Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion (3)

As we contemplate Our Lord crucified today, we behold a tragedy, the tragedy of an innocent man publicly executed. Jesus’ only “crime” was to identify himself as the Messiah, and that’s who he was; he did so to the Sanhedrin, so they decided to have him killed, and he did so to Pilate, who sentenced him to death.

His response leaves us as dumbstruck and confounded as the kings of the world mentioned in today’s First Reading. Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant is a description of Christ raised on the Cross: “…my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless…” He takes the punishments we deserve upon himself: “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” He doesn’t just say, “never mind, I forgive you”; he hands himself over to evil men to be tortured and executed. He teaches us how horrible the effects of sin are, not just to us, but to him, and that our sins have consequences. Yet Isaiah also reminds us that by his wounds we are healed. His suffering is not in vain. He has won pardon for our sins.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us that through this suffering Christ made salvation possible for us. Our Lord assumed nature to redeem us, but also to experience everything we experience as human beings except for sin. When tragedy strikes us we can rail against God, but Christ on the Cross reminds us that he is not ignorant to our sufferings because he himself has suffered. We know everything he has endured for us, therefore we know that when we’re truly sorry for what we’ve done he’ll grant us his mercy. We just have to ask. As Pope Francis reminds us, God doesn’t tire of forgiving us; we get tired of asking for his forgiveness.

As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus had his ID card hanging right over his head: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” It was meant as mockery, but it was the truth, the truth to which he had testified all along. If the execution of a guilty man doesn’t give us remorse (and it should, since it presents a failure of all society, not just the criminal), the execution of an innocent man should. This tragedy is even more profound when we gaze upon the Crucified One and remember that we should have been on that Cross instead of him.

An innocent man is dying, brutalized on the Cross, for us. Adam and Eve’s Fall and our sins incurred the death penalty. After all God had given us and done for us, we’ve repaid him by turning our backs on him, again and again. Even in his last words Jesus asks the Father to forgive us for our ignorance.

Today is a day not to dwell on the tragedy we inflicted on the good God who came to save us, but the love with which he did. Let’s die to sin and turn back to God and back to love.

Readings: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12–13, 15–17, 25; Hebrews 4:14–16, 5:7–9; John 18:1–19:42. See also Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, and Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion (2).


Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (2)

With this celebration, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we inaugurate the Sacred Paschal Triduum. We inaugurate three days of life, suffering, passion, death, and Resurrection. We return to the upper room with Our Lord and his closest disciples, and we remember three inestimably valuable gifts that Our Lord gives us on this night: the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the commandment of love. Each one shows how much he loves us and should instill in us the desire to love him and others in kind.

In today’s First Reading Moses describes to the Israelites, still enslaved in Egypt, the importance of the Passover not only for that night, but for all nights to come. In the Passover the Paschal lamb was sacrificed and its blood spread over the doorpost and lintels to keep them from death. In the Last Supper the Lord states his intent to become the true Paschal lamb. He will be sacrificed on Good Friday and through his blood we will be saved from the spiritual death that sin inflicts. In instituting the Eucharist he asks us to perpetually commemorate his sacrifice: “do this in memory of me.”

The Eucharist, however, is something much more: it, simply put, is him. In every celebration of the Eucharist we re-offer in an unbloody manner what he once offered on the Cross: himself. Through the Eucharist he remains with us always and always offers himself for us, because he loves us. The greatest sign of love and friendship is when someone is always there for you. Our Lord is always there for us, through the Eucharist.

In today’s Second Reading Paul recalls Christ’s words to celebrate the Eucharist in “remembrance” of him, and that reminds us of who Christ gave us to continue celebrating the Eucharist in his memory: our bishops and priests. At the Last Supper Our Lord entrusted the apostles with the task of celebrating the Eucharist in his memory, and in this very action he consecrated them priests. They weren’t priests on their own account. Christ, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, is the High Priest. The offering they raise up to God the Father is Christ himself. All other bishops and priests participate in his priesthood, and through the sacrament of Holy Orders they’re changed, sealed in such a way that they can render Our Lord present in the celebration of all the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Paul says simply that he is handing on what he received from the Lord. That’s what all bishops and priests strive to do. Christ handed on something to the apostles, who handed it on to their successors. The bishops are the apostles’ successors, and they’re aided in continuing the apostolic mission by priests.

