Monday, April 16, 2018

Easter IV B

4th Sunday of Easter B

Readings: Acts 4:8-12  1 John 3:1-2  John 10:11-18

The fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday because the gospel readings are taken from John 10, Jesus’ discourse proclaiming: “I am the good shepherd.”  This Sunday’s readings also provide a good opportunity for reflection on Church leadership, modeled on Jesus, the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:15).  This act of self-emptying love in obedience to the Father becomes the source of life and unity in the Church.  In the words of the first reading and our responsorial psalm, Jesus is “the stone rejected by the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).
The first reading from Acts presents us with Peter’s fearless leadership of the apostolic witnesses in Jerusalem.  He and John have been arrested by the priests and temple leaders for proclaiming that their healing of a crippled beggar was done in the name of Jesus, whom God had resurrected, although they had rejected him (see Acts 3:1-4:4).  Remember that Peter had denied Jesus three times before the people in the courtyard during his master’s arrest and trial (see Luke 22:54-62).  But now, transformed by the Holy Spirit into a courageous witness, Peter proclaims before a hostile Sanhedrin the resurrected Jesus as the source of salvation for the whole world. “. . . you and all the people of Israel must realize that it (the cure) was done in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead.  In the power of that name this man stands before you perfectly sound.This Jesus is ‘the stone rejected by you the builders which has become the cornerstone.’  There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved.”
The second reading from 1 John graphically illustrates the tension that marks the life of the Church.  On the one hand, in Jesus the Father has bestowed his love on us so that we are, in John’s language, “children of God.”  But on the other hand, the Church finds itself, like the Son, at odds with the world (the evil forces who refuse to recognize God’s love manifest in Jesus).  The author of 1 John assures his readers in tender language that finally their resemblance to the Son will culminate in union with God. “Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now;what we shall later be has yet to come to light.We know that when it comes to light we shall be like him.  For we shall see him as he is.”

The background for today’s Gospel reading is the Old Testament image of God and the kings of Israel as shepherds (see Ps 23; Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 34).  Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel criticized the kings who have fleeced the flock of God’s people and caused them to be scattered in exile.  They looked forward to God’s tending the flock, gathering the scattered exiles and bringing them back to the land where they would be tended by a good shepherd king in the Davidic line.
The Gospel presents Jesus as the good shepherd in two ways that even go beyond the images in the prophets.  First of all, he “lays down his life for the sheep,” in contrast to “the hired hand,” who works only for pay and abandons the flock when he catches sight of the wolf coming.  Secondly, Jesus “knows” his sheep, that is, he loves them with the same love that the Father has for him.  The reason the Father loves Jesus is precisely because he will freely lay down his life for his sheep.  The result of this act of love will be that other sheep will be led into the one flock under the one shepherd.
Although John understood the image of the good shepherd as uniquely applicable to Jesus, in the Church’s tradition the self-sacrificing love of the Good Shepherd has also become a model for human pastors (see Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule).  One of the most memorable images of the faithful pastor is that provided by Chaucer in his description of the Poor Parson in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.”  “Wide was his parish, with houses far asunder,/ But he would not be kept by rain or thunder,/ If any had suffered a sickness of a blow,/ From visiting the farthest, high or low/ plodding his way on foot, his staff in hand./ He was a model his flock could understand,/ for first he did and afterward he taught./ That precept from the Gospel he had caught. . .”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


