Easter Sunday Cycle A April 20, 2014

“He saw and believed.”

John the Apostle has claimed first belief.

It almost sounds like the breaking news that news stations like to claim. “We were the first on the scene. We were the first to report. We were the first to tell you what happened, and how, and why, and where, and when.” Congratulations, but in the end there were 100 news stations there and no one will remember you showed up five seconds before your competitor.

But St. John? He’s kind, thoughtful and quite courteous, unlike many news stations. John arrives at the tomb first, but doesn’t go in first. It sounds like John the Apostle was a sprinter, whereas  Peter the Apostle was a marathoner. A nice thought the day before the Boston Marathon.

John the sprinter sprinted to the tomb of Jesus when Mary Magdalene reported the body of Jesus missing. We can’t blame Mary there. That’s not the type of news you want to keep for yourself. The missing body of Jesus from the tomb is not news that qualifies for the seal of confession. You have to find your friends and share it.

But John stays back, not stepping in after peeking in. He allows Peter the honor of all Christian honors. He allows the Chief Apostle, the one on whom this Church of Jesus Christ is built, the one who today is in the person of Pope Francis, John courteously allows Peter the first step into the tomb where Jesus is not to be found…forever. Peter was allowed by John to be the first to step into resurrected life, and see what it looks like. John understood his role and stayed back so that Jesus’ self-chosen Rock, Peter, could enter the rock where death was destroyed for us. Maybe this is why Peter is the one who waits at the Pearly Gates. So he can tell everyone entering how awesome their empty tomb will be one day when the Lord returns. Peter’s first step into the tomb is a witness to Jesus’ first step into God’s promise for us.

Depending upon the faith situation of families at funerals concerning the loss of a loved one, there are times when its necessary to ask the question, “What is it going to look like when you’re reunited with that person?” The grief and sense of loss, and sometimes even no hope, makes it necessary to plant a seed of truth that will hopefully grow and remind us that we are here but a short time, and that our Risen Lord has waiting for us what is called “The Reunification of Indescribable Joy.”

Peter took the first step into this tomb of life. The tomb of Jesus Christ.

But there’s still the other guy in this Resurrection Gospel. The sprinter. He claims for himself the “breaking news,” if you will. And he has every right to. And we should be overjoyed that he does. John’s “breaking news” is at the heart and soul of Christian living and faith. Without it, we are wanderers. “He saw and believed.” John was the first believer in our Lord’s resurrection. The disciple whom Jesus loved. The sprinter who sprinted his way to belief that Jesus is raised from the dead. So how is our
sprinting going in this regard?

Whereas Peter was the first to step into life, John was the first of billions to believe in life after death. It tells us how profoundly deep John was in tune with,and touched by, and open to the Spirit of life. He was the first of countless hearts and souls over the centuries, with many more to come, to have hope. This is what belief in an empty tomb does. It offers us the hope we are in need of in the present – the short present time – until we meet again.

The three followers of Jesus in this Gospel, three people touched by the presence and love of God in their midst, offer to us as witnesses the whole of our salvation. Peter walked into life; John believed in life after death; and Mary Magdalene, in John’s Gospel, was the first to see, touch, and speak to that life.

To follow the example and witness of these three giants is to be on the path of being reunited with our loved ones. We live in truth and hope, for he is truly raised from the dead, and so are we.

Homily Good Friday

In our commemoration today of our Savior’s death, we are brought to the hill outside the city walls where the sacrifice was made complete. Jesus had spent a successful, sometimes volatile three years preparing the Israelites for the Kingdom of God. In some instances they warmly welcomed him. In others they roundly rejected him. In others still, they didn’t know what to think of him. The same continues today with acceptance, rejection, and indifference.

            But throughout those 3 sometimes tumultuous years of preaching the Good News of salvation for all, especially the poor and despised, Jesus gave his friends fair warning concerning how his story was going to end. There should have been no surprises. “The Son of Man will suffer, be crucified, and raised on the third day.”

            The Disciples became very familiar with those words. They were drilled into their heads. I’m sure they had those words of Jesus memorized by the end of year one with him. By the end of year two with the Lord, the words of Jesus most likely became both complacent, and to the point where the 12 probably asked each other, “When is this going to happen?” They became weary of when the final test would be given. Jesus wasn’t the most time-conscious professor. He didn’t assign a date for the exam.

