Introduction: Significance of Easter: Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church for three reasons: 1) The Resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith. It is the greatest of the miracles, for it proves that Jesus is God. That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain” (I Cor 15: 14). “Jesus is Lord, he is risen” (Rom 10: 9), was the central theme of the kerygma (or 'preaching'), of the Apostles because Jesus prophesied his Resurrection as a sign of his Divinity: “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again” (Jn 2: 19). The founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has. Besides, the Jews or the Romans could not disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. The Apostles and the early Christians were absolutely sure about the Resurrection of Jesus. Otherwise they would not have faced martyrdom for a dead leader lying in the tomb. The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian Church, bravely facing and surviving three centuries of persecution, supports the truth of Christ’s Resurrection. 2) Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11: 25-26). 3) Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement in this world of pain, sorrows and tears. It reminds us that life is worth living. It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal as well as our communal prayer, strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears.
Life Messages: 1) Let us live the lives of Resurrection people: Easter gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.” This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits, dangerous addictions, despair, discouragement or doubts. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the living presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives and amid the boredom, suffering, pain and tensions of our day-to-day life. 2) We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus. Our awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord in and around us and the strong conviction of our own resurrection help us to control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. This salutary thought inspires us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions. Our conviction about the presence of the Risen Lord in our neighbors and in all those with whom we come into contact should encourage us to respect them and to render them loving, humble and selfless service. 3) We need to become transparent Christians: We are called to be transparent Christians, showing others through our lives the love, mercy, compassion and spirit of self-sacrificing service of the Risen Jesus living in our hearts. 4) We need to live lives of love in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection: Each time we try to practice Christian charity, mercy and forgiveness and each time we fight against temptations, let us recall that we share in the Resurrection of Jesus here and now.
EASTER SUNDAY (April 5) Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20: 1-9
Anecdote: # 1: He is risen indeed: You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. Many years ago he was one of the most powerful men on earth. A Russian Communist leader, he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He was the editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly of Communists. The subject was atheism. Addressing the crowd, he attacked Christianity, hurling insults and arguments against it. When he had finished, he looked out at the audience. "Are there any questions?" he demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium. Then one man stood up, approached the platform and mounted the lectern. After surveying the crowd, he shouted the ancient greeting of the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" The crowd stood up and shouted in a thundering voice: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!" Amazed and dejected, Bukharin left the stage in silence. Finally, he had learned the lesson that faith in Christ’s Resurrection was deeply rooted in his Russian Orthodox Communist followers!
# 2: The greatest comeback in history: In its November 12, 2001 issue, Sports Illustrated ranked the 10 greatest comebacks in world history. Among those making the list, the following names are to be specially noted.
1. Michael Jordan, 1995. Quits basketball to make his first triumphant comeback.
5. Muhammad Ali, 1974. Seven years after being stripped of his title and his boxing license, defeats George Foreman in Zaire to win back the belt.
8. Japan and Germany, 1950s. They were the former Axis Powers which rose from the ashes of World War II to become industrial superpowers.
10. Jesus Christ, 33 A.D. Defies Jewish critics and stuns the Romans with his Resurrection. It was the greatest comeback of all time. And He’s been specializing in comebacks ever since.
# 3: The phoenix bird: The late Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John Whealon, had undergone cancer surgery resulting in a permanent colostomy when he wrote these very personal words in one of his last Easter messages: "I am now a member of an association of people who have been wounded by cancer. That association has as its symbol the phoenix, a bird of Egyptian mythology. The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived eight centuries before Jesus was born, wrote about this legendary bird in his poetry. When the bird felt its death was near (every 500 to 1,461 years), it would fly off to Phoenicia, build a nest of aromatic wood and set itself on fire. When the bird was consumed by the flames, a new phoenix sprang forth from the ashes. Thus, the phoenix symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death. It sums up the Easter message perfectly. Jesus gave up His life, and from the grave He was raised to life again on the third day. New life rises from the ashes of death. Today we are celebrating Christ's victory over the grave, the gift of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus. That is why the phoenix bird, one of the earliest symbols of the Risen Christ, also symbolizes our daily rising to new life. Every day, like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes of sin and guilt and are refreshed and renewed by our living Lord and Savior with His forgiveness and the assurance that He still loves us and will continue to give us the strength we need." Archbishop John Whealon could have lived in a gloomy tomb of self-pity, hopeless defeat, and chronic sadness, but his faith in the Risen Lord opened his eyes to new visions of life.