This morning (or earlier in Holy Week, depending on the diocese) the bishop(s) and priests of the diocese gathered at the cathedral in order to consecrate new sacred oils for the year to come, but also to renew their priestly promises. Our priests renewed their commitment to “be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him,” “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God,” and to be “moved only by zeal for souls.” This evening we too pray in gratitude for our bishops and priests so that they receive the grace and strength to remain true to these promises. Our Lord has chosen to bring his love to us through them.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives us an applied lesson in the last of three gifts that he gave us on the night of the Last Supper: the commandment to love. The washing of guests’ feet before a Passover meal was common Jewish hospitality at the time, but it was done by a servant, not by the host or head of the family. Our Lord is teaching a lesson he expects his disciples to imitate, which is why he is so hard on Peter when he balks at having his feet washed by Our Lord.

Our Lord’s response is interesting: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” He is trying to give Peter something. Our Lord is not only trying do his closest disciples a service; he is teaching them to serve one another as well. If Peter had refused, would he ever have done it either? Perhaps an inheritance would have been lost, the inheritance of loving one another, in this case, through service, just as Our Lord did. In John’s account of the Last Supper this is just the first gesture showing the importance in Jesus’ mind of his commandment to love.

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15. See also Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle A

With this liturgy we stand at the threshold of Holy Week, the week in which we commemorate the profoundest mysteries of life and death, of God and man, of love and sin. We’ve prepared for forty days to step into Holy Week and remind ourselves that by doing so we step into a new life won for us by Christ at a high cost. We mustn’t take this step lightly.

We have two Gospels today, one before the procession, and one narrating the Passion. In the first Gospel Matthew reminds us that Our Lord took the first step humbly, just as we should do. He didn’t commandeer the ass on which he rode into Jerusalem; he borrowed it. His disciples made a great commotion with a lot of fanfare, but they also showed at the same time that they still didn’t completely get it. “Hosanna to the Son of David”: He was the Messiah and they expected him to clean house, to become a great political and military leader with miracles and fulminations in his wake. “This is Jesus the prophet”: He was the miracle-machine.

We know he was more than a prophet or a political leader with divine aid, and we also know his mission was conquest by Cross. Within a day their convictions were shaken to the core. Holy Week is a time for considering our convictions in the light of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. They may need some shaking up too.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Isaiah, describing the Suffering Servant, reminds us that Our Lord knew he was in for suffering, but if it was in the Lord’s service it was worth it. We call today “Passion” Sunday not because of Our Lord’s passionate love for us, even though he does love us passionately in the true sense of the term. Passion comes from the Latin word passio, which means suffering, undergoing something.

Our Lord enters Jerusalem knowing a new level of suffering is at hand, but he does not hesitate, because the stakes are our salvation. If we think life is hard, imagine how hard it was to set Heaven aside even a moment and become man as Jesus did. Yet he not only became man, he became a servant of all, and servant who suffered for all.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Christ had no need or desire for more glory, yet he did something for us and for his Father worthy of even greater glory.His Incarnation was lowly and poor. He didn’t take half measures in his mission by becoming a child of royalty living in palaces. God became a slave. For us. He taught us humility and obedience so that we would follow his example.

In today’s Passion narrative we walk with him in his last hours of angst, betrayal, solitude, and pain when what he sought from us (and for us) was peace, loyalty, communion, and joy. There’s not much more to say: Our Lord’s actions on our behalf say it all.

The Passion narrative is long, too long to plumb all its meaning by just hearing it once a year (or even twice). This year’s narrative is Matthew, why not take the text this week and meditate on a little of it each day leading up to Good Friday? If you participate in the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday it will help you connect much more deeply to the mysteries we are celebrating.

Readings: Matthew 21:1–11; Isaiah 50:4–7; Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24; Philippians 2:6–11; Matthew 26:14–27:66.

5th Week of Lent, Saturday

In today’s First Reading the Lord promises to gather together all of his people into one land, as one nation, in peace and security, under the rule of “David”: the Messiah. His people had been divided politically into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, exiled, and dispersed throughout the world in what became know as the diaspora. He promises them not only a political reunification, but a purification as well: sin was the cause of their woes, and sin had to be conquered for them to become a nation at peace, with no enmity between them and God, their fellow man, and their very selves.