3rd Sunday of Easter B

Readings: Acts 3:13-15,17-19  1 John 2:1-5   Luke 24:35-48

“In his name, penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of this.”  This commission, given by the risen Jesus to the apostles in Luke’s resurrection accounts, provides the focus for this Sunday’s readings.  Our joyful Easter faith in Jesus’ victory over sin and death makes new life possible, even in the face of evil.  Each of us can pray in the words of today’s responsorial psalm: “O Lord, let the light of your face shine upon us,/ You put gladness into my heart” (Ps 4:7-8).
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is testifying to Jesus’ resurrection before a crowd gathered in the Temple area at Solomon’s Portico after he has cured a crippled beggar “in the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazorean.”   The miracle gives him the opportunity to fulfill the mission he and the other apostles were given in our gospel selection: to preach repentance from sins in Jesus’ name.  Peter proclaims that the God of the fathers has glorified his servant Jesus, whom the Jewish leaders in their ignorance had put to death.  Their handing Jesus over to Pilate is not, however, cause for their rejection.  In Luke’s crucifixion account, Jesus himself had forgiven them at the cross in the words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).  Now Peter assures the crowd, “Yet I know, my brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did.”  In Luke’s theology, Jesus’ suffering was part of God’s plan, announced long ago through the prophets (see Lk 13:31 ff.).  Because God has glorified his Servant Jesus through the resurrection, Peter now witnesses to the offer of forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.  He ends by exhorting the crowd to repent.   “Reform your lives!  Turn to God, that your sins may be wiped away!”
The reading from 1 John also assures us that, even if we do sin, we have “in presence of the Father, Jesus Christ, an intercessor who is just.”  John’s community is divided by bitter hostilities, a sign of the presence of darkness and sin (see 1 John 1:5-10).  According to John, the way out of the darkness of division is not through purely intellectual claims of those who insist “I have known Christ.”  True knowledge of God is “keeping his commandments” of love for one another, even in the midst of hostilities.  “This is the way we know we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live (just) as he lived” (1 John 2:6).

The Gospel is Luke’s version of Jesus’ appearance to the eleven in Jerusalem on Easter night.  In his theology Jesus’ resurrection appearances prepare the apostles for their role in Acts by transforming them from disillusioned and panic-stricken cowards to believing and courageous witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.  First of all, Jesus overcomes their fear and panic by wishing them “Peace” and offering convincing evidence that he has truly risen.  He invites them to look at his hands and touch him “and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.”  He then eats a piece of cooked fish in their presence.  Secondly, Jesus interprets his rejection in Jerusalem and his suffering death on the cross.  After he reminds the eleven that he had repeatedly spoken of this “when I was still with you” (see Lk 13:31-35; 18:31-34), he opens their minds to understand that according to the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms the Messiah’s destiny was to suffer and then rise from the dead.  In Acts the sermons of Peter, Philip and Paul will use these Scriptures to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection (see Acts, 2, 3, 9, 10, 13).  Finally, Jesus commissions the apostles to be witnesses who are to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name “to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem.”  They are to stay in the city until they are “clothed with power from on high” (24:49) in the events of Pentecost (see Acts 2).  In the fifty days of the Easter season, the Church does well to remember that she is called, not to condemn the world, but to witness to the forgiving love of God “to all the nations” in Jesus’ name.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


