Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection Difference

April 19-20, 2014 –– EASTER VIGIL / EASTER SUNDAY
The Resurrection Difference

The Lord is risen, Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!
Praised be Jesus Christ––now and forever!

Every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. This is the foundation of Christian Faith. Yet Easter itself is the pinnacle. There is no higher or greater celebration in the Church. It is right and good to come to worship on this high and holy Feast.

Each week we confess our Faith. Usually it’s in the words of the Creed: He.... rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. But who really gives the Scriptures a lot of thought in our high-tech, information-saturated and fast-paced culture? The truth is that too many of us actually believe that religious faith is peripheral. We probably would not say that outright, but the way we live shows what we really believe. For too many, church is an add-on––something to do on a special occasion or when it’s convenient (with nothing else “more important” demanding our time). How is your life different because Jesus has been raised from the dead?

The Faith of the Church is that Jesus is alive! The Son of God who died a horrible death on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven came back from the dead. Jesus is alive! The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything about the way we understand our world and live in it. St Paul tells the Colossians: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (3:1–2). The resurrection changes the nature of death. It changes the course of human history. It changes the meaning of life. It changes human values. The resurrection means that God’s promise of a new world has already been set in motion. What we see in this world––and what we’re tempted to make the most important things in our lives––is on its way out.  A new way of life based on resurrection is on its way in.

A wonderful illustration of this is in the first Narnia story by C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In that story, Aslan the lion (who is a Christ figure) dies for the treacherous Edmund, but then comes back to life. Explaining it to Edmund's sisters, Susan and Lucy, Aslan says, "....when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, ....Death itself would start working backwards." This is a great way to understand our Faith: death itself working backwards. That is what Christians believe.

We need to renew our faith again and again. We live in a world that inundates us with lies, telling us that possessions and pleasure are the most important things. We come to church, yes, to honor and worship our Lord, but we do that best when we are pulled into the reality of what Jesus has done for us: Christ died for our sins and is risen to give us new life.

At Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord it was my privilege to bring the Blessed Sacrament back from the place of repose. As I walked to the sanctuary carrying the ciborium I was aware of the incredible Mystery: the Jesus who died on that Friday so long ago is alive. In a way that goes beyond our understanding, he is here with us in the Eucharist, and he indwells every person who is born of the Spirit. How often do you stop and think, The risen Son of God lives in me!?

One way to look at this is with a simple question: If it could be proven that the resurrection was a hoax––no resurrection, how would your life be different than it is now? Are you living in the reality that Jesus is alive!? Maybe some of you need to invite him in a fresh way to live his life in yours. Christians are people who are different because Jesus is alive.

So, I ask again: How is your life different because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross of Jesus Christ

April 18, 2014 –– Friday of the Passion of the Lord
Isaiah 52:13–53:12 / Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9 / John 18:1–19:42
The Cross of Jesus Christ

One of the Christian writers who helped form my early Evangelical Faith once said, “Real preaching makes people feel the nails and the thorns.” This is right not only for the pain Jesus himself experienced for us, but also figuratively for ourselves. The cross is at the core of our Christian Faith. Any time we let ourselves drift too far from a “cross consciousness” we are going in a spiritually dangerous direction.

We should “refresh” our personal faith often. Reflecting on some basic perspectives is one way to reinforce our Christian commitment. I offer these:

When we sin (disobey God), we cause an upheaval in the nature of all creation that causes death.

The cross and death of Jesus shows us the true nature of perfect love confronting sin.

Every time I choose something that is in conflict with God and his character of holiness and purity and selfless love, I join my voice to those who scream, Crucify him!

There is not a day––not one moment––that I do not need the grace and mercy and forgiveness that Jesus made possible when he died on the cross.

And so we say with St Paul, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14a).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dying and Serving

April 17, 2014 –– Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
John 13:1–15
Dying and Serving

In these three days of the Triduum we follow Jesus to the cross and his death. On this Holy Thursday we are drawn to the sacred Supper when Jesus, on the night before his death, gave the Church the Mystery of his own Body and Blood. He instituted the Eucharist and Holy Orders. He also instituted the ultimate commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

But first, Jesus is going to his death. Whatever expectations and hopes the disciples had regarding Jesus, imminent death was not included. Peter’s shock at Jesus coming to wash his feet speaks for the disdain and avoidance we all usually feel for whatever seems distasteful and even demeaning to our own preferences and opinions of ourselves.

