Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 30, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 16:9-15

When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either.

But later, as the Eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Many commentators believe the gospel we read today likely came from the hand of someone other than the person who wrote the gospel of Mark. This passage synopsizes resurrection accounts found in the gospels of Luke and John. The dominant theme in the narrative is doubt, but the Lord ultimately overcomes this doubt through his appearances. One of the dilemmas of the human condition is to believe in a moment of joy that we always will feel joy and believe in a moment of despair that we always will feel despair. For this reason, we should develop minds that remember that all things are passing, and when doubt overcomes us, we can trust that Jesus, who loves us, will not leave us alone, but that, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, he will give us again a calm assurance in his continuing presence.

Spiritual reading: For by the sacrifice of his own body he did two things: he put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and he made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection. (On the Incarnation by Athanasius)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 29, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

John 21:1-14

Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

Reflection on the gospel reading: There is no passage in the gospels that I love more than the account of the appearance by the resurrected Lord to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. The narrative brims over with details that make it come alive in my imagination. Today’s gospel contains the first part of the account.

The apostles know the Lord has been resurrected, but they are unsure about what to do next. There is in this passage Peter’s sense of expectancy and uncertainty, his knowledge that great things are afoot coupled with his hesitation about what to do next, a doubt that expresses itself in going to do the thing Peter knows best how to do: Peter’s default position, to go fishing. The failure to catch any fish during the course of a night of trying heightens the apostles’ sense of the tentativeness of their position. When dawn comes, a passerby, like so many generations of onlookers watching fishermen ply their trade, offers a little advice, “Try the net on the other side.” They follow his advice, and the huge catch of fish leads the beloved disciple to a moment of recognition: “It is the Lord.” Peter loses himself in excitement and counter-intuitively throws his clothes on to jump in the lake and swim to the shore to see the Lord. When he arrives, Jesus has prepared a meal for his disciples. There is a fire on the shore with fish cooking on it and bread: the resurrected Lord takes trouble to be of service to his friends. And then there is the hint of a Eucharistic action when the Lord takes bread and gives it to the disciples. The presence of the fish he distributes also recalls for us the feeding of the multitudes.

Today, as we go about our day in the presence of the resurrected Lord, let us be prepared to recognize our Lord in the kindly stranger who appears to us. And as this Kindly Stranger steers fish into our nets, however this comes to be, let us be as open as Peter was to be surprised by joy.

Spiritual reading: Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. (Martin Luther)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 28, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 24:35-48

The disciples of Jesus recounted what had taken place along the way, and how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The passage we have here continues the narrative we read yesterday. The disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to tell their companions what it is that they have seen and heard: how they walked and talked with Jesus and how he revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.

There are good and wonderful Christians who live the gospel in amazing ways who have concluded that the resurrection is some kind of ordinary symbol that reflects the awakening of Jesus’ spirit in the lives of his disciples, that the resurrection has nothing to do with the body of Jesus. For these good and faithful Christians, Jesus’ body on Easter Day apparently still lay amouldering in the grave while the apostles picked themselves up off the ground, dusted themselves off, and decided to get on with it.

This gospel passage is Luke’s unambiguous response to such thoughts. Not only is the resurrection not an ordinary symbol, Luke unequivocally assures us that neither is the resurrection the apparition of a ghost.

This narrative tells us several things about the nature of the resurrection. As the disciples from Emmaus are recounting their story, Jesus unexpectedly appears in the midst of the small assembly. Yes, this account tells us that Jesus is different than he was: there is something about his resurrected person that enables him to enter rooms without walking through a door, but unlike any ordinary symbol or the appearance of a ghost, the resurrected Jesus can present his physical wounds for exploration by human hands and, like any woman or man of flesh and blood, take food into his mouth to eat.

Luke in today’s gospel reading makes an unequivocal point: the resurrection is about the body; it is about the whole person. The spirits of the first disciples certainly are revived in the resurrection of Jesus, but this and the other resurrection narratives hasten to assure us that there is something more here: something that is physical but something that also is changed and new.

Spiritual reading: Faith in the resurrection of Christ never misleads us, and hope in our own resurrection never deceives us, because God the Father both restored our Lord to life and will restore us to life too by virtue of his power. (Homily on the Gospels by Bede the Venerable)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 27, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 24:13-35

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his Body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to 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?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Reflection on the gospel: The gospel passage from today’s lectionary affords us a chance to revisit one of the truly great narratives of the scriptures. In just a relatively brief passage, Luke reviews for us the kernel of Christian life.

