Third Sunday of Easter: Discovering the Hope of the Resurrection

The first three Sundays of Easter give us accounts of the Resurrection; the fourth Sunday is the Good Shepherd; and the following Sundays of the season are about the Eucharist.  Meanwhile the first reading is from the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistle is from 1 Peter, 1 John, or Revelation, depending on the year.  We spend Easter pondering the meaning of Easter – and finding it in Jesus the Good Shepherd’s care for the infant Church, especially through the Eucharist.

This week we read the Road to Emmaus, from Luke’s Gospel.  Like the Easter Lectionary, those disciples are grappling with the meaning of Easter – and they find it in the Good Shepherd, revealed in the Eucharist.


A word central to all three readings and the Psalm is hope.  As Jesus talks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they say, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”  Of course they are right, he has redeemed Israel.  But not the way they expected.  They were prevented from recognizing him walking along with them – but they were also prevented from recognizing him as their redeemer and hope on the Cross.

Luke, the author of our Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, is concerned with abandonment.  In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, which Luke seems to have had before him while writing his own, Jesus’s only words on the Cross are “Why have you abandoned me?”  Now, he is citing Psalm 22 which, the Gospel writers expect us to know, tells how even in what feels like abandonment God has not abandoned us.

But Luke wants to make it more clear, so he tells us about another Psalm Jesus prayed, Psalm 31, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Jesus was not abandoned.  Nor did he abandon us: Luke also tells us of Jesus saying to the Good Thief, himself abandoned on the Cross, “today you will be with me in Paradise,” and even of the morally abandoned people who crucified him, “Father, forgive them.”

In our reading from Acts, the same Luke reports Peter beginning his preaching at Pentecost with Psalm 16: “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld.”  It’s the same Hebrew word for abandon as in Psalm 22.


The disciples on the Road to Emmaus feel abandoned.  Christ was not the redeemer, he was abandoned on the Cross, and so we too are abandoned.  But this is the first thing they need to know about Easter: we are not abandoned.  “Therefore,” says our Psalm, “my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence; because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.”

Rembrandt’s Christ in Emmaus

“Abides in confidence” – actually, the word is hope.  In the Greek Old Testament, which Luke cites in Acts, it’s the same word as the disciples say on the Road to Emmaus: “we had hoped he was the redeemer.”  It’s the same word Peter says in our Epistle: “through him you believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

We are not abandoned, because we have hope.  And yet, as Paul says in Romans, hope is not yet possession.  The other side of hope is that we do indeed feel abandoned.  The power of Psalm 16, and the joy of Easter, is not in having completely escaped death, but in knowing, in the midst of death, that Christ is our hope.

The disciples “hoped” for a redeemer who would get them out of jail free.  For that, on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus scolds them: “Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory!”  (Glory is another word all over this Sunday’s readings.)  We enter glory through suffering, through hope.


In our Epistle, St. Peter tells us that we were “ransomed” – redeemed, as in, “we had hoped that he would redeem Israel” – from our futile conduct.   Peter reads the resurrection in terms of our conversion, which is still in process.

File:De gamle Kalkmalerier or12.pngBut we were redeemed not through earthly power, “not with perishable things like silver or gold,” but through our Passover lamb, “with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.”  He redeemed us not by being a powerful conquering king, but by laying down his life on the Cross.

His Word and his Eucharist transform the disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  “Were not our hearts burning within us?”  Actually, the word is more like “kindled,” “lit on fire” – the Greek emphasizes not a fire already burning, but the beginning.

Jesus kindle, your love in me, may your Cross and Resurrection give birth to the Church, a hope of glory, in each one of us.

To what new hope is Christ calling you this Easter?

Second Sunday of Easter: The Open Doors of the Risen Christ

This Sunday has many names.  St. John Paul II renamed it Divine Mercy Sunday.  It used to be called the Sunday in the Octave of Easter – the last day of the week-long solemnity.  For the same reason it was called “Low Sunday”: part of Easter, though not the “high” part.  The pre-Vatican II Missal calls it “In Albis,” “wearing white garments,” though the older, fuller name was “in albis depositis,” “when they take off the white garments,” because before the Middle Ages, when there were many people baptized at Easter – as again now – this was the end of their week-long celebration in baptismal garments.

