Scripture Readings: Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28; Rom 6:3-11; Mk 16:1-7
On the first day of the week three women came to the tomb of Jesus with heavy hearts not to seek a risen Lord, but to anoint the dead, crucified body of Jesus, whom they had loved. After a sleepless night, probably tossing and turning in anguish at the dreadful memory of Jesus’ agony and death, they expected nothing more than a corpse, the remains of one who had been so dear to them. And the eleven apostles, fearful for their lives, did not have enough courage even to venture outside the locked room where they were hiding. After all that Jesus had said and done, after miracles and prophecies foretelling his death and resurrection, it did not enter their minds or hearts as a possibility. They had no hope that Jesus would rise from the dead.
The Resurrection was so contrary to their expectations that after an angel proclaimed the good news to the three women they were so confounded that “They fled from the tomb, for terror had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone.” It was too much for them to grasp. No one believed until Jesus made his first appearance. And the first one to whom Jesus revealed himself was, surprisingly, Mary Magdalene. To her, of all people, a woman and a converted sinner, was given the honor to be first in proclaiming the good news. But St. Mark writes that the other disciples, who were mourning and weeping over the death of Jesus, would not believe her. Later, when Jesus appeared to the eleven, “They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.” Jesus said to them, “Look at my hands and my feet; touch me see that it is I myself.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, how he had to suffer, die and rise again.
And that is the good news. It challenges our disbelief, our despair. It grows stronger when persecuted. It gives us courage when confronted with the great moral choices between good and evil. It presses on for the prize of life with Christ on the other side of cruel death.
For example, during the dark days of World War II, there were German Christians who faced the cost of discipleship heroically, like Pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, whose conscientious objections to the war cost them their lives.
The story of Private Joseph Schultz is less well known. He was a German soldier on the Eastern Front in Yugoslavia. On July 20th, 1941, he along with seven other soldiers were sent out on what they thought was a routine mission. After a short march they soon understood that they were on a quite different mission than what they thought. Ahead of them, they saw a number of captured civilians, peasant farmers, men and women, who were blindfolded, and positioned up against a haystack. The soldiers in his platoon were ordered to stop about fifteen yards away, and to shoot every one of the civilians. The soldiers prepared their rifles, but Private Joseph Schultz, disobeying a direct order, dropped his rifle and walked toward the civilians who could not see him but heard the movement of a soldier’s boots approaching them. The young private took a position among them and chose to be shot rather than execute civilians. The officer gave his orders: “Ready! Aim! Fire!” A few seconds later the peasants and Private Schultz were dead. He was killed by his own countrymen. That’s the power a Christian disciple receives from the resurrection of Christ, the power to overcome natural instincts and desires when faced with grave moral decisions.
Today our Christian values are again being severely challenged as laws curtailing abortion both here and abroad are signed away by our president. Even a health provider’s right to conscientious objection against participating in an abortion is at risk. But the more our values are challenged, the stronger our discipleship needs to be. For disciples of Christ, the more we are denied, the greater is the power Christ offers us. Crucifixion is not our end. Resurrection is, and the beginning.
Scripture Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2, Rom 6:3-11; Mt 28:1-10
Overheard as the elevator opened Friday afternoon:
—Where are you going?
—Oh. Go ahead.
—I can go down first.
There’s an Easter homily there, I thought. More than a homily, it is Easter alive right here in our monastery and I wanted you to know about it.
That little exchange after the Good Friday service is the same thing that Paul describes as the dynamism of baptism: Going down with Christ and then rising with him, dying to sin and living to God. In this case, though, baptism, the elevator, only makes explicit and gives access to something that happened whether we wanted it to or not, whether or not we even knew about it: That even before we were born and did anything loveable Christ loved us and gave himself for us; and even before we did anything awful and disgusting, Christ “bore our sins in his body upon the cross,” as Saint Peter wrote, “so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness,” concluding, “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 P 2:24–25). “With enduring love,” he has taken pity on us, and “enduring” for God is totally backward-looking as well as forward; “you shall not be put to shame in the future,” and “the shame of your youth of the past you shall forget” (Is 54: 8; 4). He did this before the Holy Women knew anything about it, even though Jesus had said more than once that he was going to give his life as a ransom for the many, and that he was going to shed his blood for many (Mk 10:45; 14:24).
It takes an angel to tell us these things, like Philip told the eunuch who was traveling on the road; and now the women are sent as angels in their turn to announce to the disciples what, “behold, I have told you” (Mt 28:5–7). We heard in the Passion of Matthew on Palm Sunday that when Jesus died “tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised” and “entered the holy city and appeared to many” (27:52, 53). Jesus had said that “at the resurrection they . . . are like angels in heaven” (Mat 22:30). Those like the Holy Women and like the Disciples later who have encountered the Risen Lord are already Children of the Resurrection; they are angels whose vocation it is to announce, wherever they are, even waiting at elevators, and in the most practical ways, like accompanying someone down before going up, or like washing aching feet, that “Jesus the Crucified . . . has been raised.” The women were not afraid of finding a dead crucified man in a tomb; I would have been; rather, the reason for their fear was also the cause of their joy and what they could not know unless told them by an angel, undoubtedly one of those many saints who were raised when Jesus died: “he has been raised from the dead and is going before you to Galilee.”