Luke employs a literary conceit throughout his gospel to make a central theological point: where the other gospels have Jesus throughout his ministry moving back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee, Luke’s gospel has Jesus on a continuous single journey toward Jerusalem. For Luke, Jesus’ entire ministry is prelude and progress toward the single goal of what happens at Jerusalem in the Lord’s suffering, death, and glorification at Passover.

In today’s passage, the two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, that is, they are walking away from the entire goal of Jesus’ mission. But in an immense irony, they meet Jesus on the road, even though they do not recognize him. This “stranger,” Jesus, explains to them all the scriptures that foretold how the Messiah would have to suffer before he entered his glory. At the conclusion of the journey, Jesus makes as if he will go on, but the disciples invite him to spend the night with them. During supper, Jesus breaks bread and blesses it, and the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

How often in our lives do we walk away from Jesus only to encounter the Lord in some stranger we had not factored into our equations? How often do we find the Lord because we offer hospitality to someone we meet on the road? And when we break open the scriptures and break bread at our sharing in the Eucharist, is not our Lord there to be found?

Spiritual reading: For by the sacrifice of his own body he did two things: he put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and he made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection. (On the Incarnation by Athanasius)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 26, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

John 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he had told her.

Reflection on the gospel reading: The accounts of the resurrection in John’s gospel continuously contrast three groups of people:

1. There are those who have seen the resurrected Lord with their own eyes and believe because of the evidence of their senses.

2. There are those who have not seen the resurrected Lord with their own eyes but all-the-same believe.

3. And there are those who have neither seen nor believe.

In today’s gospel, Mary begins her trek to the tomb in the third category: she has not seen the Lord, and she does not believe. But by the end of the passage, she has seen and she believes. At this point, she carries the message about her experience back to the disciples who then, based on Mary’s testimony, become members of either the second or the third categories. Thus it was that on the first day of the resurrection, the whole pattern of the spread of the Christian message was born.

The gospel we read today was written about 70 years after the death and resurrection of the Lord; some scholars have speculated that at that time, there probably were about 7,500 Christians in the world who celebrated the mystery they had received in about 50 different communities, most of which were in the eastern portion of the Roman empire. If those assumptions are correct, there were an average of 140 members in each of the Christian communities that existed in 100. Now, 70 years after the Paschal events, it is phenomenally improbable that there were even a dozen people left alive in the world who had seen the risen Lord; in other words, it is highly likely that far less than 0.002 percent of the very small number of believers who lived in 100 had seen the Lord in the way that Mary Magdalene saw him on that first day of the week. But there were still a good many people left who, though they themselves had not seen the resurrected Lord, knew someone who had seen the resurrected Lord.

When the evangelist wrote the Gospel of John, Jesus’ admonition at John 20:29, “Blessed are the ones who have not seen and have believed,” was an important observation for a tiny community with aspirations to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Indeed, we almost might as easily apply Jesus’ words not to the incredible faith in the resurrection but instead to the incredible faith that so tiny a community’s message would overcome so many hurdles to spread to the four corners of the earth. Does it not seem likely that so profound a faith in the power of the message to overcome so many daunting hurdles had resulted from the power of the witness of the men and women who announced to the Christians who lived in 100, “I have seen the Lord.” In other words, the testimony those first Christians bore was compelling indeed and gave rise to a powerful faith in the destiny of the religion of the second, third, and fourth generations of Christians.

The same message still has power. We do not know the result of what it is that we do. We must do what we feel called to do confident that what Gamaliel said two millenniums ago rings as true today as it did when he first spoke the words, If our purpose is of human origins, it will fail. But if it is of God, no one will be able to stop us.

Spiritual reading: But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning! … To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom! (Seasons of Celebration by Thomas Merton )

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 25, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 28:8-15

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Easter Sunday contains more than we can handle in one day. So the Church extends the feast over eight days – the Octave of Easter. This passage from the gospel on Monday within the Octave of Easter places Mary Magdalene at the tomb on the first morning of the week. All four gospel accounts put Mary Magdalene at the scene, though the synoptic gospels have her in the company of other women, and John’s gospel puts her there alone. We see an element in this narrative that we see over and again throughout the resurrection accounts, that when the resurrected Jesus encounters the women, he tells them, “Be not afraid.” This is an admonition that bears repeating. Our brains are hardwired for survival, and fear is a very basic and particularly strong response in our emotional repertoire. It’s wholly able to short circuit anything we’re doing as the neural mechanisms hijack our higher functions to ensure we remain safe and sound in our persons and psyches. The gospel asks us to take risks, to believe things that make our lives inconvenient, risk embarrassment for the name of Jesus, take care of others before we see to our own needs, and even prefer the faith to our own lives should a situation demand it. The gospel is often inconvenient, and it sometimes is a fearful burden. The resurrected Jesus offers himself as proof that we need not be afraid, that we can go about our lives with its many inconveniences confident that the outcome already is known, knowing that even if suffering is implicit in the passage toward the end, the final frame in our stories already is evident in the pattern of Christ’s own suffering, death, and resurrection.

