Fortunately, we will not have to know what our life would be like if Christ had not died for us—because in fact he did die for us, and lives fully in the reality we call God. But If we do not entrust ourselves lovingly to the crucified-Resurrected Christ, then the effects of his death for us are greatly diminished. To the extent that we surrender to Christ and live his love faithfully, then his death for us has great effects. What would our life be, if we did not live and die with Christ? We would live empty lives, and perish into nothingness. That unfortunately appears to be the fate of many in our society today; many have lost living faith in Christ. “They are in love with the world,” and with themselves.
“In the world you have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16). All of the suffering, sin, evil that one experiences in life in the world cannot undo the victory that Christ gained for each and for all. “Sin has no more dominion over us” (Rom 8). “Death is swallowed up in life” (I Cor 15). The reign of evil is intensely portrayed in the narratives of Jesus’ passion; Christ suffers horrible ravishes of evil done by his fellow human beings. To those who seize Jesus to deliver him over to Pilate for death, he declares, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk 22). To us still undergoing the trials of life, Christ says, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world,” and all means everything that evil can do to destroy you eternally. We die in the body, we live in the Spirit.
The Resurrection of Christ is not some external event that happened in time. Jesus’ suffering and death were indeed in time. What we know of the Resurrection is not some temporal or external event at all, but what was experienced out of time by certain chosen men and women. On this point, the Apostle Paul is clear and concise: “God revealed His Son in me.” This experience, and others like it in Peter, John, Mary Magdalen, is short-handedly called “the Resurrection of Christ.” How it happened, or even what happened, or when in measured time, no one knows. What we believe and know is grounded firmly on the apostolic witness of those who experienced Christ alive and as fully one with God after he had been tortured to death. “Christ is truly arisen, and has appeared to Simon” (Lk 24) That is what makes an apostle: one who experienced the Risen Christ in his psyche (consciousness) and who was then sent out to proclaim the Risen One from his or her own experience. And that is why we call the Church “apostolic.” Our faith in Christ alive and as fully one with God is grounded firmly and until death on the experience of the Resurrected which the apostles were privileged to have. “As of one untimely born, Christ appeared also to me,” the Apostle Paul insists to the wavering Christians in Corinth (I Cor 15).
“Because I live, you also live,” declares Jesus in St. John’s Gospel. The living Christ inbreathes his life, power, divinity into the heart, mind, soul of the believer. To have faith in Christ is to open oneself up to the presence of the same God, the unknown One whom Jesus called “the Father,” and to carry that presence into the world through one’s prayer, thoughts, actions, self-giving love unto death. And then one is sure of this: “Death is swallowed up in life.”
Blessed Easter to each and to all, for “Now is Christ Risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Christ is the revelation of the unknown God.
We have been proud of our parishioners at St. Mark’s, St. Mary’s, and Holy Trinity for their high rate and quality of attendance at our Holy Week liturgies in the past six years. Fortunately, most of our people seem to understand that Holy Week, if properly and prayerfully celebrated, is the best that the Catholic Church has to offer the faithful. Whereas every Mass centers on the death and Resurrection of Christ, and the presence of God in the faithful by the Holy Spirit, it is during the liturgies of Holy Week that the mystery of Christ is carefully and quite fully presented, from the reading of the entire Passion narrative on Passion (Palm) Sunday, through the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the remembering of the death of Jesus for all of us on Good Friday, and then the announcement of the Resurrection of Christ at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. Easter Masses conclude the celebration, and continue for weeks. For the faithful who attend, they hear the entire Passion narrative from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, and then on Good Friday, the Passion according to St. John. We listen, we think about what we are hearing, and we give thanks to God for what He has done for us in union with Christ Jesus. That is the core of Holy Week.
On Passion / Palm Sunday we attentively listen to the Passion of Christ, this year, according to St. Mark. The drama of God acting for us in Christ, and humanity suffering in and with Jesus, is told by the Jewish Christian, Mark. The conniving, power-loving rulers of this world have their day, and deliver Jesus over to have the flesh torn off his body (scourging), and then spikes driven through his wrists and feet, until he bleeds to death or suffocates. We see the invisible God in the humanity of Jesus must witness how our Lord is tortured, and how much he bears willingly for each of us and for all. The story is agonizing for those who love Christ—and it is liberating for the faithful. Jesus offers himself on behalf of all—not just “for many”—even for his torturers, and for the Romans and religious leaders who conspired to have him brutally murdered. For you. For us.
Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, allows us to hear and to see acted out Christ’s own interpretation of his suffering and death. By the Eucharistic meal and by the Lord washing his disciples’ feet, we see God giving himself to us in Christ. We see what true faithfulness looks like: not ideologically loaded teaching, not digressions on social problems, but direct speech to your heart: “This is my body, broken for you.” Here Christ interprets for us what he achieves on the cross: he brings us into the covenant God made with the Chosen People through Moses, now deepened and broadened as every human being is included in Christ’s will to give his life for all. On Good Friday no Mass is celebrated in honor of the death of Jesus. Instead, we listen to the reading of St. John’s Passion, we show our gratitude for Christ as we venerate the cross, and we receive the sign and instrument of Christ’s all-inclusive, eternal covenant through holy communion.
The Easter Vigil is truly the climax of the Church year, the single most significant celebration in the Catholic Church. We begin in darkness outside, reminding us of the spiritual darkness in the human soul without the light of Christ. The Easter candle is lit, Jesus is proclaimed as “Christ our Light,” and the faithful process into the church to proclaim the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. For us. For all. Adult converts are received into the Church on this night. We renew our vows to be faithful to Christ unto death, and receive His promise for each of us to share eternally in His love and life. What more, or what better, could be offered to us in life? “Apart from You I want nothing at all; God is my hope and my joy.”
The Easter celebration continues on Sunday, then through the entire Easter season, and indeed, on every Sunday of the year. “Christ is Risen from the dead. Alleluia, Alleluia.” That means, “Praise the LORD!” “O give thanks to the LORD for He is good; for his mercy endures forever.” For you. For me. For all.
Our common reading assignment for this Holy Week will be to read slowly, in quiet at home, the Passion narrative in the Gospel of St. John, chapters 18:1-20:31, which includes a brief account of resurrection experiences. For as we hear at the Easter Vigil, “if Christ had not been raised, what good would life be?”
“For God so loved the world that He gave…” How often are these words quoted? Even at football games, banners with “John 3:14” appear in the stadium. Popular preachers often fall back on these familiar words to communicate to the faithful when they do not know what else to say. What is often used and over-used is rarely heard any more. Minds are numbed by mindless repetition, thinking stops, and one may just wallow in the warmth of the familiar—perhaps like a sow in mud. Others become bored or even antagonistic at the staleness of preachers who fall back on clichés and over-worked quotations—as if they no longer can think for themselves, but parrot supposedly comforting words. Parrots become tedious in their repetitions, eh?
Long have we noticed that virtually never does anyone quoting John 3:14 continue with the rest of the passage, even though what follows develops what has been said, and grounds the words in real human experience. Consider how St. John continues: “… Whoever does not believe in Christ has already been condemned.” Now we are getting closer to the evangelist’s intention, and now the words are sounding more true to us—who live in a “culture of death” that considers human life so cheap and expendable that we load ourselves up on drugs, and even kill pre-born infants for the sake of “convenience,” or to assert “a right to choose” to kill, if one so wishes. What gods we make ourselves.
That St. John had in mind spiritual and moral corruption such as we experience daily, consider his words that follow immediately after “God so loved the world….” “Now is the Judgment: the Light came into the world, but human beings preferred darkness to light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does wicked things hates the light, and does not come into the light, so that his deeds might not be exposed.” Those who quote John 3:16 so glibly seem blind to these words, which are among the most acute analyses of good and evil we find in the entire New Testament. Those who do evil hate the light, they resist the truth of God, they prefer their evil deeds to the hard work of personal conversion and actually doing good. How many Americans want to be told that we have dabbled in evil by ignoring God, by removing the awareness of God from schools, by allowing and even promoting the killing of infants in the womb, by destroying our minds and bodies by drug and alcohol abuse, by distorting minds by hardened and poisonous ideologies? Resistance to the light of God and God’s truth is far more common in our midst, in our communities, in our society than virtually anyone admits. In the words of Jesus to his own people: “How often I would have gathered you up, as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and yet you refused.”
Wallowing in our wicked ways, or are we drawn to the light? The evangelist John continues: “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be clearly seen as done in God.” If and when we Americans really learn to do good, and reject our evil ways, then we will “come to the light” of God, and then and only then can we be “a shining city on the hill.” There is nothing shining about evil, self-deception, or self-destruction. Goodness and mercy; deeds of justice; protecting human life from the moment of conception to natural death; nourishing our youth with truth, rather than poisoning their minds with mindless pop culture and rigid ideological non-thinking—these are deeds that will shine forth, and show that we are indeed drawn to the Light of God, and coming clean in His eternal presence, faithfully doing His will, and not our own.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son….” And now you know the rest of the story.