However spooky a dead tortured man in a tomb might be, I can understand it; but a risen man going before me, anticipating the rest of my life unbidden, is terrifying. Without my permission he went down with me to hell, and then, without my permission, brought me up with him to life into the place that he called “the Kingdom-of-God-come-Near,” that is not just distinct from “this age” that I’ve known and is now ravaged by COVID-19 and its attendant fear, but that is another sphere of reality altogether, a new mode of being, like angels, participating in God’s mode of eternity, but already now. “Resurrection is not the conservation of what exists in infinito, but a new staging produced by the Spirit.” This is what the angels have announced from that day to this throughout the world. Even if the many are not told or refuse to hear, Jesus’ gift is still theirs. But those who do hear, like the inquisitive eunuch in his chariot, like each of us at one or several moments in our life, and publicly accept it in the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, then have to think of ourselves evermore as dead to sin and living for God, in Galilee, at New Melleray, waiting for an elevator, in sickness and health, in decline and disappointment, in patience and in wondering. Each of our readings holds out a divine promise, what on Holy Thursday I called an aspiration to be fulfilled. The sixth reading from Baruch is a good example:
The One who established the earth for all time, . . .
he who . . .
calls [the light], and it obeys him trembling;
before whom the stars at their posts
shine and rejoice;
when he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!”
shining with joy for their Maker.
Such is our God;
no other is to be compared to him:
he has traced out the whole way of [wisdom].
Since then she has appeared on earth,
and moved among people.
She is the book of the precepts of God,
the law that endures forever;
all who cling to her will live. (Bar 3; Easter Vigil Reading VI.)
 F. Neugebauer, quoted by Feldmeier and Spiekermann, God of the Living, 523 n.23.
Scripture Readings: Romans 6:3–11, Mark 16:1–7
“My love for you has not been a hoax.” Just before the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Friday I read that, that Jesus had said to Blessed Angelo of Foligno. On Thursday we heard that Jesus loved his own in the world, and loved them to the perfect end. On Friday, if there were any doubt about that love, we saw him crucified, dead, and buried, as if to say to everyone, “My love for you has not been a hoax.”
But maybe the most radical demonstration that Jesus was not kidding is what we celebrate this night, Jesus risen in our own mortal flesh that he assumed. Saint Gregory the Great says as much: “The resurrection which he manifested in his own person he will one day bring to pass in ourselves as well; the resurrection he exhibited in himself he pledged to us, seeing that the members follow the glory of their Head.” As Jesus said, a true friend, “That here I am, there might you also be.” “My love for you has not been a hoax.”
“Behold the place where they laid him.” But that place is vacant. “They laid him” links this place to Jesus and to what happened to him in the recent past. “The place,” then, is an historical and physical object and location that connects the present to the past through the caring but otherwise helpless gesture of friends laying a corpse upon it. “Behold the place,” then, is an invitation to the women to regard the past from the viewpoint of their present. What do they see when they behold the place? It is empty, and what was laid upon it in their past, the body of Jesus, is not there in the present which they had intended would be their anointing of it. The place, then, redefines the present of these women, and given the novel nature of this present, defines their future, too, and the world’s, for ever and ever more.
That empty place, the empty tomb: these are not proofs of anything, but they are witnesses like the young man clothed in a white robe is a witness: the living present occupies the place of the dead past: and proclaims the Gospel in eight words, “He has been raised; he is not here.”
Saint Paul in our epistle tonight asks the Roman Christians he writes to, “Are you unaware” of your own implication in the Lord’s resurrection? But certainly they are aware, but through the witness of the preaching of the faith, not through proof of Something that even Silicone Valley lacks the software to measure, weight, and calculate.
“Are you unaware?” There is irony in the question. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the Resurrection from the Dead, “I have made known to you.” If we plead ignorance, or even incredulity, it is because of the adjustments living in a redefined present asks us to make.
Baptized into Christ, we live in a changed epoch: dead with Christ, through his Resurrection we too are thrust into newness of life, dead to sin, alive to God. That is a huge change and has concrete implications for how you spend your time, for your relations with your family, for how you do your work, for what you spend your money on. What do you do, a person of newness of life? How do you live, new? It is moral resurrection here and now that is just an anticipation of physical resurrection there and then.
“There is nothing more shameful than for a human being to be no different from a material thing.” Saint Gregory the Great in the sixth century could be talking about us in the twenty-first. He says, “Some when they see that the spirit is parted from the flesh, that the flesh is turned into corruption, that its corruption is reduced to dust, that this dust is so dissolved into elementary parts that it is incapable of being seen by the eyes of man, despair of the possibility of the resurrection being brought to pass.” Echoing Gregory, a twenty-first century writer says, “It was in that room of despair that I began a path back to God. It was not the revelation of the convert, with its power and clarity. I was forced to accept God against my reason, my judgment, my moral code. A battle raged between one part of me, which knew absolutely that God could not exist, and the other part, which knew absolutely that, without God, I could not exist.”
The room of despair is a place that all of us know, a past that, like the empty tomb, also becomes the place of a divine revelation of a present and a future. Many Christians, not just the Romans and the Corinthians, say privately or publicly, “There absolutely can be no resurrection”; yet there is an unmistakable witness, an empty tomb, an empty place, a young man with a word astounding, a yearning of the heart, the memory of a selfless act, that makes you aware absolutely that without Resurrection you could not be.
Yet, on the other hand, says Gregory, if we don’t believe the resurrection out of obedience to its witnesses, we should certainly hold it based on reasonable observation: For what does the universe every day, but imitate in its elements our resurrection: the dying and rebirth of light, the change of seasons, from dried-up wood leaves bursting forth, the fruit growing big, and the whole tree is clothed with renewed beauty. “What wonder then if that finest dust, which to our eyes is resolved into the elements, he, when he is minded, fashions again into the human being.”
