Lenten CrossBy Jean Stokan and Scott Wright

Passion (Palm) Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 19:28-40; 22:14-23:56

JESUS’ TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM

Traditionally, the palms we wave to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday are burned to become ashes on Ash Wednesday. Already we begin to anticipate the joy of Easter, but our joy is not yet complete. The disciples cry out: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

But soon this joy will give way to tears, as Jesus weeps over Jerusalem: “If you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies… will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

How is God speaking to us today in the events of our time? What are the signs of God’s presence in the events of the day? “If only we had recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”

As we begin this Holy Week, let us call to mind the journey we have undertaken. We have not yet arrived at our destiny. The most dramatic events are yet to come. What will be the message we take to heart this year? How will we live as resurrected beings among the world’s crosses?

A few years ago, our family made a pilgrimage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today they are vibrant cities; but it was not always so. The pictures of the atomic devastation are reminders to us of our responsibility, as the only nation to use nuclear weapons, to abolish them forever. Those who survived the destruction were children at the time; now they are in their final years; they described their mission as being at the epicenter for peace, and their message to us is the same: “We must end all war before war ends all life on the planet.”

So we pray in a special way, at the beginning of this Holy Week, that our humble efforts to be faithful during this Lenten journey may bear fruit, like a seed that dies into the soil during the winter months, only to sprout and bear fruits of peace in the spring.

UNLESS A SEED DIE, IT REMAINS ALONE

Whoever offers their life out of love for Christ, and in service to others, will live like the seed that dies… May this immolated body and this blood sacrificed for all nourish us so that we may offer our body and our blood as Christ did, and thus bring justice and peace to our people. Let us join together, then, in the faith and hope of this intimate moment of prayer… You can tell people, if they succeed in killing me, I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize that they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish. – Archbishop Romero


Monday of Holy Week

Isaiah 42:1-7
Psalm 27
John 12:1-11

Hail to you, our King; you alone are compassionate with our faults.

He will not cry out, nor make his voice heard in the street

Holy Week begins with these beautiful passages from Isaiah of the Suffering Servant, that mysterious figure with whom the tradition identifies first the people of Israel living in exile and later Jesus himself. Who is this figure, this person of sorrows, acquainted with grief?

Jesuit martyr of El Salvador, Ignacio Ellacuria, often spoke of the “crucified peoples” of the earth, those who are literally crucified by economic systems that condemn them to the margins of life, those who are excluded, abandoned and despised by the powerful and wealthy. In the crucified peoples of the planet we see the crucified face of Jesus Christ.

Yet it is precisely these poor and forgotten ones, Scripture tells us, that God has chosen to “bring forth justice to the nations.” They are the ones who will bring salvation to the earth. “There is no salvation outside of the poor,” Jon Sobrino wrote in his last book. How can this be? If our Lenten journey has taught us nothing else, it is that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God has a plan for our lives and for the world that we cannot fathom. We can only let go and trust, because we know that our ways have only led to violence, hatred and destruction.

Yet we have seen this Suffering Servant in our lives. She is as familiar to us as the homeless woman or immigrant mother of three whom we have encountered in the street. He is as familiar as that young kid on the block who is now in jail, the torture survivor whose wounds are still fresh, the old man across the street whose face speaks of years of suffering and grief. These are the “little ones,” the “chosen ones” of God, the ones who God chooses to bring salvation to the world, and to call us to conversion.

We have seen this Suffering Servant, too, in today’s Gospel. Her name is Compassion, her name is Mary, it was she whose tears brimmed over and anointed Jesus’ feet with gratefulness, it was she who with the other women remained at the foot of the cross, it was she who was the first to encounter the risen Jesus and to announce his resurrection. Out of great suffering, great compassion is born, and God’s name is Compassion, God suffering with us.

So we, too, can pray with the psalmist, and with Mary, out of gratitude: “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”

To Mary was given a great gift, the gift of compassion, and with that great gift a capacity to respond to the sufferings of others. She knew, as one who loves deeply, what Jesus knew, that his hour had come round at last, and so her gesture was one aimed to prepare him for burial.

Hail to you, our King; you alone are compassionate with our faults.


Tuesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 49:1-6
Psalm 71
John 13:21-33, 36-38

Hail to you, our King, obedient to the Father; you were led to your crucifixion like a gentle lamb to the slaughter.

I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth

In yesterday’s Gospel we encountered the great mystery of goodness and compassion; today, we encounter the mystery of iniquity and betrayal. How could Judas, who had accompanied Jesus so far, who shared his passion for justice and his willingness to give up his life for others, how could Judas betray his friend?

The challenge of today’s Gospel is not to take the side of Jesus and the other disciples who remained with Jesus, and to see Judas as the one with whom we will have nothing more to do. The challenge is to see ourselves in Judas. Betrayal is a very human experience, and in every person’s lifetime, perhaps, we have experienced both what it means to betray another as well as to be betrayed by another.

To be human is to be in relationship. We cannot avoid relationship; in fact, some of our deepest experiences of joy and fulfillment are relationships with family, with loved ones and friends. That is why a broken relationship is so deeply painful. We are left vulnerable, and broken, and unsure whether we want to forgive, or even if we are capable of forgiving. Which is harder, to forgive, or to ask forgiveness?

Perhaps Judas was like that, living on the edge, incapable of remaining faithful to the end. Perhaps his agony was not that Jesus would not forgive him for his betrayal; his agony was that he could not forgive himself, or ask Jesus to forgive him. The difference between Judas and Peter is that Peter could ask for and accept Jesus’ forgiveness.

Let us pray in a special way today, for ourselves, and for each other, that we may find the grace to forgive and to ask forgiveness. Let us pray, too, that we may not betray those who are poor, the “crucified peoples” of the planet for whom we are called to do justice and with whom we are called to be in solidarity. Even in the midst of such deep pain and suffering, God calls us out to be light to others, and channels of God’s salvation.

“Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God… I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant… I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Hail to you, our King, obedient to the Father; you were led to your crucifixion like a gentle lamb to the slaughter.


Wednesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 69
Matthew 26:14-25

Hail to you, our King, obedient to the Father; you were led to your crucifixion like a gentle lamb to the slaughter.

My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

In yesterday’s Gospel, we see glimpses of emotion: “Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’” In today’s Gospel, it is the disciples who are troubled: “And while they were eating, he said: ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him, one after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord!’”

How often we have experienced this most human of emotions, “to be deeply troubled,” “to be deeply distressed.” Whatever the circumstance, we, too know what it is to be “persons of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Sometimes the occasion of a broken relationship is the beginning of a new, deeper relationship, a deeper commitment to the poor, a deeper faith in God.

Lutheran pastor and martyr of the past century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reflected deeply on this experience of betrayal and guilt. He was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and though he knew the depth of the evil that Hitler and the Nazis were involved in, he also felt he must bear the guilt of one who is involved in a plot to kill another man, no matter how evil.

Some of his most moving writings are recorded in letters he sent to his friends and families while in prison, awaiting execution. In one of these, he writes:

“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous person or an unrighteous one, a sick person or a healthy one.

“By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a person and a Christian.”

So let us, too, in our deep distress and trouble, take seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world, and join our suffering more deeply to those of Christ whom we encounter in the “crucified peoples” of the planet, those “Christs” who are entrusted to our care each day.

Hail to you, our King, obedient to the Father; you were led to your crucifixion like a gentle lamb to the slaughter.


Holy Thursday

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

As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

JESUS, KNOWING THAT HIS HOUR HAD COME… LOVED THEM TO THE END.

Tonight we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, that great feast of our salvation that recalls another great feast, the Passover of the Lord, the liberation of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their journey to freedom in the Promised Land.

The first letter to the Corinthians recounts this great event in our Christian tradition:

“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

On this night we recall our own journey to freedom and our passage to new life. And we can learn from other peoples who have made this journey, such as this testimony from a refugee who fled El Salvador during its civil war, only to return to celebrate this Holy Thursday night with the gratitude of one who has known great suffering and great joy:

“Just as the people of Israel recalled their liberation from slavery in Egypt, in the paschal supper we, too, recall our own history, how we lived under oppression, how we organized to struggle against injustice, how we had to flee to the hills to take refuge, and how we prepared ourselves there, learning many things so that when we returned one day we could help rebuild our country.”