2nd Sunday of Easter B

Readings: Acts 4:32-35          1 John 5:1-6                John 20:19-31

During the Easter season the Church’s liturgy celebrates the effects of Jesus’ resurrection.  Today’s readings present the transforming gifts of resurrection faith on the life of the early Christian communities that were called to live in an often hostile world.  In gratitude we sing the words of this Sunday’s responsorial psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,/ his love is everlasting” (Ps 118).
In the Easter season the first reading is taken from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles which recounts the work of the Holy Spirit in spreading faith in the resurrection though the witness of the apostles “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Today’s reading is one of three idyllic summaries Luke gives of the life of the early Jerusalem community (see also 2:42-47 and 5:12-16).  Throughout his Gospel and again in Acts, Luke places special emphasis on the proper use of material goods.  In this summary, the community’s oneness in heart and mind moves them to share their material goods in common.  The apostles’ heroic witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is accompanied by a life of charity for the needy in the community.  This life of service, rather than worldly power, brought the early community respect from would-be believers.
Throughout the Easter season in the B cycle, the second reading will be taken from 1 John, an exhortation addressed to a community divided by bitter conflict over how to understand the nature and role of Jesus.  Some in the community were apparently divorcing belief in Christ and love of God from charity for one another.  In this selection, the author insists that to believe in Jesus as the Christ changes our relationship with both God and with one another.  Belief in Christ as the revelation of God’s love makes us, in John’s words, “begotten of God.”  This new life implies that we now love both “the father” and “the child he has begotten.”  The sure sign that we love God is that we keep his commandments, and the only real command in the Johannine tradition is “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).
The symbolism of Jesus “who came through water and blood” refers to the same issue.  At Jesus’ death in John’s gospel, a soldier pierces Jesus’ side and we are told that “immediately blood and water flowed out” (19:34).  By the life-giving water of baptism the Christian is “begotten” of God, but that rebirth implies a self-sacrificing life of love for others modeled on Jesus who is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances has two distinct episodes: an appearance on the first day of the week to the disciples with Thomas missing and a second appearance a week later when Thomas is with them.  In the first Jesus is fulfilling the promises he made to his disciples in the farewell discourse at the Last Supper (see chs 13-17).  He gives them the gift of “peace” and the Holy Spirit/Paraclete as he sends them into the world, just as he was sent by the Father.  The Spirit enables them to forgive and bind one another’s sins. 
The appearance a week later to the disciples and Thomas reveals Jesus as the crucified one, who was wounded in his hands and side, who has triumphed over death and is now Thomas’s “Lord and God.”  The whole incident addresses the readers (us), who have not had the privilege of seeing the glorified Jesus.  Thomas is transformed from an unbeliever, who must see physical signs, to a believer, who confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” when he sees the glorified Jesus.  But Jesus’ last words praise those who have believed on the testimony of others, without having seen. “You (Thomas) became a believer because you saw me. blest are they who have not seen and have believed.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday A B C

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14        1 Corinthians 11:23-26           John 13:1-15

            The readings for Holy or Maundy Thursday present various dimensions of the Passover mystery that are associated with the Christian Eucharist: its Hebrew Bible origins as a memorial of the Lord’s liberating act of the exodus that freed the Israelites from oppression in Egypt and its New Testament fulfillment in Jesus’ act of liberating love, laying down his life as the new Passover lamb who takes away the world’s sins.  All three readings emphasize the attitude that should mark those who celebrate Passover.  The Israelite congregation is to eat their meal in symbolic readiness to depart from their enslaved condition in Egypt; the Christian community is to celebrate Eucharist in such a way as to be faithful to Jesus’ command to serve one another in considerate love.
            For the Jewish community the central importance of Passover as a memorial of the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt is evident in the instructions given to Moses and Aaron for its celebration.  This legislation gives careful directives for the preparation of the Passover feast: the dates for procuring and slaying the lamb, provisions for sharing among households, the type of lamb (one year old male and without blemish) and the way it is to be prepared and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  Despite the precise detail, the rituals keep alive the memory of the liberating nature of the original Passover.  The actions of placing the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and lintel of each house and dressing in readiness for flight commemorate the night when the Lord passed over the people’s houses, executing judgment on Egypt and enabling them to escape from the Pharaoh’s tyranny.
            The second reading from Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians is the earliest record of Jesus’ actions and words at his final meal with his disciples on the night before he died.  From Paul’s account it is clear that “the Lord’s supper” was celebrated both as a proclamation of Jesus’ saving death and an anticipation of his return in glory.  The context in which Paul recounts Jesus’ actions at the last supper is noteworthy.  He is exhorting the Corinthians to avoid factionalism and inconsiderate behavior at the Eucharist. “When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.  Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink?  Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed?  What can I say to you?  Shall I praise you?  In this matter I do not praise you”  (1 Cor 11:17-22). 
Such actions are the antithesis of what the community is commemorating: Jesus’ self-sacrificing act of love in giving his body and blood to seal the new covenant of God’s forgiveness.  Those who eat the bread and drink the Lord’s cup without consideration for one another in the body that is the community of believers eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Cor 11:27-34).
            The Gospel reading for Holy Thursday is taken from John’s account of the Last Supper, which does not speak of the institution of the Eucharist but does narrate the striking story of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet, a tradition not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels.  As the solemn introduction to the Last supper indicates (13:1-2), this incident marks a significant transition in John’s Gospel.  “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.  He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”
The hour has come for Jesus to depart from this world by laying down his life in love as the new Passover Lamb who will take away the sins of the world (John 1:29-30; 19:31-37).  From this point on Jesus will concentrate his message on his disciples, and it will be one of love—the love of the Father and the Son for each other and of both for the disciples who are given the new command to love one another as Jesus has loved them (see John 14-17).  For John, in contrast to the Synoptics, the Last Supper occurs before the Passover festival because he will concentrate the Passover symbolism on Jesus himself, the new Lamb of God who lays down his life to take away the sin of the world; he therefore appropriately dies on the afternoon before Passover as the sacrificial lambs are slaughtered in the Temple (see John 19:31-37; 1:29, 36; etc.). 
            John’s first interpretation of Jesus’ menial action in washing his disciples’ feet (13:2-11) contrasts Judas’ betrayal with Jesus’ prophetic foreshadowing of his own death.  John tells us, “The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over” (13:3).  Later Jesus will say that Judas, the betrayer, is not clean because he will not participate in Jesus’ action of self-sacrificing love (13:11).  The point of the dialogue with Simon Peter about allowing Jesus to “wash” his feet is also about participating in Jesus act of laying down his life.  When Jesus has been raised, the disciples (Peter) will understand that to be clean/washed is to share in Jesus’ act of love and to be unclean is to betray that love (13:6-11).
            The second interpretation of the foot-washing (13:12-15) is more straightforward.  Jesus as teacher and master paradoxically acts as servant who washes his disciples’ feet, an act symbolizing his death, when he will lay down his life for his own.  Such self-sacrificing love is to be the model for his disciples’ lives (see 15:12-17).  “Do you realize what I have done for you?  You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” 