Jesus is going to his death, and on this evening with his disciples he shows how totally he embraced the role of humbling himself. Jesus “dies” in so many ways: to others’ expectations.... to the honor he had with the disciples as master and teacher.... to any way of promoting himself by plainly explaining what he was doing. The mystery of the greatness of God is made visible in humility of our Lord embracing a slave’s role of feet-washing. As Jesus prepares for his physical death, he is also revealing a “dying” to himself. This is how Jesus loves.

In our self-centered culture, anything that implies death-to-self is ridiculed, despised and even vehemently hated. All we need to do is listen to the mainstream response when the Church will not condone the If it feels good, do it mentality that is rampant in our society. Even among many confessing Christian Faith we find people wanting to feel good about self without first of all submitting that self to the death of the cross. We prefer to try to “heal ourselves” (or excuse ourselves!) instead of accepting God's verdict on our sins.

In this holy Triduum, as we follow Jesus to his death, we can choose truly to follow Jesus in his death by denying ourselves in order to invite the life of Christ to rule our own lives. It is out of this that we love others. The command to love––to lay down our lives for the good of others–– extends beyond Lent and into all areas of life.

Christian husbands and wives are challenged to deny their own desires and pleasures in order to love and serve their spouses. Christian parents sometimes need to deny their own desires and pleasures in order to love and teach and protect their children. Christian young people may have to die to the opinions of their peers in order be faithful to the Lord. Christians in business may need to put to death the desire to succeed at any cost. All Christians need to put to death any attitudes and values from social and cultural influences that are ungodly. It can be the greed of materialism that promises happiness with just one more "thing." It can be the lust of bodily appetites gone berserk so that physical gratification is the ultimate goal (whether it’s eating or sleeping or exercising or sexual promiscuity). It can be the “normal” response of always wanting one's "rights." Selfishness is always hovering over our shoulder.

There’s a story of a husband who often spoke of his great love for his wife. He would take her into his arms and tell her, “You are the love of my life; I would die for you.” But the story doesn’t stop there. One day the wife finally responded, “Well, while you’re waiting to die for me, I’d appreciate some help around the house!” It’s easy to say “I love you.” Choosing inconvenience and unpleasantness and even personal pain for the good of another is something else.

Jesus says, I [the master and teacher] have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Jesus wants his disciples to know that love means denying one’s own desires and pleasures in order to serve others. How do we know that we are committed to Jesus Christ? Is our faith just a good habit we have kept? Do we serve when it’s not convenient? Is our commitment to Jesus modeled by our love?

As Jesus goes to die, he asks us to follow him even there. On the same night that Jesus commanded us to remember his broken body and shed blood that rescues us from sin, he commanded us to demonstrate the new life he gives by loving and serving others. Every time we want our own way––to be selfish––we need to ask the Holy Spirit to let us see Jesus humbling himself before his disciples on this night before his death on the cross. This is the love of Christ. This is our Faith.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why did Jesus have to die?

April 13, 2014 –– Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Matthew 2614–27:66
Why did Jesus have to die?

We are entering the week when we follow Jesus to the cross and his death. It is right and good for us to have this focus. St Paul exclaimed to the Galatians: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (6:14a).

Why did Jesus have to die? It is not a simple question with only one answer. Volumes have been written trying to give an adequate response.

A couple of weeks ago I was presented quite spontaneously with this very question. As I was leaving our Friday parish fish dinner, a young mother stopped me and wanted to know what to tell her four-year-old about why Jesus had to die. Okay, from volumes of theology to an answer for a child.....

The Lord had mercy on me. Why did Jesus have to die? The answer I gave that night is what I want to tell you today. 

Death is an awful reality in our world. All of us have to face death. It is awful because it seems so final. Jesus came into our world.... and died.... and came back from the dead to show that death does not have to have the last word.

When we follow Jesus (that’s what having Christian Faith means), we follow him to the cross. Following him to his death is the way he shows us we do not have to panic when we face our own death––or the death of those whom we love.

Jesus died so we can know that the love of God is bigger than death itself.

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