Before Vatican II, the opening prayer said simply, “grant that what we have celebrated we may maintain in our lives.”  The new prayer develops the same theme: “let us remember in what font we have been plunged, by whose Spirit anointed, by whose Blood.” This Sunday is a kind of send-off: the Easter solemnities conclude, but the new life they celebrate has only just begun.

And it was called Quasimodo Sunday, because the opening antiphon (what riches we lose by neglecting those opening antiphons!), quoting First Peter, says, “Quasi modo geniti infantes”: like newborn infants, desire milk, with reason and without guile (or in the new missal, “you must long for the pure spiritual milk, that you may grow to salvation”).  Receive the new life given you in Christ!

(In Victor Hugo’s novel, Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, the humiliated, the miserable, was abandoned by his mother and adopted by the Church on this day.)


The Gospel for this day has always been doubting Thomas.  On Easter day, Jesus visits the apostles in the upper room, bringing peace and the power to forgive sins – the power of mercy.  But Thomas is not File:Smuglewicz Doubting Thomas.jpgthere.  The next Sunday after Easter, Jesus submits himself to Thomas’s doubting and probing.  He stoops down to Thomas, unafraid to be humiliated and lifting Thomas from his fears.  Mercy.

An interesting detail: on both Sundays, St. John tells us, the doors were locked, “for fear of the Jews.”  We’ve just been through the season where our modern Missals are full of assurances that John isn’t talking about today’s Jews and we shouldn’t be anti-Semites.

Those notes are right, but they don’t go far enough.  For us, “Jews” means another religion, outsiders.  But that’s exactly the opposite of what it meant for John.  John’s point is not that outsiders crucified Jesus, but that his own people did it: “he came to his own, and his own people received him not” (John 1:11).  It’s not only that we shouldn’t hate the Jews.  In fact, when John says “Jews,” we could translate it as “Christians,” us.  We, his people, crucified him.  The constant warning of the Gospel is not against outsiders, but against insiders.  The ones who most persecute Christ are us, the Christians.

When the disciples lock the doors for fear of the Jews, they are locking out doubters like Thomas – and thus becoming doubters like Thomas.  Both Sundays, John says, Jesus comes in “although the doors were locked.”

Like Thomas, like Jesus’s own people, we are always locking him out.  But Jesus overcomes our locked doors, just as he overcomes Thomas’s doubt.  Locking out our brothers, locking ourselves in against our fear, we lock out Jesus, just as Thomas’s doubt locks out Jesus.  But the mercy of Jesus comes through our locked doors.  Where we hide behind locked doors, Jesus shows his pierced body: perfect File:Hosios Loukas Crypt - Doubting Thomas 01.jpgvulnerability, his own hands and heart like an open door.

And Jesus sends us as missionaries of the same mercy.  He brings them peace and sends them as missionaries of peace: whoever’s sins you forgive.  Unlock the doors.


Our first reading, from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles – the verses immediately following Pentecost – tell us how the early Church carried on the mystery of Jesus that was given to them.  They lived in the teaching and the common life and the Eucharist and prayer.  And from that rooting in Jesus, came openness to one another: sharing all things in common, meeting in common, making their homes domestic churches.  Their meals were filled with the joy of the Gospel, and what our translation calls “sincerity of heart” has a root meaning of something like, “no stoning of hearts.”  When Jesus came through their locked doors, they opened their own hearts and hands to one another.

As always, the epistle, this time First Peter, gives the theology of grace.  From the resurrection of Christ we have received a new birth and a living hope.  We look forward to the inheritance in the final time.

This reading has one of the best ironic lines in the Bible: “though now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials.”  No kidding!  Peter knows, in fact, that we will be “tested by fire,” smelted like gold, crucified with Christ.  But the life and love of Jesus poured into our hearts lets us love, and believe, and rejoice, even though we do not see.

Rooted in the mystery of Easter, we have nothing to fear.

Where is the mercy of Jesus calling you to open doors that you have shut?