In today’s Gospel the chief priests and Pharisees received news of the greatest sign worked yet by Our Lord: raising Lazarus from the dead. However, their interpretation of events was far from God’s; they saw Our Lord as threatening the unstable security the nation had under the Romans, and were convinced that Our Lord, whom they thought was a false Messiah seeking to become a king, would bring the destruction of the Romans down upon their heads. Therefore the high priest decided it was time for Our Lord to go, for the good of the nation. As John recalls these deliberations he also sees that the death of Jesus, a despicable act, in fact would lead to the good of the nation, but a good far beyond the conceited political aspirations of those seeking his death for worldly reasons. The chief priests and Pharisees had no idea what good God would make come out of their evil.

Through Our Lord’s death the words in today’s First Reading will be fulfilled. The stage is set for tomorrow’s celebration of Our Lord’s Passion and the beginning of Holy Week. Let’s renew our Lenten resolutions and prepare ourselves for the final push from suffering and death into eternal life.

Readings: Ezekiel 37:21–28; Jeremiah 31:10–13; John 11:45–56.

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

We’re a week away from the start of Holy Week. Our Lord now has his sights set on Jerusalem, and the pace is quickening. In these next two weeks we’re living just one part of the Gospel passage from today: an encounter with the reality of suffering and death. Jesus is asking us to have faith in him.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Ezekiel reminds us of the Lord’s promise to not only to bring us back to life, but to bring us home. It doesn’t take theology or catechism to realize that death is the biggest “game over” we experience in life. Even believing in the Resurrection does not spare us from fearing the fact that we have to be resurrected from something intrinsically unpleasant: death. Yet even as we lower our loved ones into the tomb we are encouraged by the promise of the Lord that death will not have the last word. We’ll not only be restored to life; we’ll be brought home and returned to those we love.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that faith in being restored to life is not enough. We have to believe that we have to bear Christ within us to that the Spirit may restore us to life. If we just believe in reincarnation, or being absorbed into some cosmic energy, or just living on in the memory of those we leave behind or some cold stone monument, God’s power cannot restore us to life. When we receive baptism we die in Christ. We go under the water to represent descending into death, but we also bind our fate with that of Christ’s and rise up from the waters of death into new life. Next Sunday we’ll remember Christ’s journey from Incarnation to Passion and Death, and we’ll participate in that. However, in faith and in Christ, we know that was not the end of Our Lord’s story, and it will not be the end of ours either.

In the Gospel today, Jesus shows us our faith combined with him is something much more. It is not just a passive faith that takes the shots as they come. Through Martha’s faith in Christ we see the power of belief conjoined to God. When news reaches him that Lazarus was sick, he didn’t go hurrying to Bethany, and said the illness would not end in death. However, he also added something a little more mysterious, something the disciples didn’t pick up on: the illness was “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” In our life of faith we have to be attentive to Our Lord’s words, because often at first glance we can pass over what he is really trying to say to us. Faith is not just an assent to something presented to us as credible. It is also a source of light. We can go back to Our Lord’s words over and over in faith and find new light and new meaning.

No one expected Our Lord would be able to bring back someone who’d been dead for days. All the other people he’d raised from the dead had only recently died. When Jesus told Martha her brother would rise, she knew, but she just thought Jesus was consoling her with the Jewish belief – even before Christ’s Resurrection – that Lazarus would be raised with everyone else on the last day. Martha’s faith had been strong enough to withstand not seeing Jesus for days and watching her brother die. It was strong enough to be the instrument for the sign he wanted to work for many other believers: the raising of her brother from death. So he invited her to believe that even those who believed and died would live. She put her faith in him, not just the Jewish teaching about a future resurrection. When Jesus ordered the tomb to be opened, Martha’s faith was rewarded, and the power of God through those who believe was shown.

When we visit the tombs of our departed loved ones, do we really believe the words of Ezekiel in today’s First Reading will come true? Can we imagine their tombs being opened one day and being reunited with them again? Let’s strive for the same faith as Mary and Martha. Our Lord will work a miracle that goes way beyond out expectations.

Readings: Ezekiel 37:12–14; Psalm 130:1–8; Romans 8:8–11; John 11:1–45.