What is our experience of Passover? How have we passed from slavery to freedom in this Lenten journey? How have we experienced the liberation that comes from our identification with Christ suffering in the “crucified peoples” of the planet, in the poor whom we encounter along the way, in those who are entrusted to our care each day?

How do we experience this liberation in the Eucharist that we share tonight? The Gospel shares with us the true meaning of this sacrament, the example of unconditional love and service:

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.”

As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.


Good Friday

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

Blessed are you… because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The story of Jesus’ passion is almost too hard to read, and yet we must. Jesus endures the blows of torture; he is denied by his beloved Peter; he hears the crowds repeat “crucify him, crucify him;” thick nails are driven through his hands; he silently suffers utter pain; he looks deeply into the eyes of his mother’s anguish. All this Jesus bore in his flesh.

Jesus story is one being lived out throughout the world by the crucified peoples of our day. In El Salvador, where we had spent many Holy Weeks during the war years, the Stations of the Cross included walking through poor neighborhoods and stopping at homes where families prepared reflections on Jesus’ suffering. The station on Veronica’s veil would show Veronica as a collage image of the “mothers of the disappeared,” each carrying a picture of their disappeared child’s face. Simon of Cyrene was reflected upon as “international solidarity,” those who helped carry the cross of the Salvadoran people by coming to visit, and then returning to the US to advocate for an end to the war. The Crucifixion was a picture not just of Jesus and the two crosses surrounding his, but the picture showed a mountain of crosses — depicting peasants and others who had been tortured or killed by the security forces.

Their Stations were pain-filled, a passion with bullets and bombs, instead of nails; being tortured with electric shock and hoods dripping with lime, in place of a crown of thorns. Yet, always they included the 15th Station: Resurrection.  They reflected on the day when justice and peace would come to their land. Their utter belief in the God of life and hope was humbling and disarming.

Jesus too, as John’s Gospel captures, sprinkled into his final agony–words and gestures that disarmed. He was profoundly loving and tender up until the end. In the garden, the guards kept questioning Jesus about his disciples, but he watched out for his friends and said “If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.” When the high priest questioned Jesus, a guard slapped him, angry because his answers came with such seeming calmness and honesty. Jesus responded calmly with a reflective question, “If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offense in it, why do you strike me?” Throughout the torture, Jesus’ nonviolent manner had to have disarmed his guards. It must have made those who tortured him look inward, even if for a moment. In his last hours, as Jesus hung on the cross, his final act was to make sure that his beloved mother and the disciple he loved would find comfort in each other.

Even amidst Jesus’ own suffering and utter anguish, he was so filled with compassion and love for the rest of us. He didn’t passively resign himself to the crucifixion, but actively “gave up his spirit” when his mission of love was accomplished. May his example of bearing great suffering and offering great love fill us with profound gratitude.

Blessed are you… because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.


Holy Saturday

We could imagine that the day after Jesus’ crucifixion, for the disciples, must have been one of excruciating grief, overwhelming fear and confusion about what lay ahead. For us, however, Holy Saturday is a time of quiet anticipation, for we know that the stone is about to crack. We know that Christ rose and hope returned. We know that death did not have the last word!

Our reflections this Lent have been about living as resurrected beings in the midst of the world’s crosses. Our relationship to the crucified of our day–those carrying the crosses of illness or exclusion, or those living the crushing impact of poverty, violence, racism and war—has been on of positioning ourselves at the foot of the cross. Not unlike when we genuflect to venerate the cross on Good Friday and kiss the caked blood on Jesus’ wounds, something happens when we draw close to the pain of others. Our hearts break. Our tears fall. They fall, however, into the chalice that Jesus holds out to catch the blood and tears of all who suffer. In that mingling, and with the kiss of His love on our human suffering, something in our heart is transformed.

At the foot of the cross, gestures of love may be all we have left to share. Maybe it’s everything.