Spiritual reading: Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. (John Paul II)

Easter Sunday Thoughts on Resurrection

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion by Rev. Larry Hansen, BCC, CT on April 24, 2011

“We are not ‘converted’ only once in our life but many times, and this endless series of large and small ‘conversions,’ inner revolutions, leads finally to our transformation in Christ. . .The perfect Christian is therefore not one who is necessarily impeccable and beyond all moral weakness; but he (sic) is one who, because his eyes are enlighted to know the full dimensions of the mercy of Christ, is no longer troubled by the sorrows and frailties of this present life.”

( Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness)

–Or as the old Quaker hymn tells us:

Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.

Fr. Larry Hansen
Cana House
Portland, Oregon

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 24, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

John 20:1-9

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.

They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen, even as he said! Alleluia! Happy Easter to you!

I always have loved best the resurrection accounts in the Gospel of John. There is something immediate and present in them, something of, “I was right there, and this is what it was like.” The account we have in this morning’s gospel compares and contrasts the respective experiences and reactions of Peter and the beloved disciples to the empty tomb. When Peter enters the tomb this morning, he experiences a loss: the body of the Lord is missing. He experiences a loss because he sees the empty tomb through the prism of his grief. But as a counterpoint, when the beloved disciple enters the tomb, he sees and believes, because he perceives the empty tomb not through the prism of his grief but through the prism of his love for Jesus.

The Lord whom we now celebrate in the Easter narratives is the living Lord who is the same now as he was on the first day of resurrection. The Lord whom we know through our communities, our prayer, the word, and our service is the resurrected Lord: today, this day of days, we are on familiar turf. Let us then strive to love the Lord, for blessed are we, just like the beloved disciple that first Easter morning, who have not seen yet believe, because we see the empty tomb through the prism of our love for Jesus.

Spiritual reading: Jesus cannot forget us; we have been graven on the palms of his hands. (Lois Picillo)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 23, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospel reading comes from the vigil Mass for Easter. There is no Eucharist celebrated during the day on Holy Saturday, and hence, the lectionary does not prescribe a gospel appropriate for Jesus’ time lying in the tomb. The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation and opening to Christian faith. The earliest Christians, as the New Testament establishes over and again, had a complete conviction that the Lord lives and that he was raised in his body. It is this living Lord who transformed them and continues to extend to us the possibility of something new and different and entirely transcendent, full of hope and renewal.

But today, we wait. “Something strange is happening”: a second century homily on Holy Saturday begins with this reflection, both vague and definite. It is unlike any other day because it lacks a precise meaning. After the funeral party has gone home and the dishes are cleared there is a large silence and a boundless emptiness. The old language of relationship has dissolved and the new one has yet to take shape.

In between two ways of knowing we only know clearly that we don’t know. Through unknowing, as through a break in the clouds or a crack in a curtain, a kind of light not seen before promises to emerge. But it is not certain. Nothing is for sure any more.

In these times of living on the edge of two worlds we have only the light of faith, pure consciousness itself. Death is still being digested.

Holy Saturday: Tradition says that the holy souls awaited the Redeemer in the land of the dead. Faith teaches us that the Lord’s redemptive act on the cross reaches out to touch and transform all people of every time — past, present, and future. During his time in the grave, the Tradition tells us that the Lord descended among the dead to meet the souls awaiting the Savior in the land of the dead. His descent among the dead, which was an important theme in the liturgies of former ages (though far less pronounced a theme in our own time), brought to completion the proclamation of the gospel and liberated the souls who had long awaited their Redeemer.

The Tradition suggests that the gates of heaven were now open, and these souls entered everlasting happiness at last to enjoy the vision of the Lord of Spirits and the flesh. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men and women of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption. An ancient homily of the early Church for Holy Saturday captured this event:

The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . . He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives of Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. . . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son…. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

Spiritual reading: Love alone can unite living beings so as to complete and fulfill them… for it alone joins them by what is deepest in themselves. All we need is to imagine our ability to love developing until it embraces the totality of men and the earth. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, religion, scripture by Mike on April 22, 2011

Gospel reading of the day:

John 18:1—19:42

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered. Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.” He said to them, “I AM.” Judas his betrayer was also with them. When he said to them, “I AM,” they turned away and fell to the ground. So he again asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus the Nazorean.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill what he had said, “I have not lost any of those you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

So the band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus, bound him, and brought him to Annas first. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Now the other disciple was known to the high priest, and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus. But Peter stood at the gate outside. So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest, went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in. Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves. Peter was also standing there keeping warm.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm. And they said to him, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it. And immediately the cock crowed.