            In a real sense, Jesus left them in limbo regarding his hour. And no one enjoys being left in limbo. You either lose all belief, or you lose such concern where you can be caught off guard. So, when it did happen, when they finally cornered Jesus in the garden, arrested him, brought him before the authorities, and sentenced him to death, his followers were incredulous that such violence could happen to the One who raised the dead; who cured diseases; who forgave sins.

            But there he is today, his words coming to pass. Their words, “Crucify him, crucify him,” are simply words that reveal his 3-year prediction. Or 3-year preparation.

            On Good Friday, an interesting name for such an awful event, we recall our Lord’s sacrifice that makes possible our eternal salvation. The death of Jesus is not the death of an ordinary man. It is the death of the second Person on the Trinity for a short – or long – three days.

            God is minus 1/3 of His Divine team.

            In his death, there is much confusion and fear that results, as in the deaths of many we know. The Apostles scatter; the faces of the Holy Women are drenched in tears; even strangers look upon him and wonder if he was the real deal.                                                                                                                                          Crucifixion was a definite “no” to the real deal question. It meant utter failure. The world’s forces beat you once again. The evil and the wrong always seem to win.

            But a soldier, one soldier, who probably thought he was being cruel, begins the reverse process of Jesus’ death with a thrust of his lance into the side of Christ. Even as he hangs dead on a Cross, Jesus is wasting no time preparing us for his life and love.                                                                                  From the thrust of the lance flow water and blood, symbolizing Baptism and Holy Eucharist. Even when our Lord has died, moments after his death, his sacred body is pouring forth symbols of life. Even in death, he cannot be kept down.

            As Jesus prepared the Disciples for his death over a few years’ time, within moments of his sacrificial demise he is preparing the means of our salvation in these two sacraments.

            The light begins to flicker so soon after sorrow and grief. It’s not pretty at this moment. But it will be shortly.   

Parish Council Minutes March 30, 2014

Present: Steve Sycks, Polly Flynn, Josephine Ferrie, Ann-Marie Sheehan, Deacon Kevin Deignan, Fr. Walter Riley, Matthew Foster, Deacon Jim Boland                                                                                                                                                                                   

            * Opening prayer led by Deacon Boland                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    * Steve Sycks, President of the Finance Committee, gave an overview of the Parish finances up through second quarter.  Reported a normal operating period with no outstanding debts.  Transparency regarding Parish finances was discussed in regard to policy and discretion.  Conversation resulted in the use of information request process for current parishioners of Immaculate Conception.  Also, Steve mentioned that the Parish is switching from Excel Spreadsheets to Quickbooks, a process that will allow for a more in-depth financial understanding of Parish finances.         

* Fr. Riley spoke of a Chicken BBQ on 15 June, 2014 for Deacon James Boland after he presides at the 10:00 Mass.  Our Parish Activities Committee will be in charge of this event for Deacon Jim. The Parish Council presented the newly restored Father Conner’s chalice being donated by our Parish to Deacon Jim Boland for his Ordination to the Priesthood in June. The chalice was sitting in the rectory basement for many years, was professionally restored, and will now be used for the priesthood of Jim Boland. We are filled with joy that this chalice given to Fr. Connors in 1931 will be put to use once again on the holy altar.   

* Matthew Foster addressed the open items remaining from the previous meeting to include:

  • Railing on Chadwick parking lot side needing tightening.  This is in process via action taken by Father Riley at nominal expense.
  • Basement doors in need of replacement.  After a few false starts by several involved, Father Riley has a company coming to provide a quote.
  • Matthew Foster will be adding a direct link for parishioners to participate in Parish Pay directly from the IC website.
  • There was some discussion regarding an option for a lift/elevator of some sort.  Consideration heavily weighed by cost and required operating expense.  Will be researched for feasibility.
  • There was some open discussion regarding sound quality in the church, due to the nature of the buildings construction and the sound system.  It will require further research and will need to be revisited for improvement.
  • There was a short acknowledgement of some cement work needed on the parish grounds in the front section of the church, but was set to discuss upon review at the next meeting.

 

*Council set the next meeting date for 1 June 2014 at 11AM. If anyone in the Parish has any topic they would like discussed at the next meeting, please forward to our Parish email at icworc@live.com

 

Passion Sunday Cycle A April 13, 2014

At horse races like the Kentucky Derby they have the winner’s circle. A circle filled with roses and lots of cameras taking photos of the winning horse and jockey. Last year, the Red Sox had their duck boats riding through the streets of Boston, into the Charles River, eventually back on land (unless they floated all the way to the Atlantic Ocean). The victory of a politician usually has a popular hotel like the Marriott or the Hilton, with a room set aside as a winner’s circle for the victorious celebration. The end of World War II saw a ticker tape parade in the Big Apple of New York City where enough confetti was dropped to keep the maintenance people busy for weeks. And, of course this week for anyone who has an interest in golf, the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia has what is called the Butler Cabin, a winner’s circle where a coveted green jacket is presented and placed on the winner of the tournament.

