Tag Archives: death and resurrection

The Easter Tree

san clemente copy

The Cross  flowers at Easter time. There’s a flowering cross brimming with life  in the great apse of the church of San Clemente in Rome. Doves rest on it;  its branches swirl with the gifts God gives. It brings life, not death. Humanity is there, signified in Mary and the disciple John,  creation itself is there, drawing new life  from it. The hand of God makes it so.

The mystery of the sacraments offered in this sacred place brings its life-giving graces to us.

An early preacher Theodore the Studite  praises the mystery of the cross:.

“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.

“This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the Lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree.

“What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!”

San Clemente, Rome

See Children’s Prayers here for a children’s version of the Easter Tree.

Wednesday, 1st Week of Lent: The Sign of Jonah

Jonah, Roman Catacombs


Luke 11:29-32

Jonah, starting out, doesn’t seem like much of a prophet, does he? He’s a frightened man fleeing the task God gives him–to preach repentance to the great city of Nineveh. He thinks it can’t be done. He couldn’t stop the sailors who thought he cursed their ship from throwing him overboard. He would have been finished if the whale that swallowed him didn’t vomit him onto the shore at Nineveh.

The people of Nineveh paid attention to someone arriving like that. Someone escaped death from the belly of a whale? They listened to Jonah and begged for God’s forgiveness.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. He announced his death and then rose from the belly of the earth. That’s his great word, his message of hope, a sign of God’s love for us. That message must be proclaimed to the whole world and the world must hear it.

Paintings and sculptures of the story of Jonah, like the above, often appear in the early Christian catacombs of Rome. There’s Jonah thrown to the whale. On the upper right panel, Moses strikes the rock and water flows, a sign of Baptism promising life. (Note the water flows over the whale) On the panel upper left, Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave.

The story of Jonah raises our hope and nourishes our prayers. God offers us a great mission and a great vision. As it was with Jonah, we may find it beyond our minds and understanding. We are called to believe. Like Nineveh, our world is called to believe.

Lord,
I believe in the sign
that lifted you up and blesses us,
the sign of your Cross.
You bring resurrection and life to the world,.
Help us believe in what is beyond anything we know..
Amen.

Why December 25th?

Why do we celebrate December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth? A popular theory  says December 25th was a Christian attempt to replace a pagan festival honoring the Unconquerable Sun. More likely, December 25 was chosen because it was tied to March 25th, the day some early Christian sources say Jesus was conceived and crucified.

Andrew McGowan advocates that theory in Biblical Archeology.

“ There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

“Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

In Advent Matthew’s gospel Monday and Tuesday of the 3rd week of the fate that awaits Jesus. He also recalls the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem by King Herod shortly after Jesus birth. Joseph takes the Child and Mary his mother into Egypt to escape the hand of Herod. Luke’s gospel recalls the warning Mary receives in the temple that a sword will pierce her heart.

What is true of Jesus is true of his church. The day after Christmas is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, a sign for those who would follow Jesus. But that sign is followed by the feast of St. John, the apostle, he saw the Risen Christ, even on the Cross.

Artists like the one who painted our picture above– which is honored by my community, the Passionists– also saw the connection. St.Paul of the Cross certainly saw the connection when, as a young man, he made a retreat of 40 days that continued over the Christmas feast. On Christmas Day he said he was “as dry as a stick.”

The mysteries of Christ are joined together. We celebrate his birth, but we also keep in mind his death and resurrection– mysteries  never far apart, in him and in us.

Water and the Spirit

baptism jes

In the easter season the Risen Christ comes to us in signs and sacraments. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is one of his signs, but let’s not forget the Sacrament of Baptism, another gift we receive from the Risen Lord. He blesses us in water.

Water is a sign of death and of life, says Saint Basil the Great.

“Like a tomb, the water receives the body, symbolizing death; while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin into their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the water bringing the necessary death while the Spirit creates life within us…

“ Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the status of adopted children our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory – in a word, our being brought into a state of all fullness of blessing both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us. Through faith we behold the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, but we still have to wait for the full enjoyment of them. If such is the promise, what will the perfection be like? If these are the first fruits, what will be the complete fulfillment?”      Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit

 

 

The Transfiguration of Jesus

DSC00070
Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration was celebrated as far back as the 4th century by the Syrian church. Then, it spread to other eastern churches, and finally in the 15th century came into our Roman liturgy, probably through western pilgrims to the Holy Land who visited the great mountain shrine of the Transfiguration in Galilee and brought the feast back to Europe. Some of our feasts have come to us like this– from pilgrims to the Holy Land.

All three synoptic gospels have the account of Jesus ascending the mountain with Peter, James and John after he has announced his passion and death. He’s transfigured before them. His face is changed in appearance,“dazzling like the sun,” Matthew’s gospel says. “His clothes are dazzling white;” the other gospels say, reflecting a body we can’t look at directly. It happens “while he was praying,” Luke says, who always sees prayer opening up the mysteries of God.

The mountain in the scriptures is a favorite place where God reveals himself. It’s where you can take in everything, everywhere. Later this week in our readings from Deuteronomy (4,32-40), Moses tells the children of Israel to remember that God’s voice came from the heavens and spoke to them from the mountain of Horeb and led them by a cloud to a land that was their heritage.

Now, God speaks from the Mount of Transfiguration. A cloud envelopes Jesus and his disciples. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him,” God says. “Keep this mystery in mind,” Peter says in his letter; it’s “like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Our liturgy today tells us that Jesus “revealed his glory to his disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross,” that’s the dark place God wishes to lighten. “His glory shone in a body like our own, to show that the Church, which is his body, would one day share his glory,” our liturgy says. So our bodies share this mystery with him.

Moses and Elijah are there speaking to him, Luke says, “about his passage, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.” The passage from Egypt to the Promised Land will take place now through the mystery of his passion and resurrection.

The disciples fall silent after experiencing this mystery. They can’t explain it, even if they wanted to. So they fall back on the familiar stories of Moses and Elijah who spoke to God face to face. The mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mystery we anticipate, we cannot explain. Later, his disciples will say simply: “We have seen the Lord. He is risen, as he said.”

The Sign of Jonah

Jonah himself wasn’t much of a sign, if you think about him. He fled fear-stricken from the mission God gave to preach to the great city of Nineveh, and when  the sailors on the boat from Joppa saw him as the curse that caused a storm and  threw him overboard to drown, he couldn’t stop them. That would have been the end of him  if God didn’t send a whale to swallow him and vomit him up on the shore at Nineveh.

An arrival like that caught the attention of the Ninevites; they listened to this man who came from the belly of whale and responded to his preaching by begging God for forgiveness.

So Jonah wasn’t much of a sign himself. The Ninevites would have ignored him if he just got off the boat from Joppa and preached to them. Instead,  he was someone brought back from death and sure destruction. God made him a sign of life.

In Jesus, a greater than Jonah is here. The mystery of his death and resurrection is at the heart of his mission, his great word, his message of hope, his sign of love for us.

The Sign of Jonah was a favorite theme early Christians used to decorate the places where they buried their death. The whale of death, monster of the sea, would not destroy humanity but deliver it to another shore, where a kingdom was waiting.