Good Friday

Good Friday A B C

Readings: Isaiah 52:13‑53:12   Hebrews 4:14‑16; 5:7‑9  
 John 18:1‑19:42

            The readings for Good Friday present us with Jesus as the obedient Servant and Son of God who lays down his life for the life of the world.  Although all three readings allude to both the suffering and the triumph of the passion, there is a progression from a meditation in the Isaiah reading on the poignant sufferings of God's servant, to the consolation in the Hebrews reading of having in Jesus a sympathetic high priest whose obedient death has sealed a new covenant, and finally to the life‑giving triumphant of Jesus' death as the new Lamb of God in John's passion story.  The responsorial psalm assigned for this day (Psalm 31) is a lament of a righteous sufferer which invites us to enter the stark reality of Jesus' trustful embrace of his Father at the moment of death.  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Ps 31:6).
            The first reading is taken from the fourth of the so‑called Servant Songs of Second Isaiah.  It begins and ends with God's voice (Isa 52:13‑15; 53:11‑12) announcing the triumph of the suffering servant and the salvation he will bring to the startled nations.  The central section (53:1‑10) is a confession by a group that has witnessed the ignominious life and death of the servant and now realizes that his sufferings were borne, not for his own sins, but for theirs.  They confess: “We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isa 53:6).
            This confession of a new understanding of God's servant was undoubtedly influenced by the suffering of prophets like Moses, Jeremiah and possibly second Isaiah himself.  In retrospect, the Israelite community can see that the servant's sufferings in fidelity to his mission have brought life to the exilic community.  The servant brings salvation for others by voluntarily offering his life as a sacrifice to atone for "the sins of the many."
            The Hebrews reading from chapters 4‑5 continues the theme of salvation through suffering by exhorting us to "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need" (Heb 4:16).  According to the author of Hebrews, Christians may do this because in Jesus they have a sympathetic high priest who knows weakness and temptation.  Although Hebrews presents the resurrected Jesus as the great high priest who has passed through the heavens, it also stresses that in his earthly existence Jesus was perfected through suffering, obedience and testing.  Jesus did not exercise an earthly priesthood by offering animal sacrifices in the temple; rather, in the flesh he learned to be an obedient Son.
            The second part of the reading (5:7‑9) probably alludes to Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he offered "prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to God" as he faced death in trust that God could save him.  Only through his obedient endurance of death in faith did the Son become perfected so that he might become the source of eternal salvation for all who follow him in obedience.