The winner’s circle looks different, taking on different shapes, sizes, and colors depending on the sport or any reason for having a winner’s circle. From an entire city to a small cabin. In the winner’s circle we see lots of smiles, lots of patting each other on the back, lots of champagne flowing, lots of congratulations, lots of joy and satisfaction and happiness and, in some cases, the inability to put into words the meaning of the victory. Tears are shed and hugs are in. Families come together and rejoice, and friends gather around for celebration.

We are very good at creating and inventing winner’s circles. For us personally, sometimes we rejoice with those who rejoice, and we weep with those who are weeping. It depends which side we were on. The winning side or the losing side.

Human winners’circles are nice. There is much to celebrate in life. And we should celebrate while we are here.

On Palm Sunday, we also have a winner’s circle. We are to rejoice with the Lord as he enters Jerusalem on his victory horses, a colt and an ass. Not quite Seattle Slew or Secretariat or some other Triple Crown winner. The victory “horse” for Jesus is a simple donkey who has no idea what all the commotion is about and no idea who’s riding him. If a colt could speak Aramaic and interpret it into English for us, he probably would have asked, “What did I do to deserve all this attention? All these wonderful palms and all this adoration! I was just standing there with my buddy Dan the Donkey minding our own business, and before we knew it, we were untied and led to this wild celebration! My owner said, ‘Let them go and rejoice!’ And here we are, rejoicing and being praised! This is pretty good! I think I like this attention!”

The winner’s circle for the animals and their Rider is the holy city of Jerusalem. Like the city of Boston with the Red Sox, the winner’s circle is spread out. Jerusalem is the city that, despite being a winner’s circle, Jesus will weep over her; not tears of joy, but tears of sadness for not recognizing the One who is to come. Tears for not recognizing the child born in Bethlehem for a purpose who is now the adult about to accomplish his purpose.

And within the city walls of this winner’s circle known as Jerusalem are certain sections that will become prominent this coming week. There’s an Upper Room, the holy part of the winner’s circle where on an altar bread and wine will become God-food for us until the consummation of the world.

A Garden called Gethsemane where the Winner will sweat drops of blood while prodding his tired followers to stay awake with him, lest the loser Satan overtakes them.

There’s the holy Temple where Jesus the Winner will admit to the authorities who he is with the words “I AM,” causing the High Priest to tear his garments. A perfect example of how some Winner’s are hated for speaking the truth.

Then there’s the court set up before Pilate to condemn the Winner to death for being a grave threat to the winnings of others, meaning their authority and influence.

What’s also in the city walls of the winner’s circle is a place for a beating, a scourging, where the same blood that saves our bodies and souls will be spilled about as a result of violent lashes against the Winner’s sacred and holy body.

And then there’s the spot, the place to pick up a heavy Cross to be carried throughout the streets of the winner’s circle. It’s his prize for winning. It’s his special possession for being born. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh were nice tokens by those three strangers. But the Cross is the prize he sought the most.

And finally, just outside the walls of the winner’s circle called Jerusalem is a hill – the Place of the Skull. That’s quite the name of a place for a Victor to celebrate, or even to finish his life. And when’s the last time we ever heard a Winner cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Those words don’t sound like words of a Winner! But they are. They are words that reveal the bitter anguish of dying and the pain of death without any morphine so that the victory may be ours.

My friends, this is what we contemplate, and celebrate, and worship, and commemorate this week. The Winner’s Circle. We would be honored to have your company this week for the ups and downs, the joys and sadnesses, the ebb and flow of our salvation, and the Winner’s ultimate victory. Come and celebrate before all of us enter the winner’s circle next Sunday.

5th Sunday of Lent Cycle A April 6, 2014

“Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”

Jesus makes the death of Lazarus sound so gentle and peaceful. Yet we know that death is not always gentle and peaceful. There are many times every day where it is rough and violent for those who experience it along with their loved ones. We know there are times when death is like a thunderstorm that rolls in on a hazy, hot, and humid summer afternoon. There are claps of thunder and confusion and uncertainty, getting our souls all wet. But even in those situations where death seems to so cruelly rob a person of their life, Jesus still makes it gentle.

