Monthly Archives: March 2013

Good Friday

We solemnly celebrate the death and Resurrection of our Lord on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, using the simplest of signs.

On Holy Thursday Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. At table he gave them in bread and wine his own body and blood as signs of his love for them and for all humanity.

On Good Friday we take another symbol, the cross, a powerful sign of death, which first struck fear into the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, but then as they recalled the Lord’s journey from the garden to Calvary, as they saw the empty tomb, as they were taught by the Risen Jesus himself, they began to see that God can conquer even death itself.

On this day, we read the memories of John, the Lord’s disciple, who followed him from the Sea of Galilee, to Jerusalem, its temple and its feasts, to Calvary where he stood with the women and watched the Lord die. Like the others, he recoiled before it all, but then saw signs of victory even in the garden, in the judgment hall, before Pilate, and finally in the cross itself.

On this darkest of days, Christ’s victory is proclaimed in John’s Gospel.

“ Go into my opened side,

Opened by the spear,

Go within and there abide

For my love is here” (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter, September 5, 1740).

Betrayal

John 13, 21-38

The Gospels for Monday to Thursday in Holy Week take us away from the crowded temple area in Jerusalem where Jesus spoke to the crowds and his avowed enemies and bring us into homes where “his own” join him to eat a meal.

In Bethany six days before Passover he eats with those he loved: Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. In Jerusalem on the night before he dies he eats with the twelve who followed him. During the meal in Bethany, Mary anoints his feet with precious oil in a beautiful outpouring of her love.

But the Gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday point not to love but betrayal. Friends that followed him abandon him. Judas betrays him for thirty pieces of silver and goes out into the night; Peter will deny him three times; the others flee. Jesus must face suffering and death alone. (Judas’ Betrayal, J.Tissot)

Are we unlike them? Does a troubled Jesus face us too, “his own,” to whom he gave new life in the waters of baptism and Bread at his table. Will we not betray or deny? Are we sure we will not go away? The Gospels are not just about long ago; they’re also about now.

The Passover Meal

During these days of Holy Week I’ve been thinking of the Passionist house of St. Martha in Bethany where I stayed about a week a few years ago. Looking eastward from the roof of the house on a clear day you can see down to the Judean desert miles away. The ancient road Galilean pilgrims took to Jerusalem for the feasts began there in Jericho and passed by this site. The Passionist house stands over parts of the ancient village of Bethany; 1st century ruins stretch out on its eastern side. From the roof you could see the traditional tomb of Lazarus if the modern Israeli security wall didn’t block your view.

It’s a place that stirs your imagination.

Most likely Jesus lived here with his friends during Jewish feasts when he came from Galilee. It was the obvious place for Galilean pilgrims to camp in those times when the city would be so crowded. The Mount of Olives just west of Bethany was sometimes called the “Mount of the Galileans.” Here Jesus would likely be among friends, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. A safe place. From here he walked to Jerusalem, a few miles away, over the Mount of Olives to teach and pray in the temple. Likely, followers from Galilee would accompany him back and forth, and they were armed.

Would this explain why the temple leaders reached out to an insider like Judas as a way of capturing Jesus, who seemed so secure? Perhaps his disciples thought so too; they’re so complacently confident that nothing will happen to him. They’ll take care of that.

“Where do you want us to prepare the Passover supper for you?” his disciples ask (Matthew 26,27) Surely, Jesus could have chosen to eat the Passover there in Bethany, which Jewish law saw as part of Jerusalem in times of feasts when the city’s population multiplied. It would have been a meal among his own, like that he enjoyed after raising Lazarus from the dead.And it would have been safer.

Instead, he chose to eat the Passover close by the temple. The traditional site of the Last Supper places the site just south of the temple. They would have eaten it there, as the lambs were being slaughtered for sacrifice. It certainly wasn’t a place chosen for security.

A Meal in Bethany

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On the Monday of Holy Week John’s gospel (John 12,1-11) calls us to a meal honoring Jesus in Bethany following the resurrection of Lazarus. It’s the last meal recorded in the gospels before the Passover supper. The gift of life that Jesus gives his friend leads to a sentence of death.

Faithful Martha serves the meal; Lazarus newly alive, is at the table. But the one drawing most of our attention is Mary, their sister who, sensing what’s coming, kneels before Jesus to anoint his feet with precious oil and dry them with her hair. “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

The precious oil is an effusive sign of her love and gratitude; it also anoints Jesus for his burial. Only in passing does the gospel mention that evil is in play here. Judas, “the one who would betray him,” complains that the anointing is a waste, but his voice is silenced. Believers are honoring the one they love.