            John's passion account is the story of Jesus' movement to glory.  Although it contains many incidents familiar from the synoptic tradition, they are handled in a way consistent with John's theology of glory.  In the arrest in the garden, for example, (18:1‑14) there is no hint of agony; Jesus has come to the hour of his glory (12:27‑32) and he is in complete control as the Good Shepherd who begins to "lay down" his life only to take it up again (18:4; see 10:17‑18).  When the band of soldiers approaches, Jesus asks them "Whom do you seek?' to which they respond, "Jesus of Nazareth" (18:4‑5).  When Jesus answers with the solemn "I am he," they draw back and fall to the ground before his divine presence.  Jesus then gives the soldiers permission to take him, but, as the shepherd who "has not lost one of those you gave me," Jesus commands them to let his disciples go.  When Peter tries to fight to prevent Jesus' arrest, he says, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?" (18:11).
            John's account of the trials before the high priest and Pilate presents a much more loquacious and regal Jesus than do the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).  Using dramatic irony, John makes the trials scenes dialogues in which Jesus turns the tables on his accusers and convicts them for failing to believe in him.  For example, when the high priest questions Jesus "about his disciples and his teaching," Jesus challenges him to question his believing disciples: "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me?  Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said" (18:20‑21).
A word about John's treatment of "the Jews" here and throughout his gospel is in order at this point.  Unfortunately, John's gospel was written during a period of hostility between church and synagogue (see John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2), and this has influenced his portrayal of the Jews throughout the gospel.  To prevent the possibility of anti-Semitism which would hold the Jewish people as a whole responsible for the death of Jesus, readers might us such phrases as "the religious leaders" or "the Jewish authorities" throughout the passion reading.

            The trial before Pilate revolves around the issue of Jesus' kingship and whether it is of this world or not.  In the end, both the Jewish authorities and Pilate will by their words and actions affirm that they are subjects of Caesar, a king of this world, rather than of Jesus, and will thus condemn themselves.   When Jesus is questioned by Pilate about the nature of his kingship (18:33‑36), Jesus challenges him to believe in the truth of his divine kingship which he has borne witness to (18:37‑38), and later he assures Pilate that he would have no power over him "unless it had been given you from above" (19:11).  The Jewish leaders on the other hand, threaten Pilate by saying, "If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend; everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar" (19:12).  The trial scene ends with both judging themselves by choosing Caesar's kingship.  When Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd with the words, "Behold your King!" they ask for his crucifixion and say, "We have no king but Caesar" (19:14‑15).  At this point Pilate capitulates to their earlier threat and hands Jesus over to be crucified (19:16).  In the end, however, Pilate becomes an unbelieving witness of the truth of Jesus' identity.  He places a title on the cross in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek which reads, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (19:19‑20).  When the chief priests try to force him to change it to read "This man said, I am King of the Jews," Pilate refuses by saying, "What I have written I have written" (19:21‑22).
            John's portrayal of the crucifixion is consistent with his theology of glory.  Jesus does not really suffer on the cross; he reigns as he enters his glory with the completion of the task given him by his Father.  Jesus is "the Good Shepherd" who lays down his life to take it up again (10:17‑18), "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (1:29,36), and the source of living waters (4:13‑15; 7:38).  Rather than having to be assisted by Simon of Cyrene (Mk 15:21; Matt 27:32; Lk 23:26), Jesus carries his own cross to Golgotha (19:17), and dies with the words "It is finished" (19:30).  The time of his death is a day earlier than in the Synoptic Gospels so that Jesus, as the Lamb of  God, dies on the day of Preparation for the Passover, just as the  lambs would be slain in the temple (19:31).  Like the lambs used for Passover who were not to have a bone broken (19:36; Ex 12:46), Jesus' legs are not broken when the soldiers discover that he is already dead (19:33‑37).  Instead, his side is pierced and blood and water flow out‑‑ the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (19:37).
            Finally, in contrast to the picture in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus is deserted by his disciples and the women stand at a distance (Mk 15:40‑41), in John there are believers, including his mother and the beloved disciple, standing by the cross (19:21).  Jesus speaks with them and commends his mother and the beloved disciple to one another's care‑‑ a symbol of the love the community he is leaving behind is to have (19:26‑27; see 13:34‑35; 14:18‑21; 15:10‑17). 

Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil A B C

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:2      Genesis 22:1-18 
Exodus 14:15-15:1      Isaiah 54:5-14

                  Isaiah 55:1-11       Baruch 3:9-14, 32-4:4

 Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28

                  Romans 6:3-11      A: Matthew 28:1-10  
 B: Mark 16:1-7            C: Luke 24:1-12

            On Holy Saturday night the Church celebrates the Easter Vigil commemorating Jesus’ resurrection in a service with an extended Liturgy of the Word of seven Old Testament readings, an epistle reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans proclaiming Christian Baptism as the sacrament of Christ’s Resurrection, and the discovery of the empty tomb and announcement of the resurrection from one of the Synoptic Gospels.  Ideally all the readings are to be done, but at a minimum three selections from the Old Testament should be read and the reading from Exodus recounting the escape through the Red Sea is never to be omitted.
            The Old Testament readings recount the saving works of God for the people of Israel beginning with the defeat of darkness and chaos in the magnificent story of creation at the beginning of Genesis.  The primordial condition is one of disorder and darkness: “the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”  In six parallel days God brings order and life out of the chaos simply by the word of his command.  On day one he creates light and separates it from darkness, naming them “day” and “night,” and on the parallel fourth day he creates the light bearing bodies: the sun, moon and stars to mark the fixed times, the days and the years and to govern the day and the night and to separate the light from the darkness.  On day two God separates the waters by creating a dome (the sky), and on the parallel fifth day he populates the waters and the region beneath the dome of the sky with sea creatures and birds.  On the third day God gathers the waters beneath the sky into its basin so that the dry land appears; he names the dry land “the earth” and the gathered water “the sea”, and then he commands the earth to bring forth vegetation.  On the parallel sixth day he commands the earth to bring forth all kinds of living creatures and then creates humans in his “image” and “likeness” to rule by having dominion over the animal portion of creation.  Repeatedly (seven times) we hear how God saw that what he made was good, and in fact there is no hint of violence in this world as both humans and animals are given the seed-bearing plants for their food.  This is the world order that we Christians long for in our Easter hope as we sing in the responsorial psalm: “Lord, send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104).
            The second reading recounts the terrifying story of the testing of Abraham in the Binding of Isaac which culminates in the Lord’s oath promising Abraham abundant blessing for himself and “all the nations of the earth” because of his trusting obedience to the Lord’s command.  The story is centered on Abraham’s faith expressed in his words to his beloved Isaac who poignantly asks his father, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”  Abraham answers, “Son, God himself will provide (yir’eh “see to”) the sheep for the holocaust.”  Abraham’s faith is associated with the name of the place Moriah which is based on the verbal root” to see” (yr’) in Hebrew and is associated with Abraham’s naming of the place after he has passed the test and has spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket to replace his son as the holocaust victim.  We are told: “Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, ‘On the mountain the Lord will see.’”  In Jewish exegetical tradition the site of Moriah is the future site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lamb that replaces Isaac is associated with the Passover lamb whose blood enables the Israelites to escape from Egypt.  For us Christian readers Isaac is a type of Christ who carries the wood of the sacrifice and is rescued from death by God’s command.
           For Christians the story of the Red Sea crossing is symbolic of the waters of baptism and Christ’s saving victory over the forces of oppression and evil through his death and resurrection (cf. the epistle reading from Romans 6).  For the Israelites passing through the waters is the path to salvation from the cruel oppression of the Pharaoh.  Initially, they are terrified at the approach of his army and chariots and want to return to the security of Egypt, but the Lord commands Moses to tell the Israelites to “go forward” and to use his staff to “split the sea in two, that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.”  Through the Lord’s saving power they march “into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.”  As a divine warrior, the Lord then uses the waters of the sea to drown “the chariots and the charioteers of the Pharaoh’s whole army.”  Fittingly, when the Israelites see “the great power that the Lord had shown against the Egyptians, they feared the Lord and believed in him and in servant Moses” and break into the lyrics of the Song of the Sea: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant;/ horse and chariot he has cast into the sea” (Ex 15:1).