Introduction: Significance of Easter: Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church. It marks the birthday of our eternal hope. "Easter" literally means "the feast of fresh flowers." We celebrate it with pride and jubilation for three reasons:
1) The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith. The Resurrection is the greatest of the miracles -- it proves that Jesus is God. That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, then your Faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins… But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15: 14, 17, 20). If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud, and Faith is a sham. But if He really did rise from the dead, His message is true! Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained forever a good person who had met a tragic end. People would remember some of his teachings, and a handful of people might try to live according to them. All the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of the Resurrection. “Jesus is Lord; He is risen” (Rom 10: 9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or "preaching"), of the Apostles. In fact, the seventeenth-century philosopher, John Locke, some of whose ideas were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Our Savior’s Resurrection is truly of great importance in Christianity, so great that His being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with it."
2) Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11: 25-26). Christ will raise us up on the last day, but it is also true, in a sense, that we have already risen with Christ. By virtue of the Holy Spirit, our Christian life is already a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1002, #1003).
3) Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement. In this world of pain, sorrows and tears, Easter reminds us that life is worth living. It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal, as well as to our common, prayers. Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears. The prayer of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, reads: “Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part.”
Reasons why we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (1) Jesus himself testified to his Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). (2) The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday (Luke 24:3). Although the guards claimed (Matthew 28:13), that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body, every sensible Jew knew that it was impossible for the terrified disciples of Jesus to steal the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by an armed, 16-member Temple Guard detachment. (3) The initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection, in spite of His repeated apparitions, serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. Their initial disbelief explains why the Apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. (4) The transformation of Jesus’ disciples transformed men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19), into men who now were confident and bold witnesses to the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2). (5) Neither the Jews and the Romans could disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. (6) The Apostles and early Christians would not have faced martyrdom if they were not absolutely sure of Jesus’ Resurrection. (7) The Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to a zealous preacher of of Jesus supports the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection (Galatians 1:11-17, Acts 9:1, Acts 9:24-25, Acts 26:15-18). (8) The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian Church, bravely facing and surviving three centuries of persecution, supports the truth of the Resurrection claim. (9) The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or deceivers. The Apostles and the early Christians were absolutely sure about the Resurrection of Jesus. Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has commented incisively that if Jesus had not been raised bodily from the dead, Christianity would never have survived as a Messianic movement. Wright says that the clearest indication to a first-century Jew that someone was not the Messiah would be his death at the hands of the enemies of Israel. That the Church of Christ endured as a Messianic religion is possible only on the assumption that the Crucified One was, nevertheless, objectively alive.
Exegesis: The Resurrection of Jesus had certain special features. First, Jesus prophesied it as a sign of His Divinity: “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again” (Jn 2: 19). Second, the founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has. We see the fulfillment of Christ's promise on the empty cross and in the empty tomb. The angel said to the women at Jesus’ tomb, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here: he has been raised” (Luke 24: 5-6). The third special feature is the initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection, in spite of His repeated apparitions. This serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. It explains why the Apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Proclamation and witness-bearing are the main themes of today’s readings. In the first reading, St. Peter shares his own experience of Christ’s Resurrection and its joy with the newly baptized members of Cornelius’ family. In the second reading, St. Paul, converted on the Damascus Road by Jesus from a persecuting Pharisee into a zealous apostle of Jesus, urges his converts to live the new life in the risen Christ to which they were raised by their conversion in order to share in the glory of Christ on His return. Today’s Gospel explains the empty-tomb-resurrection-experience of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Mary Magdalene proclaims her personal experience: “I have seen the Lord.” “The best proof of the Resurrection is a church on fire.” Clarence Jordan, Christian Century 7/9/14 year of service to the Church in the U.S.
Life messages: 1) We are to be a Resurrection people: Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.” This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions. It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement or doubt, nor that of death. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24).