How fitting that Holy Week begins with this gospel when, like Mary, we kneel and pour out the precious oil of our love upon him who pours out his precious life for us.

Palm Sunday Procession

The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke report that Jesus began his entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. From here he went into the city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey and those who followed him threw olive branches before him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

From the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany you can see the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives looming ahead; the road winds over the crest of the mount down the other side past the Garden of Gethsemani and into Jerusalem. We walked part of the road last week.

The area around  Bethany was probably sparsely populated at the time of Jesus and into the Christian era. During great feasts, the poorer pilgrims would stay in the area, probably pitching tents up in the olive groves, and walk to the city. Here are two pictures from the 1940‘s when the area was less populated, today it is Muslim.

After Constantine established the church in Jerusalem and built churches like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 4th century, vast crowds came here on Palm Sunday to reenact the gospel. They probably began near here to go their way into the city to the empty tomb .

Fr. Roberto tells me the procession today for the Latin church goes through St. Stephen’s Gate and ends in the Church of St. Ann.

Our Palm Sunday celebration today in the Roman rite imitates the ancient practice of the Church of Jerusalem, as well as many other of its Holy Week rites as well. We follow our ancestors in faith in sign. Before our Palm Sunday procession we hear these words:

“Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with  lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”

Don’t forget, however, that the little procession we have in our churches today once stretched over some tough hills and went for a distance.

In the garden behind the Passionist house are some first century ruins of a few Jewish houses from the time of  Jesus. Outside one is  a mikvah for purifications. Not far away is the Franciscan church next to the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus. Who knows? Could they have lived here? It looks like its part of the ancient village of Bethany.

In back of the site is the famous security wall which runs through the Passionist property. More about that later.

Palm Sunday Procession

The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke report that Jesus began his entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. From here he went into the city of Jerusalem seated on a donkey and those who followed him threw olive branches before him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

From the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany you can see the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives looming ahead; the road winds over the crest of the mount down the other side past the Garden of Gethsemani and into Jerusalem. We walked part of the road last week.

The area around  Bethany was probably sparsely populated at the time of Jesus and into the Christian era. During great feasts, the poorer pilgrims would stay in the area, probably pitching tents up in the olive groves, and walk to the city. Here are two pictures from the 1940‘s when the area was less populated, today it is Muslim.

After Constantine established the church in Jerusalem and built churches like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the 4th century, vast crowds came here on Palm Sunday to reenact the gospel. They probably began near here to go their way into the city to the empty tomb .

Fr. Roberto tells me the procession today for the Latin church goes through St. Stephen’s Gate and ends in the Church of St. Ann.

Our Palm Sunday celebration today in the Roman rite imitates the ancient practice of the Church of Jerusalem, as well as many other of its Holy Week rites as well. We follow our ancestors in faith in sign. Before our Palm Sunday procession we hear these words:

“Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with  lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life.”

Don’t forget, however, that the little procession we have in our churches today once stretched over some tough hills and went for a distance.

In the garden behind the Passionist house are some first century ruins of a few Jewish houses from the time of  Jesus. Outside one is  a mikvah for purifications. Not far away is the Franciscan church next to the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus. Who knows? Could they have lived here? It looks like its part of the ancient village of Bethany.

In back of the site is the famous security wall which runs through the Passionist property. More about that later.

The Story of Suzanna

We’re reading in our lenten liturgy today the story of Suzanna from the Book of Daniel and an account from the gospel of John of Jesus disputing with the leaders in the temple.

The story of Suzanna would make a great TV special. It deals with some of society’s big problems today. You can’t listen to it without thinking of our present efforts to stop violence against women and also our problems with sexual abuse. Last week those issues were considered at the United Nations.

Her story points out an important factor in the abuse of women that’s still with us today. It comes from an abuse of power. The two old men were Jewish judges with lots of power; they thought they could do anything they wanted. The abuse of power, combined with lust, is still behind so many of our sexual problems today. It’s found in the workplace, in politics, in the celebrity and sports world, and also unfortunately in the world of religion.

Suzannah refuses to give in to their advances and she finds a champion in Daniel who faces up to these powerful men.

I’d like to point out that the story of Suzanna is linked to the story of Jesus. He also faces an entrenched power in the temple, whose leaders reject him because they see him as a threat to their power. But he doesn’t deny who he is and so they decide to kill him.

Just as Daniel came to the aid of Suzannah, God, his Father, will raise Jesus from death and vindicate his claims.

Our readings remind us that it’s important to stand up for the truth and to fight against abuses of power wherever we find them. When we say we’re called to follow Christ in his passion, we mean we’re called to fight against injustice and stand up to it, like Suzannah and Daniel did.