Before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote of her time in Westerbork, preparing people to board the trains for the death camps.  While looking into the eyes of mothers whose children were being ripped from their arms and witnessing daily encounters with horror, she resigned herself to live through her moment of history with courage, reliance on prayer and love:

“From four to nine I dragged screaming children around and carried luggage for exhausted women. It was heart-rending….The morning transport is ready…large empty cattle cars….An old woman asked me helplessly, ‘Could you tell me, please could you tell me, why we Jews have to suffer so much?’ I couldn’t answer…. In a few hours you can accumulate enough gloom here to last a lifetime. There are babies with pneumonia lying in the freight cars…This morning I had a brief talk with a woman who had…told me her latest experiences in three minutes. How much can you really tell in a few minutes? When we came to a door and I wasn’t allowed to go any farther, she embraced me and said, ‘Thank you for being such a help.’…”

Etty sought to “love everyone with all the tenderness possible. She sustained herself by reading poetry and searching for slivers of nature amidst the cross. She literally fell to her knees if she encountered a patch of flowers. She did everything she could to bring cheer to another on the cross, to love up until the end. Before getting on the transit for her own trip to the death camp, she gave her diary to a friend. Later, a letter dropped from a slit in the wooden planks of the train. Found by a farmer, her epilogue was to tell people that “we left the camp singing.”

On Holy Saturday, our position changes. Instead of weeping alone at the foot of the cross, we turn to sit in front of the stone, together as community, facing the stone expectantly. The sliver is about to crack.


Easter Vigil

Genesis 1:1, 26-31a; Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Exodus 14:15-31;
Isaiah 54:5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15, 32 – 4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
Romans 6:3-11;
Luke 24:1-12

This is the night Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.

WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?… HE IS RISEN!

Tonight we celebrate the great feast of our liturgical year: the feast of Christ’s resurrection. From the very opening of the liturgy, when we hear the beautiful tones of the Exultet, we are alerted to a profound “key change.” No longer are we in a minor key of sorrow and grief, we are in a major key of joy and gratefulness:

“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne!

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King!

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!”

“This is the night when first you saved our fathers: you freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.
This is the night Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”

On this night, we join our hopes to all people who walk in darkness and cry: “Light of Christ.”

In our day, just as in the time of Jesus, history presents us with a question: Who has the last word in history? Will it be death or life? Who will have the last word? Will the Empires of the earth have the last word? Will the oppressive powers that condemn the poor to death have it? Will war and violence have the last word? Will death or life have it?

Tonight we are not walking toward death but advancing moment by moment toward life. It is Christ whose enemies put guards around his tomb to deny his resurrection. And it is Christ who rises victoriously and says in a loud voice: “The God of life has the last word!”

So tonight we proclaim that history is not a dark night, but one of light. It is the light that the resurrected One has poured into our history. So we continue our pilgrimage… our Easter journey. This night gives us the answer for which our hearts yearn: Neither death, nor war, nor despair has dominion; the God of life, the God of the resurrection has the final word!

This is the night Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.


Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34a, 36-43
Colossians 3:1-4 / 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
John 20:1-18

ROLL AWAY THE STONE… SEE THE GLORY OF GOD!

We have come to the end of our Lenten journey… for us the beginning of our Easter journey. There are many beautiful stories of Easter, stories of resurrection and new life. Like today’s Gospel, when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. This is truly a story of living as a resurrected being in the midst of life’s crosses: Mary, whom Christ forgave; Mary at the foot of the cross; Mary, whom the risen Christ encounters in the garden.

As Peter tells it, this Peter who denied Christ three times: “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses… They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day.”

We, too, like Peter, are called to be witnesses to this new life in Christ, and to live as resurrected beings amidst life’s crosses.

We begin our Easter journey, then, with eyes wide open, to the risen Christ in our midst. We renew our commitment to bear witness to non-violence and the peace of Christ, Pax Christi. We know that our journey is only beginning, but we know, too, that we are not alone. We are surrounded by that cloud of witnesses who journey with us, and we are strengthened by their presence. We are no longer afraid, we have bread for the journey, and the joy of the Gospel in our hearts.

Like the risen Christ, we, too, bear our wounds in our hands and feet, and in our hearts. But now these wounds have become life-giving wounds, wounds that bind us more deeply to Christ’s suffering in the world, and to the power of Christ’s resurrection to break even the bonds of death.

We may never see the end results [of our work],
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
That is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water the seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide the yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do I very well. Amen!