The resurrection that he manifested in his own person, that we might have a sure hope that we are capable of rising again, he will one day bring to pass in ourselves as well. “My love for you has not been a hoax.”
 Viva Hammer, First Things April 2018,
 Gregpry, Moralia in Job, passim.
Scripture Readings: Gen 11-2:2; Rom 6:3-11; Mt 28:1-10
The Holy Triduum has reached its glorious conclusion, Easter Day, an ending that is a Beginning. Saint Matthew, noting the shift, begins his account of the Resurrection after the Sabbath. But what could ever be after the Sabbath? Because on the Sabbath God rested from all the work he had done in creation, as if God had said after the sixth day, “It is accomplished.” What could ever follow an ending o definitive, so totally, so good, so divine? God rested.
“The first day of the week was dawning,” Matthew goes on. It is something like a reprise. The first day, like the first day when it was “let there be light,” was dawning. It is not an instant reply, nor just a memory, but truly a new creation beginning: the eighth, the first of something new and newly good, was dawning on the old creation.
On Good Friday, listening to the Passion according to John, I felt a huge relief when near the end it said, and standing by the Cross of Jesus was his mother and his mother’s sister, and Mary of Magdala. It was the standing, just that, the stillness of the standing, after all the calculating, violent action that had preceded; and offering this contemplative relief from the lies, the bustle, and the noise of male bodies and voices were women with names and integrity. Similarly, in the Passion of Saint Matthew that we heard last Sunday, after all the blood and confusion, and the burial, too, itself a locus of male intrigue and second guessing, “Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting facing the tomb.”
And now, after the Sabbath, when the eighth day is dawning, these same silent lovers, Mary and Mary, are the only ones to greet it and to receive the story telling what it means. In contrast, but consistent with the theme, the male guards are shaken, frightened, and become as dead. They are the first ever to hear the Gospel of the Resurrection, and it is they who take it to the disciples, apostles of the apostles. On this first day of the new creation, the two women are something like the New Eve: they are mothers of the living, of those who are reborn by the Word of proclamation, the Good News that Jesus the New Adam is risen. Unlike Eve, they are silent with joyful awe; they obey unquestionably, yet still with the presumed freedom of loved ones or children, they contribute something decidedly their own to the command: they run, they embrace his feet, and they worship.
This Easter night, Matthew is telling us that in this story it is we who are those Holy Women. In their just steadily standing there, in their contemplative watching, in their silence, their joy, their reverent affection, and in their preaching the Gospel even to the powerful and afraid— the Holy Women are us and every Christian who, in Christ, are a child born on the eighth day, who live in newness of life, who live to God, citizens of a Week that has no end, living Resurrection even now as a participation in the world to come, expectant for it then as communion with God in Christ so as to be one Spirit.
On Palm Sunday afternoon I stopped in our cemetery and then sat down facing Br Kevin’s grave. We buried him the previous week. When you bury a monk you are convinced of the finality of mortal death. We really die. Sitting in front of Br Kevin’s grave, I reflected on how we buried him, feet toward the East. That way, when he rises, he will be facing east, the rising sun. At Vina once by mistake we buried a monk backwards. Br Casimir the gravedigger, himself now buried, was so upset about this that I thought he just might go with a spade and make it right. But we understand that that is poetry and metaphor pointing to an ineffable truth, that the really dead are really raised, and that the risen Jesus is, as Saint Paul says, both the proof of that fact and its first fruits. Beyond that, we can say little, like the women. With them, it is enough and maybe totally sufficient, to embrace his feet in loving adoration, and to live our lives in awe and joy, proclamation enough that “he is risen from the dead.”
[Scripture Readings: Gn 1:1-2:2; Gn 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Is 54:5-14; Is 55:1-11; Bar 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ez 36:16-17A, 18-28; Rom 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12]
"Christ is risen!" "He is truly risen!"
This is the ancient greeting Christians exchange with one another at Easter. In Russia during the Communist era party functionaries would regularly assemble the people of a neighborhood or village and give them a long lecture on the illusions of religion. Once, after an hour-long lecture like this the commissar invited the local priest to offer a five-minute rebuttal. The priest said, "I don't need five minutes." Then he turned to the villagers and said, "Christ is risen" and they all responded, "He is truly risen!" and the priest returned to his place. "Christ is risen" is conviction before it is dogma, it is joy before it is faith; like the deepest friendship, like a mother's love for her child, it is known before we understand it.
"Christ is risen!" "He is truly risen!"
In his Gospel Saint Luke is very specific about time. It is the day after the Sabbath, the Sabbath on which by custom and by law they rested. It is now, Luke says, the first day of the week, a weekday, an ordinary day, a return to business as usual, to work and the routine of daily life. And so the women come to the tomb bringing the things they had prepared for the pious duty they had planned and knew so well, anointing of the dead. It is in this timeframe of the ordinary, of preparations, routine plans, and habitual actions, that the Resurrection is revealed; and it is revealed as something that does not at all try to fit in with our assumptions, our preparations, our plans and expectations of how the world should work for us.
The Resurrection turns the first day into the eighth day, an impossible thing for a week with room for only seven days. We heard on Holy Thursday the Lord God tell the people in Egypt, "This month, [the month of the Passover], will be the first month in your calendar from now on." Just like that, the event of Easter liberates us from the tyranny of repetitive time, liberates us from the control of the quotidian, but also from its numbing comfort, and puts us in the framework of the never-ending eighth day of God's faithful love as both recipients and passers-on of that love's merciful and gratuitous inventions, inventions of love that are the basis of our hope and the witnesses in the world to the presence of the Risen Lord.