Mercy, Truth, and Humiliation

I’m sorry I’ve been silent over these last, most important days.  I spent hours on a Palm Sunday post, but it didn’t quite come together before Holy Week got very busy.  This year we went to the Chrism Mass and had good friends in town, along with everything else – and then we got a bad stomach bug, and a big new project for work, etc. 

Yesterday I wrote two posts: before I wrote about today’s readings, in this post I’ve tried to put together some insights from the last week.


Every Good Friday my kids and I join our Franciscan friends for a procession through Harlem and the Bronx.  There are many great things about this procession, but this year I also learned something about the liturgy.

One of the priests pointed out the novena to the Divine Mercy: beginning with Good Friday, there are nine days leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday.  I’ve always been a little confused how Divine Mercy fits into Easter Week, but here it is: Divine Mercy summarizes the mystery of Good Friday and Easter.  As soon as we have passed through these nine days of mercy, we stop to think about it.


This year during the last few weeks of Lent I was meditating on Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited.  Thurman was a big influence on Martin Luther King.  The book is both imperfect and breathtakingly important.  An example:

Thurman complains that he doesn’t like St. Paul.  That’s bad: Paul is amazing, and Thurman is missing Paul’s theology of grace, which is so central to the Gospel.  Thurman is incomplete.

But the reason he doesn’t like St. Paul is fascinating: because of citizenship.  When Paul is accused, he appeals to Ceasar (Acts 25).  Paul is a Roman citizen, he has rights.

BrotherSlave.jpgNow, whether or not Thurman understands Paul, he uses this event to take us deep into the mystery of Jesus.  Jesus did not have rights.  He was a poor man from a despised region of a despised, occupied country with a despised religion.  From Thurman’s experience as a black man in the 1930s American South, he takes us into Jesus’ experience of having no rights at all.


If you’re at all interested in what people like Ta-Nehesi Coates have been talking about (I think you should be), you should read Jesus and the Disinherited, which says the same things but in a much richer, more complete way.

One powerful chapter, for example, talks about how the poor are often stripped of their love of the truth.  To deal with their lack of rights, it is tempting to solve everything with lies.  Thurman gives a meditation on the disaster this loss of truth is for human dignity.  And on how Jesus shows another way.

Jesus dies because he has united himself to the most humiliated.  And he dies because in that position of absolute humiliation, he alone maintains human dignity – a dignity, we must add, found ultimately in the Fatherhood of God.  No one else can deal with that kind of humiliation.  Jesus does.

For me this Lent and Easter, this meditation on Jesus’ union with the humiliated has opened up the Gospel in a new way.  I have heard it in every line of these last weeks’ liturgies.

This is the Divine Mercy: he goes all the way down, to save us at our most humiliated.


Of course, like Paul, and much more comfortable than Paul, I have rights.  I am not among the humiliated.

But Jesus teaches me to love those who are, to see in them the deepest truth of the Gospel, the face of Christ.

Jesus teaches me a more excellent way, which is not to cling to my rights, not to fight to get ahead, but to love till the end.  At the Cross, Peter fled humiliation.

Jesus teaches me the meaning of my little humiliations.  I have not experienced what Thurman or Jesus (or Peter or Paul!) experienced.  But there are so many humiliations in life, leading up to the final and utter humiliation which is death.  (Another important read: Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan IlyichIf we do not learn humiliation during life, we will have to learn it at death.)

At the same time, I’ve been reading John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul.  Spiritually, too, everything culminates in humiliation.  This is central to the Gospel.

And it is central to Divine Mercy: the mercy of Jesus is to join us in our humiliation.


One more thought, from Good Friday.  In John’s account of the Passion, Jesus discusses with Pilate his kingship and his kingdom.  “Are you a king then?  Jesus answered, You say that I am a king.  To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”

Jesus is a king, but not the kind of king that conquers with a sword.  His kingdom is the kingdom of truth, his soldiers are those who embrace truth, speak truth, die for truth.  Those, too, who do not resort to untruth as a way of avoiding humiliation: the lies that protect our pride, the lies that get us out of hard situations, and the lies that allow us to demean others.