Whereas we see a person –old or young – dying never to breathe again in the body until the resurrection of the body, Jesus sees a person sleeping. Whereas we have no power and ability to awaken a person who has died, Jesus has all the power to bring life from death; to turn our greatest enemy, death, into an eternal friend, called life.

I touch on two parts of what I call this “goose-bump” Gospel of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Because if you didn’t get any goose-bumps as this Gospel was being read, you may want to check your pulse to see if you still have one. The great thing about Gospels that involve death and life, or life and death, is that no one is exempt. Priests like to say that everyone listens to the homily at a funeral, whereas not everyone listens at a wedding.

This isn’t a Gospel about riches, or the poor, or a tax collector commanded to leave his table and follow. It’s not a Gospel story about a man born blind, meeting Jesus at Jacob’s well, or Jesus forgiving the one caught in adultery. They all speak to us personally to one degree or another. There is not a Gospel throughout the year that does not affect our faith and discipleship. They all do. But this one of Lazarus sleeping while he waits for Jesus to show up goes right to the conscience of all of us. We all have death in common.

The first part of this “goose-bump” Gospel is connected to the word “testimony.” To give testimony is to make a statement or two, or a lifelong statement about a certain subject. Jesus arrives in Bethany four days after Lazarus died. That’s way too late for everyone in Bethany. But it’s perfect timing for our Lord. Jesus is giving Lazarus a nice long nap of four days before he awakens Lazarus so that Lazarus can go forth and preach the Good News – give testimony – to the events that occurred to him in Bethany. Along with all those who were present. This is what Jesus means when he says that the illness of Lazarus will not end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it. God doesn’t give glory to himself. Giving glory comes from our faith, through our testimony and witness to the power of God. Lazarus actually needed those four days of sleep before embarking on a lifelong journey of testimony in favor of his friend Jesus.

But as the conversation goes before all this happens, Martha humbly notes to Jesus that Lazarus would still be sleeping normally each night if Jesus had arrived four days sooner. Martha and Mary would prefer that their brother sleep eight hours a night in their home rather than four days in a tomb. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “Your brother will rise.” Yes, I know Lord, in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha is thoroughly Jewish in her beliefs on life and death. But Jesus will invite her to become fully Jewish. He will invite her to become his follower by shifting her view of the resurrection from the end of time to the person of Jesus standing in front of her in the present. “I am the resurrection and the life.” And then comes the question that either calls forth or rejects testimony; “Do you believe this?”

If we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, then our lives must give testimony. They must speak the everlasting truth that death is a matter of sleeping, and that Jesus has power and authority to awaken us. And that he will awaken us.

Because death affects all of us in the same way, in that all of us will die, then all of us are obliged to testify, “Yes Lord, I do believe you are the resurrection and the life.”

And secondly, when death comes to someone we know well, we do our best to concern ourselves with the emotions and reactions of others who are affected as well. It’s done out of love and concern. “How is the death of my father going to affect my mother?”  “How is it going to affect my sister or brother?” And it’s all good. But eventually, it’s stops at our doorstep also. Ultimately, we have to be aware that the death of someone we love affects us in the most personal way. We see this in the Gospel with both Martha and Mary, and how they speak to Jesus using one particular word. Just a tiny 2-letter word. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Why did neither Martha nor Mary say “our” brother Lazarus. Why, in a family as close as this one, as two sisters and a brother who welcomed Jesus into their home as a family, not as individuals, why did both sisters say to Jesus “my brother would not have died, and not “our” brother Lazarus?

They certainly were not being selfish or self-centered in saying “my” brother to Jesus. It’s not like Martha said “My brother Lazarus died, but not Mary’s brother too.” Saying “my” brother to Jesus instead of “our” brother is a sign of how death affects each of us in ways that differ from siblings and friends. People deal with death in their own way. Some are emotionless, almost comatose. Some are very emotional. From the same family. I’ve presided at enough funerals to see the countless emotions – or lack of – and reactions. The point is that death is personal. And we should allow it to be personal in ourselves and others. And how every person reacts to it goes to the heart of our relationship with God. Or the lack of one.

Jesus understands this. And our Lord accepts it as a key part of our relationship with him. He gives attention- divine attention – to both Martha and Mary in their own way concerning the death of their brother Lazarus.

But whatever our reaction is to the falling asleep of our loved ones, we remember that we are fully Jewish, we are followers of Christ, because he is the resurrection and the life. And that is not only some future promise. It is right now, in the present.