The women came to the tomb, prepared and with a plan, they thought. But the truth was, they really came there seeking, though they did not know that until, unsuspecting, arriving, they had found. They found the stone had been rolled away, a positive datum, and also a negative one, "His body they did not find."
The Resurrection overturns our reasonable expectations; or, rather, starting from these Easter turns us into seekers of what we do not know. For only when the women found did they discover that they were seeking. The Resurrection is this unsettling but thrilling uprooting of us whom it encounters from the solid ground of common sense, to thrust us into the search for what we do not know, but that alone is all that matters and moves us anymore.
The men in dazzling clothes ask the women, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" As the woman says in the Song of Songs, "Let me seek him whom my soul loves, I sought him but I did not find him" (3:2). The stone rolled away, the body not found, only raise questions: how, who, where, when? It is the start of their real search for the Living One, and the start of ours.
"His body they did not find."
We saw on Holy Thursday that a Body is not a corpse but a Gift. "He loved them to the end," but he loved them through and with his Body. As we see on Good Friday, Jesus' Body that the women did not find was the final thrust of his whole being toward God - "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" - and its final thrust toward us - "Father forgive them."
His Body could never be, then, even after death, anything less than that total Gift, but only and always that and more: as Saint Peter said in his speech on Pentecost, "God raised him, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:24). How could his free and full going out of himself for the sake of others ever cease to be? If his Body given was a Gift of life to the point of complete emptying, would not God's response be life in return to the point of its complete transfiguration? The Resurrected Body of Jesus the women did not find is by God's Gift the Son of God established permanently within his final act of love: "being made perfect, he is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:9).
"They announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others" (Lk 24:9). These women, some of whom Luke identifies by name, are us who also have names and histories; we have plans, assumptions, and reasonable expectations about how our life should go. Unlike them, perhaps, we have found in our Triduum celebrations the Body that gave his life for us: in the foot-washing and the Supper on Thursday, the Cross on Friday, and in the scriptures this night of Resurrection that is tilting us over into the eighth day of the inventions of wondrous love. Bonding with his Body that is his Church, and ingesting his Body through reception of the Eucharist, let us dare to live the newness of life given us in Baptism, let us participate in his self-gift for others and to the Father in each little opportunity our life presents us with, and let us, even if it seems like nonsense, counter every tyrannical power with the joyous greeting, "Christ is risen! He is truly risen!"
[Scripture Readings: Ex 15:1-18; Rom 6:3-11; Mk 16:1-7]
Tonight we celebrate the extravagance of divine love; the extravagant and mutual pouring out of love from the Son to the Father and from the Father to the Son and from there to each of us and to all of us as the people of God.
A week ago, on Palm Sunday, we saw that the “greater love” that Jesus Christ would show would be letting events happen to Him. In our Old Testament readings tonight we have seen that what happens to us is an important way that we come to know and serve our God.
We have heard the history of salvation, of God's disclosure of Himself to humanity. In the first reading from Genesis we saw the world happen to an abyss, a wasteland. We saw that not only did God make an orderly physical world, but when “He saw that it was very good” He created a moral order as well.
In the story of Abraham and Isaac we saw the foundation of our relationship with God: Faith. Faith with obedience is the only way we can receive the sacrament of the Present Moment. We saw a foreshadowing of the kind of faithful obedience that is demanded of us, the kind shown by Jesus Christ over these last three days of the Triduum. On that to which everything is owed, everything must be spent.
The story from Exodus is the centerpiece. This book represents not just history, but history with a purpose. It is history made not just by human decisions, but by God as director and lead actor. The liberation at the Red Sea happened to the Israelites and made all of us the people of God. This comes about as a result of an inner dialogue between a single soul (Moses) and the God of freedom and dignity. This liberation from political bondage foreshadows this night when we are freed from the bondage of self. From this time on we are admonished “Do not forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the place of slavery” (Dt 8:14).
With the Creation story and the Exodus story we are given the two ways of knowing God: as Creator and as Savior.
Isaiah combines these two ways of knowing when he describes God as spouse and promises forgiveness and reconciliation: “my love shall never leave you.” This will happen to us; we have only to recognize it. The enduring reminder of that great fact, for the Israelites of the Exodus and for us today, is the sanctuary. It shows us that God is present.
And we must remember His presence because we will need His power when things happen to us in order to carry out the three tasks in life: what to believe, how to behave, and what to care about. The remaining three Old Testament readings guide us in that.
First, Isaiah calls us to conversion by the use of our wills, i.e., how to behave: “Seek the lord while He may be found … let the wicked forsake their ways. Come to me heedfully; listen, that you may have life.” Then, the reading from Baruch calls us to conversion by use of our reason, i.e., what to believe: “Learn where prudence is…find the place of wisdom; such is our God: He has traced out the whole way of understanding.”
Yet, we often find that will and understanding are not enough for us. We have conflicts in what we care about. Ezekiel teaches us about the conversion of our hearts: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you. I shall give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” In what matters most, God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
“God will do for us.” THAT, sisters and brothers, brings us full circle with Palm Sundays' gospel of Mark on the passion. Mark emphasized that Jesus was “done-to” in His suffering. All along God has “done-to” us and “done-for” us; all we have to do is allow it. In that we follow Christ. Tonight, Mark tells us that Jesus was done-to in His resurrection.