            The fourth reading from Isaiah 54 proclaims to the Babylonian exiles that the Lord of hosts, as husband and “Maker”, calls Zion/Jerusalem back “like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, a wife married in youth and then cast off.”  For Christians, this reading encapsulates our whole Lenten-Easter observance of returning to the Lord in trust for his unfailing saving purpose for us as a redeemed community. As Jerusalem’s redeemer, the Lord says “For a brief moment I abandoned you,/ but with great tenderness I will take you back.”  His renewed covenant with the Holy City is “like the days of Noah” when the Lord promised “the waters of Noah should never again deluge the earth.”  Even though the mountain and hills may be shaken, the Lord’s covenant fidelity will never abandon the city and temple which he will rebuild in precious stones and where “all your children shall be taught by the Lord” so that “justice shall be established,/far from fear of oppression,/ where destruction cannot come near you.”   
            The fifth reading also from Isaiah 55 is the Lord’s universal invitation to the banquet of life in the restored temple in Jerusalem.  His saving word will satisfy the thirst and hunger of all “without paying and without cost.”   Those who come to him and find life are assured of the benefits of the everlasting covenant with David: “As I made him a witness to the peoples,/ a leader and commander of nations,/ so shall you summon a nation you knew not,/ and nations that knew you not shall run to you,/ because of the Lord, your God,/ the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.”  With special urgency, the prophet exhort us to “seek the Lord while he may be found” by forsaking wickedness and turning to the Lord for mercy. If we doubt our worthiness, we are assured that the Lord’s ways are above our ways and that his word will achieve the end for which it was sent.  “For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down/ and do not return there till they have watered the earth, . . .so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;/ my word shall not return to me void,/ but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” 
            The Baruch reading is an exhortation to conversion in the form of a hymn praising Wisdom found in the Torah as the way to God for the exiles who have forsaken “the fountain of wisdom.”  Had the exiles “walked in the way of God,” they “would have dwelt in enduring peace.”  Now they must “learn” where prudence is . . . so that they may know “where are length of days, and life/ where light of the eyes, and peace.”  Only the creator God knows Wisdom and he “has given her to Jacob, his servant” in the form of “the book of the precepts of God, the law that endures forever.”  So Jacob is invited to “Turn . . . and receive her: walk by her light toward splendor.” 
            The seventh and last Old Testament reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel announces the reason for the exile—Israelites’ defiling of their land by their conduct and deeds—and the Lord’s intention for the sake of his holy name to take them back to their own land.  Using priestly language of purification, the Lord announces to the exiles: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”  And, in order that they may now keep his covenant, he promises, “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”  He also promises the gift of the spirit so they may live by his law and renew the covenant: “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”  The symbols of water, change of heart, the gift of the spirit and covenant renewal all point to the baptism of catechumens and renew our baptismal vows latter the Easter Vigil service.
            In the Epistle reading from Romans, Paul is responding to a possible objection to his gospel of salvation through faith in Christ.  The question is: does Paul’s gospel encourage continuation in sin “that grace may abound” (6:1)?  Paul’s answer is a definitive “No!”  He substantiates this by a reflection on the effects of the baptism Christian converts received.  Paul interprets Christian baptism, as an entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ which leads to walking in “newness of life.”  It also involves an ethical conversion.  The old self “was crucified with him (Christ) . . . that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.”  Baptized Christians, freed from sin, must now live in the power of Christ’s resurrection.  Paul concludes, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
            The Gospels for the Easter Vigil are the accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb by the faithful women, always including Mary Magdalene, in the respective synoptic gospels: Matthew for the A Cycle, Mark for the B Cycle, and Luke for the C Cycle.  Although all the narratives share certain features—the women coming to the tomb and finding the stone rolled back, their encounter with a young man/angel/young men who tell them not to be afraid and announce that the crucified Jesus has been raised from the dead, and some account of announcing the good news to the disciples—each also has distinctive features.  Matthew’s account has a mini-apocalyptic tone with a great earthquake and an angel descending from heaven to roll back and stone and sit upon it.  Mark’s account has the young man dressed in a white robe sending the amazed women to the disciples and Peter with the message “that he (the risen Jesus) is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you” (cf. Mk 14:28).  Luke has the two men in dazzling apparel telling the women to remember that Jesus told them while he was still in Galilee “that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise,” a message which the apostles do not believe because they think it was an idle tale.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday A B C