2) We need to seek our peace and joy in the Risen Jesus: The living presence of the Risen Lord gives us lasting peace and celestial joy in the face of the boredom, suffering, pain and tensions of our day-to-day life. “Peace be with you!” was His salutation to His disciples at all post-Resurrection appearances. For the true Christian, every day must be an Easter Day, lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.
3) We are to be transparent Christians: We are called to be transparent Christians, showing others, through our lives of love, mercy, compassion and self-sacrificing service, that the Risen Jesus is living in our hearts.
4) We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus: Our awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord in and around us, and the strong conviction of our own coming resurrection, help us control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. This salutary thought inspires us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions. Our conviction about the presence of the risen Lord in our neighbors, and in all those with whom we come into contact, should encourage us to respect them, and to render them loving, humble and selfless service.
5) We need to remember Easter in our Good Fridays: Easter reminds us that every Good Friday in our lives will have an Easter Sunday and that Jesus will let us share the power of His Resurrection. Each time we display our love of others, we share in the Resurrection. Each time we face a betrayal of trust, we share in the Resurrection of Jesus. Each time we fail in our attempts to ward off temptations – but keep on trying to overcome them – we share in the Resurrection. Each time we continue to hope – even when our hope seems unanswered – we share in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. In short, the message of Easter is that nothing can destroy us – not pain, sin, rejection nor death – because Christ has conquered all these, and we too can conquer them if we put our faith in Him.
6) We are to be bearers of the Good News of Resurrection power. Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin, to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives. Resurrection is about seeing our world in a new way. Early that Easter morning, Mary did not find what she was looking for, the dead body of Jesus. But she found something better than she could have imagined: the Risen Jesus. Sometimes, the things we think we want most are not granted to us. What we get instead is an experience of God’s new ways of working in the world. That’s the power of the Resurrection. When those moments come, we must spread the news--just as Mary did: We have seen the Lord!
Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (firstname.lastname@example.org) and published in the CBCI Website.
Introduction: On Holy Thursday we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and preach the Good News of Salvation, 3) the anniversary of Jesus’ promulgation of His new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Today we remember how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the New Testament Passover. The Jewish Passover was, in fact, a joint celebration of two ancient thanksgiving celebrations. The descendants of Abel, who were shepherds, used to lead their sheep from the winter pastures to the summer pastures after the sacrificial offering of a lamb to God. They called this celebration the “Pass over." On the other hand, the descendants of Cain, who were farmers, held a harvest festival called the Massoth in which they offered unleavened bread to God as an act of thanksgiving. The Passover feast of the Israelites (Exodus 12:26-37) was a harmonious combination of these two ancient feasts of thanksgiving, commanded by the Lord God to be celebrated yearly by all Israelites to thank God for the miraculous liberation of their ancestors from Egypt and their exodus from slavery to the Promised Land.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, God gives the Hebrews two instructions: prepare for the moment of liberation by a ritual meal and make a symbolic mark on your homes to exempt yourselves from the coming slaughter. In the second reading, Paul suggests that the celebration of the Lord's Supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the Church. By it, Christians reminded themselves of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Eucharistic celebration. After washing the feet of His Apostles and commanding them to do humble service for each other, Jesus concluded the ceremony by giving His Apostles His own Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine as spiritual food and drink, in addition to serving the roasted Paschal lamb.
Life Messages: 1) A challenge for humble service. Our celebration of the Eucharist requires that we wash one another’s feet, i.e., serve one another, and revere Christ's presence in other persons. In practical terms, that means we are to consider their needs to be as important as our own and to serve their needs, without expecting any reward. 2) A loving invitation for sacrificial sharing and self-giving love. Let us imitate the Self-giving model of Jesus Who shares with us His own Body and Blood and Who enriches us with His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is by sharing our blessings – our talents, time, health and wealth - with others that we become true disciples of Christ and obey his new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” 3) An invitation to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers: "Go forth, the Mass is ended," really means, “Go in peace to love and serve one another’’ We are to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ Whom we carry with us.