Misfortunes can tempt us to infidelity. They usually happen within our vocation—marital or monastic. We insist that they shouldn't. We must remember this: the gospel of Mark tells us that “Jesus, the crucified, has been raised.” The Risen Christ still has His wounds to remind us that we were saved by what shouldn't happen.
[Scripture Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2, Gen 22:1-18, Ex 14:`15-15:1, Is 55:1-11Ez 36:16-28; Rom 6:3-11; Lk 24:1-12]
I don't think anyone could deny that our liturgy this evening is sacred, filled with beautiful images and rituals and long, maybe too long and too full of images but not too sacred. Sacred is not a category that is dulled by excess as the other two are. When we are exposed to too many images and words either we get hysterical or our brain shuts down and our eyes glaze over. I don't see anyone getting hysterical so I take it you are in the twilight zone of the semi couscous. The cure for this state is a long invigorating homily that awakens you to what is right before you but hidden. I can assure of the length but invigorating is another question; hidden, yes but a lot of things are hidden from us and await a moment when we are ready to receive them.
When Jesus was walking to Emmaus with the two disciples after his resurrection he opened the Scriptures to them. Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets he interpreted for them every passage in the Scriptures that referred to Him” (Lk. 24:27). Now these disciples, being good Jews, must have heard these passages many time but were not aware that their Messiah was being presented to them. Something like a veil hung over their eyes and truth was hidden front them. I believe we have all had this experience. Something we heard or saw or experienced years ago only now reveals its true meaning. Somehow it was in our memory but not active, it was dormant like seeds waiting through the winter for sunlight to bring them alive. Springtime is when flowers bloom as if by magic and we are summoned, in the words of Dylan Thomas, onto the fields of praise. Not just fields of plants but fields of praise. The Psalms give every living thing a voice to praise their creator. When we see the trees budding and the flowers blooming and the grass growing they are singing in their own way the praises of God. We are summoned by them onto the fields of praise.
You might say Lent is the winter time of our soul when we prepare to receive the sunlight of Paschal time. This liturgy is a transitional one, the ending of Lent and the beginning of Easter Season. Lent and Easter are joined together like night and day. Maybe it would be better to say that Lent is the twilight zone leading to the full light of day. I dare to say we are more comfortable in the twilight than in full light. Lent deals with our human condition, with our trials and struggles, our sins and failures, and our need for conversion, a second chance. The revelation of Lent usually hidden from us is that all these murky parts of our life are brought into the redemption of Christ, his sufferings are our sufferings. If we could but look at Jesus in his passion we see humanity's suffering as well as,our personal histories reflected as in a mirror, said John Paul II.
The transition in our liturgy this evening was not very subtle. With the singling of the Gloria and the bells and the lights and then the three fold alleluia we are trust as it were into the full light of day. Paschal time is what we are all about, a redeemed people. St. Augustine says we are an Easter people and alleluia is our song. The spirit of the season is joy and peace. But let's face it what really gives us joy is winning the lotto or getting a promotion at work or having a good job or any number of other things not related to this liturgy.
What is the joy and peace of Easter? Well, first peace comes from the fact that nothing, no suffering or set back can touch our inner soul, we are redeemed, heaven is open to us and all we have to do is desire it and try to live good lives. Joy is also the joy no one can take from us. It is the joy of knowing God loves us and is directing our life as the Psalmist says, “Before ever a thought is on my tongue you know it Lord through and through, every one of my days is decreed before any of them come into being” (Ps. 138/39). Nothing can separate us from the love of God we have in Christ Jesus. It takes a lot of living, a lot of sufferings and ups and downs in life to come to this type of joy and peace.
Lent is forty days long but the Paschal season is fifty days long; longer because it represents eternity. The problem is we don't live in eternity yet. We sing and pray as if we are there, especially this night, but we all know we do this in faith not in vision. Perhaps another reason Easter season is longer is that it takes us a lifetime to become who we really are. St. Leo exhorted his flock to become who you are. The Scriptures and the Liturgy tell us who we are but we have a hard time believing. So many conflicting and competing sources of information assail us every day, trying to tell us who we are. We know only too well we are weak but we have to work at knowing that when we are weak then we are strong with the strength of God. We still carry our wounds but so does Jesus. He took his wounds into heaven with him and now they are called glorified wounds. We will carry ours with us to the other shore also but now not as a burden but as a glory. This is ultimate joy and eternal peace.
[Scripture Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Is 54:5-14; Is 55:1-11; Bar 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28; Rom 6:3-11; Mk 16:1-7]
Through the years a few sociologist asked if they could study our community life, sort of with the idea that they would get the inside story, I guess. One was a professor from Western Michigan University who sent us a very extensive questionnaire in 1973. The title of his survey was, “A Study of the Communication of Cistercian Monks”. I found this the other day in my files by accident. There are about 2 pages of conclusions from this study. One was, “some of the monks are bothered by too much talk, and others felt there should be more”! After 39 years we are still hearing the same complaint! One thing the professor said caught my eye; he said the monks put a much higher value on the concern for the unique values of others and generally a lower value on their own values. This struck me as kind of strange, sort of wishy-washy. Others values count but ours don't. However, there is another way to understand this. I think it comes from living in community and giving in to community values instead of pushing personal values; the common good over the individual good. For instance, you might like a strict interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict but the community doesn't, so to live here you have to modify your views and make compromises. I suppose what this is all about is what really matters in life and how much are you willing to compromise. How do you know when to go to the wall for a value you believe in and when to compromise?
