‘He showed them His hands and feet’
In World War II a doctor leaned over an horrific wound on the side of a young soldier. As the soldier came to, the doctor whispered gently to him: ‘I’m sorry son, you will live, but I have to tell you that you have lost your arm’. The soldier smiled and said, ‘I didn’t lose it, I gave it’. Some wounds can be scars of shame, but others are badges of honour, evidence of love and sacrifice and care. ‘Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us’ (David Richo). In today’s Gospel extract, the disciples recognised Jesus in His wounds. When He showed them His hands and feet, they remembered the love that was given and they believed. It called forth a similar love in them. It led them to the shedding of their blood too. On Holy Saturday night we inserted five grains of incense into the Paschal Candle to represent the five wounds He carried in His body on the Cross. They remind us of how much we are loved. May we always be aware of His wounds and the wounds of those closest to us who have made us who we are. By His wounds we are healed. By their wounds we were made. We connect at the point of our wounds.
A quieter day, but Easter glory still fills the air. Behind closed doors, the disciples are dazed and dispirited. Then Jesus appears, but Thomas is not there. An annual reminder here of the power and importance of praying with the community. Eight days later Thomas is present with the community. He encounters the Lord, his questions are answered and his life is changed forever. The doubting disciple is moved to utter, in five short words, the most profound profession of faith in the entire Gospel: ‘My Lord and my God’. He will now become one of the foundation stones of the fledgling Church. The message is clear. We absent ourselves from the community gathering at a cost. At this time, our gathering is from a distance from necessity, but even from a distance we are nourished and strengthened. Thomas recognises Jesus in His hands. The story of our lives is etched in our hands. The fruits of caring, giving and loving are there for the world to see. Jesus’ love for us led Him to the Cross and when Thomas saw the hands, he remembered, he understood and he believed.
"He is risen, Alleluia."
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, life is absurd, the grave is without hope and our faith is meaningless. The resurrection then, was the most significant event in human history. It elevates Christianity above all other world religions. It’s no wonder that it is mentioned more than one hundred times in the New Testament. We live in the shadow of Easter and we rejoice on this day, the greatest of all Sundays in the Christian calendar. The tomb is empty. Life has a destination. Hope dawns anew. Our God reigns. His victory is our victory. Good has triumphed over evil; light over darkness; peace over chaos. The fact that He rose at the darkest hour, just before the dawn is a striking reminder that, when all seems lost, resurrection is near. When we reach ‘rock bottom’ we discover that Christ is the rock at the bottom. The experience of the women who went to the tomb on that Easter morning speaks to us too. They were worried about the stone. Who would move it? Their worries were unfounded. In life, we fret endlessly, never more so than over the past twelve months, but God knows His plan and all shall be well. Because of the resurrection, there is a future for every human being. May we radiate the hope and joy of the Easter message in all we think, say and do.
‘Blessings on him who comes on the name of the Lord’
Today we turn our faces to Jerusalem once again and are transported back to the event that marked the beginning of the week we call ‘holy’. It’s a curious scene as the King of Peace comes to His city riding on a donkey. Contrary to popular opinion, the donkey was regarded as a noble animal in Palestine. When a king went to war, he rode on a horse. When he came offering peace, he rode on a donkey. Holy Week is a week of contrasts, a week of exaltation and humiliation, acclamation and condemnation, darkness and light, betrayal and loyalty, despair and hope, sadness and joy, fickleness and faithfulness, human suffering and divine triumph. During the days ahead, through word, music and especially through symbol, we remember and enter into the greatest story ever told. Our lives are determined more by what is done to us than by what we do and in His passion and death, Jesus shows us how to respond to what is done to us. In His final hours on earth He absorbs and transforms hatred and returns it as love. Holy Week is an academy of love.
HOLY THURSDAY: Eucharist and Priesthood were born on this night in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. The two gifts are inextricably linked. No priests; no Eucharist. In washing the feet of His friends, Jesus showed us that celebration of the Eucharist should lead to humble service.
GOOD FRIDAY: The wood of the Cross is the throne of grace, a sign of His love, an invitation to love, a revelation about love. On this day, we tell the story of the last hours of Jesus; we pay our respects to His body; we are nourished with food for the journey. While the world changes, the Cross stands firm. It’s no wonder we call this Friday ‘Good’.
HOLY SATURDAY: The Scriptures don’t explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Scriptures. On this most holy night, we light the Paschal candle; we proclaim the Easter story; we bless the Easter water; we receive the Bread of Life. We allow the symbols to speak. He is risen Alleluia!
‘Unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain’.
By using the image of the wheat grain falling to the ground and dying Jesus teaches that life comes through death, greatness through service. The image captures in a striking way the story of His own mission and ministry. By dying, He destroyed our death. From the time of Jesus, the history of the Church has been adorned with examples of valiant souls who, through their blood, provided the seed of renewal and rebirth. ‘The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church’. Not only the Church but the world in general owes everything to people who give selflessly. We can recall the heroic sacrifices of our parents, who never counted the cost. The simple grain of wheat contains the wisdom of the ages. It is not what we take up but what we give up that makes us rich. Self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness are the master keys to true happiness. It is indeed in giving that we receive. It is in sharing that we retain. It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. If we choose to become wrapped up in ourselves, we become very small parcels. The great Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso expressed it better than most when he wrote that ‘the meaning of life is to find your gift, but the purpose of life is to give it away’.
In the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel we are given an insight into a day in the life of Jesus as He moves from prayer to active ministry. We find Him teaching in the synagogue, visiting the home of Peter, healing those who were sick and finally, praying in the wilderness. On entering the synagogue He is confronted by a man possessed by an unclean spirit. It is His first encounter with the Kingdom of Darkness and marks the beginning of a ferocious battle that will continue from Capernaum to Calvary. Good and evil are very hard to explain or understand. What we do know is that each of us is a mixture of both. ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person’ (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). The struggle is essentially an internal one. Consequently, we should make it our constant care to nourish our hearts with all that is good, beautiful, noble and worthwhile so that the light may triumph over the darkness. The greatest threat to our efforts occurs when the lines become blurred, when the unacceptable is seen as acceptable, the indefensible as defensible, the inappropriate as appropriate. This blurring of lines is sadly, a hallmark of our increasingly secular world. To see evil and call it good, mocks God. To see the good and choose the good, gives Him glory. (31st January 2021)
‘What are you looking for’?