dark. We know that we can see not because of our own efforts, but because Christ healed us. We should therefore bring everything into the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. Our sins can be transformed into strengths if we share them with each other in the light of faith.

Lent is the time! We have been healed, from darkness to light, and this season we remind ourselves keep darkness away from us. Because as we prepare ourselves, Jesus is making His way towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Today Jesus tells His disciples “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The death of Jesus is coming, coming, and for three days the night will reign. But soon, after comes the Resurrection, and light of Christ will remain in the world until the end because we will keep in there for Him.