There is a group of people from all walks of life who have this is common: they know how to discern when to compromise and when to go to the wall. We call them the saints. Among the saints there are a handful that are given the title, Doctors of the Church. These are the ones whose teachings and actions changed the course of church history. One such was St. John Damascene. John was born in Muslim Damascus in the seventh century. At the time he was embroiled in a bitter controversy called Iconoclasm. Iconoclast believed that icons, statues, pictures or any image for that matter were idolatrous. St. John taught that it was not the icon that was venerated but the spiritual reality it represented. For this he almost lost his life. He hid out in Jerusalem which at the time was under Muslim control beyond the power of the Christian emperor who was dying to get his hands on John Damascene.
If the iconoclast won the day there would be no images of the human form in our churches. We would not have that beautiful reproduction of the Vladimir Madonna next to the altar, for example. But John said material things, such as icons and pictures had the capacity to serve as a point of access to the Divine. He argued that this is the basis of the very mystery of the Incarnation.
Our whole liturgy this evening is a type of iconic panorama. We use darkness and fire, light and water, songs and processions. We stand at attention holding candles in our hands, we sing the litany of the saints, and we renew our baptismal vows and are sprinkled with holy water. All these material things serve as access points into the divine. The word divine sounds a little impersonal to me here. To make it more personal let's look at a passage from John's Gospel we heard last week. Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders about God. He said, “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form” (Jn. 5:37). In Jesus the human body became the form of God. Through the mystery of the Incarnation every human body has the capacity to be the form of God. This is the dignity of the human person. When we hear the Scriptures proclaimed in the assembly by a person they end by saying, “The Word of God.” And so it is in a human voice.
At the Resurrection Jesus takes his body into heaven, even the wounds the nails made in his hands and feet. The mortal body becomes a glorified body destined to live forever. So the Easter mystery is about the victory of life in the body over the power of death. Where O death is your sting, we say. Jesus rising from the dead means that we too who gave him his human nature can also rise from the dead and as St. Paul said to us this evening, “If you have been united with him through likeness to his death so shall we be through a like resurrection. Through Baptism into his death we were buried with him so that as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might live a new life” (Rom. 6:5). The new life we received at Baptism and is mostly hidden from us as Paul writes, “)Our life is hidden in God but when Christ our life appears we too shall appear with him” (Col. 3:1-4). The gradual appearing of who we are in Christ is a life long process. The unveiling of the new self made in the likeness of Christ is a glorious process. We cannot even imagine what our resurrected life will be but we are promised we will be like God for we will see him face to face.
[Scripture Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2, Gen 22:1-18, Ex 14:`15-15:1, Is 55:1-11Ez 36:16-28; Rom 6:3-11; Lk 24:1-12]
We have been taught that when you give a homily it is good to have a strong opening statement to grab people’s attention. How is this for an opener?
“If I am not here this time next year I will probably be in jail!” You see, I sent in an incomplete census report, and it was late. The first question was, “How many people live at this residence?” I put down 35, but there are only 12 slots to fill in their names. It will no doubt be jail or re-education camp for me and thousands like me.
Some years ago there was a popular bumper sticker with the initials WWJD, standing for “What Would Jesus Do”? So I asked myself what would Jesus do with a census form? I don’t think he could fill it out either because the last few years of his life he had no permanent residence. We do know however, several stories of Jesus being invited into people’s homes for supper. These meals occasioned some of the most beautiful dialogues between Jesus and his host. He was even criticized for eating with sinners, which prompted him to say, “I have not come to call the just but sinners to repentance.” Words that give us hope. Then there is the touching story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet and drying them with her hair. Such a touch of tenderness. Jesus seemed to have a predilection for Mary’s home where she lived with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus. In fact, one time when they were hosting him Martha was busy getting things ready but Mary, we are told, sat at his feet, “listening to his words“. In the midst of all her bustle he told Martha that only one thing is necessary and Mary found it.
I would like to use this phrase, “the one thing necessary” as an entry way into understanding our liturgy tonight. This vigil is the longest and fullest service of the year. It is filled with signs and symbols, with hymns and songs, with litanies and processions, with multiple rounds of sitting, standing and kneeling. We can only take in so much at one time so we can rightly ask, “What is the one thing necessary” in all this ritual? Our Easter Vigil is like a great banquet with all kinds of foods and delicacies being served, to use an image from Isaiah, “Fine wines and juicy foods“. (A scripture scholar, Donald Senior, claims the word juicy in Hebrew should be translated greasy. The Semites liked greasy food!)
What is it about a banquet that is memorable? Or to scale it down a little a Thanksgiving meal, or a meal at a family reunion? Food is essential here but it is not the most important thing. There is another dimension beyond the physical one that is more important than what is served, it is the bond of friendship or love that holds people together. You can have all the great food you want but if you are eating it by yourself you are missing the one thing necessary.
Our liturgy this evening can be compared to a great banquet served up to us by the Church. Each portion is beautiful and has meaning in itself, the blessing of the new fire, the procession in the dark, the Exultet, the readings and responses. All this is beautiful but it is the fact that we are doing this as a community that makes it memorable. Is this the one thing necessary? It is and it isn’t. Just being together does not make us a community, there is something else that is needed.