HOLY THURSDAY (April 2): Evening Mass of the LORD’S SUPPER
(Exodus. 12: 1-8, 11-14; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15)
Anecdote: # 1 1) Communion on the moon: The Lord's Supper ensures that we can remember Jesus from any place. Apollo 11 landed on the moon on Sunday, July 20, 1969. Most remember astronaut Neil Armstrong's first words as he stepped onto the moon's surface: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But few know about the first meal eaten on the moon. Dennis Fisher reports that Buzz Aldrin, the NASA astronaut had taken aboard the spacecraft a tiny pyx provided by his Catholic pastor. (Aldrin was Catholic until his second marriage, when he became a Presbyterian. (See the Snopes citation given below). Aldrin sent a radio broadcast to Earth asking listeners to contemplate the events of the day and give thanks. Then, blacking out the broadcast for privacy, Aldrin read, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Then, silently, he gave thanks for their successful journey to the moon and received Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, surrendering the moon to Jesus. Next he descended on the moon and walked on it with Neil Armstrong [Dan Gulley, "Communion on the Moon," Our Daily Bread (June/July/August, 2007)]. His actions remind us that in the Lord's Supper, God's children can share the life of Jesus from any place on Earth — and even from the moon. God is everywhere, and our worship should reflect this reality. In Psalm 139 we are told that wherever we go, God is intimately present with us. Buzz Aldrin celebrated that experience on the surface of the moon. Thousands of miles from earth, he took time to commune with the One who created, redeemed, and established fellowship with him. (Dennis Fisher) http://www.smithvillechurch.org/html/body_remembering_jesus_on_the_moon.html https://www.rbc.org/devotionals/our-daily-bread/2007/07/20/devotion.aspx, http://www.snopes.com/glurge/communion.asp
# 2: "You don't recognize me, do you?” There is an old legend about DaVinci's painting of the Last Supper. In all of his paintings, he tried to find someone to pose that fit the face of the particular character he was painting. Out of hundreds of possibilities he chose a 19-year old to portray Jesus. It took him six months to paint the face of Jesus. Seven years later DaVinci started hunting for just the right face for Judas. Where could he find one that would portray that image? He looked high and low. Down in a dark Roman dungeon he found a wretched, unkempt prisoner to strike the perfect pose. The prisoner was released to his care and when the portrait of Judas was complete the prisoner said to the great artist, "You don't recognize me, do you? I am the man you painted seven years ago for the face of Christ. O God, I have fallen so low."
The Stole and the Towel is the title of a book, which sums up the message of the Italian bishop, Tony Bello, who died of cancer at the age of 58. On Maundy Thursday of 1993, while on his deathbed, he dictated a pastoral letter to the priests of his diocese. He called upon them to be bound by "the stole and the towel." The stole symbolizes union with Christ in the Eucharist, and the towel symbolizes union with humanity by service. The priest is called upon to be united with the Lord in the Eucharist and with the people as their servant. Today we celebrate the institution of both the Eucharist and the priesthood: the feast of "the stole and the towel," the feast of love and service.
Introduction: On Holy Thursday, we celebrate three anniversaries: 1) the anniversary of the first Holy Mass, 2) the anniversary of the institution of ministerial priesthood in order to perpetuate the Holy Mass, convey God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners and preach the Good News of Salvation, 3) the anniversary of the promulgation of Jesus’ new commandment of love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Today we remember how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the New Testament Passover. In its origins, the Jewish Passover was, in fact, a joint celebration of two ancient thanksgiving celebrations. The descendants of Abel, who were shepherds, used to lead their sheep from the winter pastures to the summer pastures after the sacrificial offering to God of a lamb. They called this celebration the “Pass over." On the other hand, the descendants of Cain, who were farmers, held a harvest festival called the Massoth in which they offered unleavened bread to God as an act of thanksgiving. The Passover feast of the Israelites (Exodus 12:26-37), was a harmonious combination of these two ancient feasts of thanksgiving, commanded by the Lord God to be celebrated yearly by all Israelites to thank God for the miraculous liberation of their ancestors from Egypt and their exodus from slavery to the Promised Land.