Readings: Acts 10:33-43    Colossians 3:1-4   John 20:1-9

The readings for Easter express extraordinary joy over Jesus’ triumphant resurrection from the dead and confidently exhort us to a new life based on faith in God’s victory over sin and death.  We may all rejoice in singing the refrain of the Easter Psalm: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Ps 118).
Peter’s sermon in the Acts reading proclaims the universal significance of Jesus’ resurrection which brings the good news of God’s forgiving love into the whole world.  Peter begins the mission to the Gentiles by announcing the salvation God has wrought in Jesus to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman centurion. Beginning with the baptism of John, God anointed Jesus with his Spirit to do good and heal those who were in the grip of the devil.  Although Jesus was put to death in Jerusalem by “being hanged on a tree,” God raised him on the third day and made him manifest to the chosen witnesses who ate and drank with him (see Luke 24).  Now Peter fulfills Jesus’ command to witness to what he has seen (Lk 24:48; Acts 1:8,22) by testifying that Jesus is the one ordained by God to judge the living and the dead, and that in his name forgiveness of sins is available to all. 
In the reading from the Letter to the Colossians Paul exhorts them to live out the consequences of the resurrection.  They have been raised up in company with Christ and are now to set their hearts on “the higher realms,” rather than “on things of earth.”   In Colossians 3:5-17 Paul contrast these two ways of living.  “The things of the earth” to which the Christian has died are fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness (3:5-9).  “The things above” are compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness (3:10-17) which are to mark the Christian community’s renewed Easter life.
In the Easter Gospel, John emphasizes the initial “darkness” and consternation over the discovery of the empty tomb and contrasts it with the faith of the beloved disciple who believes in Jesus’ resurrection and return to the Father simply on the basis of the sign of the empty tomb.  When Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb “while it was still dark,” she discovers the stone has been rolled away, but she meets no angels to interpret its significance as in the other Gospels.  Instead, she thinks that the body has been stolen and runs to tell Simon Peter and the disciple “whom Jesus loved.”  When they race to the tomb, the beloved disciple arrives first, but he defers to Simon Peter, who enters the tomb and observes the wrappings on the ground and the piece of cloth which had covered Jesus’ head.  We are not told Peter’s reaction, although 20:9 reminds us: “Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”  In contrast to Peter, when the beloved disciple enters the tomb, we are told very simply, “He saw and believed.”  This belief is based on Jesus’ words to the disciples in the farewell discourse at the Last Supper where he announced:“You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come

back to you.’  If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.  And now, I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe” (John 14:28-29).
For the beloved disciple, the empty tomb is enough of a sign to believe that Jesus has fulfilled his promise.  On this Easter feast, we are called to rejoice in faith with the beloved disciple that Jesus has indeed both returned to the Father and come back to dwell with us believers.