Let us return to Mary and Martha for a minute. Jesus says in so many words that Mary knows the secret to finding the one thing necessary in life. Why did he say that? All Mary was doing was looking into the face of Jesus and listening to his words. We do not know what Jesus was saying to her, perhaps it was just a silent look of love that passed between them. But there was an intimate communication between them, what Cardinal Newman would call a “cor ad cor loquitur,” heart speaking to heart. I think this has to be going on in our life before this Vigil can make any sense. Each one of us is in a heart to heart dialogue with Jesus that is not limited to the confines of this church. The ancient monks taught that in our heart, by which they meant the center of our being, we are always praying whether we are aware of it or not. We so often live at the periphery of our life, but at the center where God’s life flows into our life we are in continual prayer. The monks called it the liturgy of the heart.
This is the one thing necessary because without it our liturgy is just a lot of external running about, never touching us at the core of our being, at the soul level. Martha was engaged in this type of activity when Jesus pointed out to her she was wasting her time because the real food he wanted was her undivided attention, her love. Each one of us has a personal relationship with the Lord and we bring that with us to this liturgy and this gives our service a heart. It is what unites us as brother and sister in Christ. Every aspect of our liturgy points beyond itself to Jesus.
We have just heard the Gospel of the Resurrection; it tells us what happened. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us what this means for us. In a few sentences he tells us not only what Christ did for us but that at our Baptism we are now no longer individuals, isolated and alone, but as the prayer after the consecration as Mass says, “We are one body one spirit with Christ.” Paul calls us a new creation.
Here is a thought: When Jesus died on the cross, at the very instance of his death he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit“. I like to think that the instant of death was the instant of a new creation. This was foreshadowed at the Annunciation of Mary when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of God overshadowed her, at that moment she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. At his death Jesus conceived and brought forth on this day a new life for each one of us.
We began our liturgy of the Word this evening with the opening lines of Genesis, at the part where God looked at everything he created and found it “very good” (Gen. 1:31a). God is now looking at his new creation, he is looking at us and seeing the image of his Son imprinted in our hearts. Let us bask in this look of God, let us see what he sees in us. I like the story in Genesis where Hagar the slave women ran away into the desert prepared to die her life was so miserable. But, instead of death she met God and she told Abraham she saw the one who sees her (Gen. 16:13). St. Benedict tells his monks that they live continually in the sight of God. In a few minutes we will renew our Baptismal vows whereby we were made sharers in Christ’s new creation and whereby we are made citizens of Heaven with the right, even the confidence, to look back at the one who looks at us with Divine love.
[Scripture Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Is 55:1-11; Bar 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ez36:16-28; Rom 6:3-11; Mt 28:1-10 ]
A certain amount of discipline is a good thing in everyone’s life. The traditional monastic teaching on discipline is that it begins with the mind. It is not easy, try as we might our mind wanders around. So it was, as I was sitting down to prepare this homily, musing on the words, “In the beginning” from the first reading my mind kept going to a game called trivia pursuit and I came up with a category called fist lines and famous lines. What the connection between trivia pursuit and this homily is you will have to judge. I am trying here to make a virtue out of a vice. Here are some opening lines and famous lines. See if you can get them:
“We hold these truths to be self evident“
“Four score and seven years ago“
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself“
“The ancient Romans kept time differently than we do“the opening lines of my Easter homily three years ago! Just a couple of more:
“In the beginning”
“…the time came for her to have her child”
“Darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour”
“His face was like lightening, his robe white as snow”
Each of these lines is a bearer of memories. “We hold these truth..” conjures up the American Revolution and pride in our Constitution. The civil war, the great depression can come alive in our minds with just a few words like, “Four score and seven years ago…” These periods of time form the consciousness of our nation. They are in our genes, in our blood, in the air we breathe. People dedicated lives to their study, books galore, movies, plays, documentaries, you name it. Famous lines can conjure up a library of feelings and thoughts and reflections.
The last four quotes above are from Scripturetwo in fact from this evening’s liturgy. These words are like seeds from which a great tree of faith and knowledge can grow. They all evoke pivotal times in salvation history. “In the beginning” starts time; before creation, there was eternity. The time to have her child, evokes the birth of eternity into time; darkness over the whole land at the death of Jesus is the return to the formless void before creation; the angel of the resurrection whose face was like lightening proclaims the birth of the new lightthe new creation, Christ’s Resurrection.
One thing I admire about the Hebrew Bible is that there was no salvation history. There was just one history and that was where salvation took place. The constitution of the Israelites was the Covenant with its Decalogue. Whereas for us, we have our civil history, our Constitution, our Civil War and Salvation History which we are celebrating tonight. Do we live in two worlds, Church and State? Yes, but it is getting harder and harder to keep them apart. I really do not know how to put these two worlds together but here is an idea. Right now, here in this church, we are living in liturgical time. Just in the course of a few hours, we moved from the dawn of creation to the dawn of the Resurrection. Sacramentally we share in the Christ eventthe Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. By selecting key passages of Scripture to be read aloud we evoked all of Scripture. In a little while we will step out of liturgical time and pass into our ordinary routine. Maybe we could call it secular time or civil time. What we do here tonight, in the liturgy, however, will inform the rest of our lives, it will free us from the duality of time. Just because we are Christians we cannot claim to be exempt from change and history. We share the darkness of life like everyone else. Jesus told his disciples once “…you may not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand”. This is not an easy place to bepostponing to later our understanding. I believe it was St. Hilary who said, “I have a firm grasp of something I do not understand” This is the life of faith. However, there is more. If we truly believe in this “Later” then we live in hope. Hope is the gift this evening. It informs our outlook on all of lifechurch and state. Hope allows us to conquer the dark side of life. For instance, we processed through the darkened cloister and when the deacon cried out, “Light of Christ” we responded, “Thanks be to God“. The picture that comes to mind is of the unredeemed waiting in the underworld for the coming of Christ. The descent into hell is one of the dogmas of our faith. Can you imagine the joy in the heart of the lost when the cry came, “Light of Christ“? This is our joy too, in the dark places of our hearts.