To follow Jesus is to live in the truth.  To receive Jesus is to have our eyes opened to the truth, to live in the light.

Where is humiliation in your life?  How does Jesus want to transform that?


Fifth Sunday in Lent: To Believe in the Resurrection

We come to the fifth Sunday of Lent.  In the old calendar this was called “Passion Sunday.”  The Gospel was from John 8, not yet the Passion – as now, they read the Synoptic account of the Passion on Palm Sunday, and John’s account on Good Friday – but this Sunday began “Passiontide,” when the statues are covered and the prayers increasingly focus on the Cross.  They began to use the Preface of the Cross, there were fewer Glory to the Father’s, the hymns Vexilla Regis and Stabat Mater were sung – we are moving from Lent into Holy Week.

The reformed Lectionary gives us the raising of Lazarus, from John 11.  It is a fitting choice.  John’s Gospel describes just a few events, in the life of Jesus then in 12:1 he begins Holy Week: “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany.”  Our reading ends with 11:45, “Then many of the Jews who came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed in Him.”  But 11:46 says, “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”  The rest of chapter 11 centers on the line, “Then from that day they took counsel together that they might kill Him” (11:53).  For John, Lazarus is the final act before the Cross.


The center point of the story is faith in the Resurrection.  When Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, he says, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God.”  The disciples are confused why sickness not unto death is any worry, so Jesus tells them clearly, “Lazarus has died.  And I am glad for that, that I was not there, that you may believe.”  Notice how many times he says, “Believe.”

Église de Kalkar - Résurrection-Lazare.jpg

Église de Kalkar

Most of the story is a dialogue with Martha.  This is where Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever” – here’s that word again – “believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  John gets into weird circles like this – but in any case, Jesus is talking about resurrection and believing.

Martha has already expressed her belief: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus points to a deeper belief: “Your brother will rise.”  And Martha professes again, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”  She believes in the resurrection – but Jesus points her deeper.  This is when he says, “I am the resurrection.”  He concludes, “Do you believe this?”


Martha says, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”  John is like a commentary on the other Gospels.  For him, the primacy of Peter is clear – and he discusses it in his own way, after the Resurrection: “feed my sheep.”  But John puts Peter’s confession in the mouth of Martha.

File:Jesus uppväcker Lazarus, målning av Karl Isakson.jpg

Karl Isakson

In Matthew, Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It may be the center point of Matthew’s Gospel – and immediately after it comes Jesus’s first proclamation of the Cross.  In Mark, Peter only says, “You are the Christ,” and it is not till Jesus dies that the Centurion completes the profession: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  But John puts that profession on the lips of Martha, who experiences the resurrection through the death of her own brother, the one for whom “Jesus wept,” entering into the weeping of the sisters.

But she still does not fully believe: when Jesus comes to the tomb, she says, “Lord, by now there will be a stench.”  But when Lazarus rises, “many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.”

A growing faith in the resurrection, faith through death and resurrection.


“If you had been here,” Martha complains.  In fact, “when he heard that he was ill, Jesus remained for two days.”  “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” – but he did not hurry.

How much of our life is lived in this words?  “If you had been here, Jesus.”  Hurry up!  Why are you leaving me to die on the vine?

But Martha’s profession – like Peter’s and the Centurion’s – must be purified by death.  It is easy to say, “I believe that Jesus is Lord.  I believe in the Resurrection.”  But we must pass through Lent, through fasting, through loss, through the Cross, to find what the Resurrection means.


The other two readings hammer the point.  Ezekiel says that the Lord is a God of resurrection: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”

Paul warns us that the deepest resurrection is deeper than we want to go.  The Spirit who raises Jesus’s body from the dead will raise our souls, even though our bodies are dead.  The Resurrection doesn’t mean there is no Lent, no Cross, no death.  It is in the Cross that our souls can be brought to true life, by the purifying of our faith.

Only then, when he has given life to our souls, will he “give life to your mortal bodies also” – only when we have passed through the purification of death and the Cross.

What Cross is Jesus making you pass through?  How is he purifying your faith?

File:Wydra Raising of Lazarus.jpg

Jan Wydra