The Jewish Passover was a seven-day celebration, during which unleavened bread was eaten. The Passover meal began with the singing of the first part of the “Hallel” Psalms (Ps 113 & 114), followed by the first cup of wine. Then those gathered at table ate bitter herbs, sang the second part of the “Hallel” Psalms (Ps 115-116), drank the second cup of wine and listened as the oldest man in the family explained the significance of the event, in answer to the question raised by a child. This was followed by the eating of a lamb (the blood of which had previously been offered to God in sacrifice), roasted in fire. The participants divided and ate the roasted lamb and unleavened Massoth bread, drank the third cup of wine and sang the major “Hallel" Psalms (117-118). In later years, Jews celebrated a miniature form of the Passover every Sabbath day and called it the “Love Feast.”
The first reading from Exodus, gives us an account of the origins of the Jewish feast of Passover. God gives the Hebrews two instructions: prepare for the moment of liberation by a ritual meal [to be held annually in later years] and make a symbolic mark on your homes to exempt yourselves from the coming slaughter. In the second reading, Paul quotes another source for this tradition that was handed to him upon his conversion. He says he received this "from the Lord,” suggesting that the celebration of the Lord's Supper was an unbroken tradition from the very beginning of the Church. Paul implies that the purpose of this celebration was to “proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again.” Paul may simply mean that Christians, by this ritual act, remind themselves of the death and resurrection of Jesus; he may also mean that Christians prepare themselves for the proclamation of Christ to the world at large. In harmony with these readings, today’s Gospel describes how Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover into the Eucharistic celebration. First He washed His Apostles’ feet - a tender reminder of His undying affection for them; then He commanded them to do the same for each other. The incident reminds us that our vocation is to take care of one another as Jesus always takes care of us. Finally, He gave His Apostles His own Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine as food and drink, so that, as long as they lived, they'd never be without the comfort and strength of His presence. Thus, Jesus washed their feet, fed them and then went out to die.
Exegesis: Jesus’ transformation of his last Seder meal (Last Supper) into the first Eucharistic celebration is described for us in today’s second reading and Gospel. Jesus, the Son of God, began His Passover celebration by washing the feet of His disciples (a service assigned to household servants), as a lesson in humble service, proving that He “came to the world not to be served but to serve.” (Mark 10:45). He followed the ritual of the Jewish Passover meal up to the second cup of wine. After serving the roasted lamb as a third step, Jesus offered His own Body and Blood as food and drink under the appearances of bread and wine. Thus, He instituted the Holy Eucharist as the sign and reality of God’s perpetual presence with His people as their living, Heavenly Food. This was followed by the institution of the priesthood with the command, “Do this in memory of me." Jesus concluded the ceremony with a long speech incorporating His command of love: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Thus, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at a private Passover meal with His disciples (Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 21:7-23). He served as both the Host and the Victim of the Sacrifice. He became the Lamb of God, as John the Baptist had previously predicted (John 1:29, 36), Who takes away the sins of the world.
The transformation of Jesus’ Passover into the Holy Mass: The early Jewish Christians converted the Jewish “Sabbath Love Feast” of Fridays and Saturdays (the Sabbath), into the “Memorial Last Supper Meal” of Jesus on Sundays. The celebration consisted of praising and worshipping God by singing Psalms, reading the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and listening to the teachings of Jesus as explained by an Apostle or by an ordained minister. This was followed by an offertory procession, bringing to the altar the bread and wine to be consecrated and covered dishes (meals) brought by each family for a shared common meal after the Eucharistic celebration. Then the ordained minister said the “institution narrative” over the bread and wine, and all the participants received the consecrated Bread and Wine, the living Body and Blood of the crucified and risen Jesus. This ritual finally evolved into the present day Holy Mass in various rites incorporating various cultural elements of worship and rituals.
Life Messages: 1) We need to serve humbly. Our celebration of the Eucharist requires that we wash one another’s feet, i.e., serve one another, and revere Christ's presence in other persons. To wash the feet of others is to love them, even when they don't deserve our love. It is to do good to them, even if they don't return the favor. It is to consider others' needs to be as important as our own. It is to forgive others from the heart, even if they don't say, "I'm sorry." It is to serve them, even when the task is unpleasant. It is to let others know that we care when they feel downtrodden or burdened. It is to be generous with what we have. It is to turn the other cheek instead of retaliating when we're treated unfairly. It is to make adjustments in our plans in order to serve others' needs, without expecting any reward.