The river of time keeps flowing and we are in it up to our necks, as they say. Tragedy on a personal and global level can be overwhelming. How do we keep our head above water? I just heard of a book entitled, “God’s Problem” where the author talks about his deconversion. He set out to find the answer to suffering in the Bible and concluded that the answers it gave were insufficient and so he is now an agnostic but still chairman of religious studies at the university!
We need something to lift us out of the water, some island of refuge to get our bearings before we jump back into the current. That something is hope. Hope is a vantage point, a high ground that takes us out of time into eternity. We hope for something we do not yet possess. It is totally future oriented. Hope cannot exist without faith. We believe in something that does not yet exist for us and that is hope.
What is it that we hope for? It is to share in the resurrection of Christ. In face of a dark world we boldly proclaim our faith in the Resurrection and as we move through the changing hours of our days we hope that the light of the Resurrection will dispel sadness from our hearts.
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen“. This is my wish for each of you this Easter. If you recall, we began our liturgy this evening with these words. They are a famous last line. They are the last words in the Bible,. Fittingly, they are also the opening words of every Eucharist. Fittingly, because the Eucharist is out of time. Completed yet continued in eternity. The fullness of time yet incomplete in us, and so we live in hope.
[Scripture Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2; … Rom 6:3-11; Mt 28:1-10]
The ancient Romans kept time differently than we do. They allowed twelve hours for daylight and twelve for nightyear around! Sunrise was called the first hour; when the sun was at its zenith was the 6th hour (what we call noon) and the sun set at the 12th hour. These were three crucial times: when light was taken over for darkness, when light was the brightest and when darkness was returning to earth.
In the monastery we basically keep this pattern of time. We gather as a community to pray at sunrise and sunset and we gather at the 3rd, 6th and 9th hours also. Again, for the ancients the night was divided into watches. The most crucial hour here was midnight. It was believed that at this hour evil was abroad. The desert monks rose at this hour armed with the light of Christ in their hearts and the words of the psalms on their lips, sharper than any two edged sword.
Is it superstitious to say evil is abroad at night? We can answer that by asking if there is anyone here who would walk around New York city alone at midnight, or Dubuque for that matter? If we read of someone getting mugged on the streets at midnight we would ask what were they doing out at that time? It is too dangerous. Night and darkness play a prominent role in the last hours of Jesus’ life too. When Judas got it in his heart to betray Jesus (John says, “Satan entered him”) he left the group and Scripture makes a point to tell us, “It was night,”. Jesus was arrested under the cover of darkness and as he was being led away he made a prophetic statement. He said, “This is the reign of darkness,” . Luke describes the death of Jesus like this: “It was now the about the sixth hour (noon when the sun is at its brightest) and the sun’s light failed, so that darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,” . To commemorate Jesus on the cross the monks sing a hymn at the sixth hour that begins, “The hour it is when Christ did thirst, for justice thirsted on a tree.” During the Easter season this hymn for the sixth hour is changed to, “From heaven’s summit now attained, the light in fullest glory reigns“. Light has returned to our earth. Heaven’s summit has now been attained for all of us through the cross of Christ.
But, has the reign of death really been broken? Some things in our culture would certainly lead one to think not. We are here tonight, a band of believers, who emphatically say yes, the reign of death and darkness has been broken. Ezekiel reinforces our stand. The prophet hears God saying that He is concerned about his holy name that the people have profaned among the nations. Then there is the promise of forgiveness expressed in these remarkable words, “I will prove my holiness through you,”. The very ones who profaned his name, which is all who bear the burden of original sin, will be sprinkled with clean water, which is all the baptized, and given a new heart and a new spirit. God will prove his holiness through them. In a few minutes we will be renewing our baptismal promises recalling that time this prophecy was fulfilled in us.
Everything about our liturgy tonight is about being filled with the light of Christ’s resurrection. We began our liturgy by striking fire from the rock and proclaiming Christ the light of the world. We heard readings from the prophets that were glimmers of light, streaks of light, on the distant horizon. Finally we turned on all the lights of the church and sang the Gloria, the hymn the angels sang the night Jesus was born. And did you notice that the angel who proclaimed the resurrection is described as been bright as a flash of lightning? The light of the resurrection blinded Paul when the Risen lord appeared to him. It also kindled a fire in his heart that never went out.
God is now proving his holiness through us. Because the reign of death has ended and we are able to be joined to Christ, clothed in Christ, becoming one body one spirit with him. We may still experience a darkness within us. We may still carry the burden of our sins but the battle has been won. Darkness is banished and the light of Christ shines forth in the world through us. We carry the torch of God in our hearts. We are now the witness of the resurrection. “I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you. I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you..”. Bear these sacred words in your heart, “I shall put my spirit in you, I will prove my holiness through you.”
This all takes place in our Baptism and Paul reminds us, “We should begin living a new life,”. My wish for all of us this Easter is that we come to know the Spirit living in us, the Spirit praying in us and transforming us into the image of our Risen Savior. That God may truly prove his holiness through us.