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?” They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die. So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover. Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this one but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly. Once more Pilate went out and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!” When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”

Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid, and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus did not answer him. So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha. It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king!” They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,” in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says: They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots. This is what the soldiers did. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and that they be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe. For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: Not a bone of it will be broken. And again another passage says: They will look upon him whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.

Reflection on the gospel reading: In a city you do not know, on an open grassland, in a dense forest, or in a story of profound meaning, we can get overwhelmed and lose our sense of direction. In these circumstances we naturally look for a path, however narrow it might be, or any clue that might point to us the right way.

In the inexhaustible story of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection that we began last night with the Holy Thursday liturgy of the Last Supper and the washing of feet, we can find the hint and the connections needed to make comprehensive sense of it all. The clue to the Eucharist is the washing of the feet. The Eucharist is the clue to understanding the Cross. Without the Resurrection the Cross remains two-dimensional.

Today we focus intently on the way of the Cross and the liturgy of the Passion and death. Central to this is the time we give to telling the story. We listen to it once more although we know it well, or at least think we know the story. Every re-telling reveals new levels as particular details attract our notice for the first time. Just giving the time necessary for the telling of a story prepares us to understand it better. Often we are too busy to listen to anything twice, and we crave new episodes and new stars.

But the veneration of the Cross is the most moving and revealing aspect of today’s symbolic approach to the meaning of the death of Jesus. As we kneel and kiss the foot of the Cross, our personal accomplishments, education, social status, or even our own level of faith does not matter. The act of veneration is a free movement of such humility that, at least in the moment, we are all one and equal. Discipleship never seems so simple and rewarding.

In venerating the Cross we are venerating the truth that can only be known in total surrender. This describes the Cross itself as an absolute surrender to love. In the end we are not saved by the suffering of the Cross but by the love it transmits to those who venerate it and even to those who don’t.

For thousands of years, human beings offered to God holocausts of cattle, sheep, goats, and birds. God today in Jesus makes humanity divine and on this Friday ends all the sacrifices of old as God offers sacrifice to God’s creation in this lamb which God sacrifices to us at Passover. This is what we and God do for one another today.

Good Friday: Good Friday is the most somber day of the entire year. A silence pervades, socializing is kept to a minimum, things are done quietly; it is a day of mourning; it is a funeral. The Temple of the Body of Christ is destroyed, capping the horrors of the Babylonian Exile first begun on Septuagesima Sunday. Traditional Catholics wear black, cover their mirrors, extinguish candles, keep amusements and distractions down, and go about the day in great solemnity.

Jesus was put on the Cross at the very end of the third hour (the time between 9 and noon), and almost the sixth hour. He died at the ninth hour:

Mark 15:25, 33: And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him… And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour.

Because Jesus was on the Cross between the hours of noon and 3:00 in the afternoon, these three hours today are considered the most holy hours of the day. A devotion called “Tre Ore” or “Three Hours’ Agony” is often held at this time; if not, you can do it yourself by meditating on His Passion — reading the Gospel narratives of the Passion, making the Stations of the Cross by yourself, praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, praying the Litany of the Passion, and so on. Draw the curtains, take the phone off the hook, turn off televisions and radios, quiet your environment and yourself, and meditate on what Christ has done for you. At 3:00, “The Hour,” he died: the atmosphere should be as if you are standing next to the deathbed of your father who died a moment ago.

Catholics also focus their attention on Mary this day and tomorrow, Holy Saturday, empathizing with the pain she endured.

Though a somber atmosphere will last until the Easter Vigil, after “The Hour” (3:00 PM) passes, it eases a bit, and life can go back to a “somber normal” until after Vigil of Holy Saturday when Eastertide officially begins.

No Mass is offered today (or tomorrow until the Vigil in the evening); instead a liturgy called the “Liturgy of the Presanctified” is celebrated where we consume Eucharist from Holy Thursday’s Mass.

Spiritual reading: There were times when I wanted to look away from the Cross, but I dared not. For I knew that while I gazed on the Cross I was safe and sound, and I was not willingly going to imperil my soul. (Juliana of Norwich)