2) We need to practice sacrificial sharing and self-giving love. Let us imitate the Self-giving model of Jesus Who shares with us His own Body and Blood and enriches us with His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is by sharing our blessings – our talents, time, health and wealth - with others that we become true disciples of Christ and obey His new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
3) We need to show our unity in suffering. The bread we consecrate and partake of is produced by the pounding of many grains of wheat, and the wine we consecrate and drink is the result of the crushing of many grapes. Both are, thus, symbols of unity through suffering. They invite us to help, console, support, and pray for others who suffer physical or mental illnesses.
4) We need to heed the warning: We need to make Holy Communion an occasion of Divine grace and blessing by receiving Jesus worthily, rather than making our reception an occasion of desecration and sacrilege by receiving Jesus while we are in grave sin. That is why we pray three times before we receive Communion, "Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us," with the final "have mercy on us" replaced by "grant us peace." That is also the reason we pray the Centurion's prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And that is why the priest, just before he receives the consecrated Host, prays, "May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life," while, just before drinking from the Chalice, he prays, "May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life."
5) We need to become Christ-bearers and Christ-conveyers: In the older English version of the Mass, the final message was, “Go in peace to love and serve one another,” that is, to carry Jesus to our homes and places of work, conveying to others around us the love, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service of Christ whom we carry with us. That message has not changed, though the words are different.
6) We need to remember what Jesus did for us on Holy Thursday and does for us during every Eucharistic celebration: We remember and we regret that Jesus had to go through all that He did just because of the way our lives are wrapped in sin today and every day. We remember and we rejoice that Jesus’ love for us knows no limits. We remember and we believe that Jesus has taken care of everything that stands between us and God. We remember and we rely on Jesus our living Lord Who has been through all the troubles and trials that one person can have. Hence, He is able to sympathize and help us in our times of trouble and give the best possible answers to our prayers. We remember and we know for certain that the One Who died on the cross will never leave us or desert us – we may desert Him but He will never leave us. We remember and we celebrate the new hope that we have because Jesus is alive. He is our living Lord and Savior Who supports us when we are down, strengthens us when we face difficult challenges, forgives us when we fail and comforts us when sickness and death terrify us. We remember and we are changed – What Jesus has done in giving us a new life and a new beginning through His death and Resurrection changes the way we view other people, our world and our relationship with God and, with God's help, we fill our lives with kindness, patience, tolerance and forgiveness. We remember and we anticipate that day when we will gather around the throne of God with all the saints who have gone before us.
Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery novel written by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1852. Stowe, a Connecticut-born teacher at the Hartford Female Academy and an active abolitionist, focused the novel on the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering but faithful Black slave around whom the stories of other characters—both fellow slaves and slave owners—revolve. The sentimental novel depicts the cruel reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings. In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States alone. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible, and it is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s.The novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African-Americans and slavery in the United States, so much so in the latter case that the novel intensified the sectional conflict leading to the American Civil War. The book's impact was so great that when Abraham Lincoln met the author Stowe at the start of the American Civil War, he exclaimed, "So this is the little lady who made this big war."
The story follows the fortunes of a slave, the dutiful Uncle Tom. He was a slave on the Shelby plantation in Kentucky. There he was loved by his owners, their son, and every slave on the property. He lived contentedly with his wife and children in their own cabin until Mr. Shelby decided to sell him and another slave to pay off debts to Augustine St Clair in New Orleans. In the idealistic St Clair's household, the young daughter, Eva, became fond of Tom, and his life with his new master was relatively happy. However, following the deaths of the decent master St Clair and the kindly Eva, Tom was sold again. His new master was Simon Legree, the owner of a cotton plantation. The embodiment of cruelty, Legree treated the good and loyal Tom so terribly that the slave died just before rescue arrived in the form of George Shelby, his first owner’s son. The novel ends describing George Shelby who returned to the Shelby plantations and set all his slaves free in order to perpetuate the memory of the sacrificial, loving and dedicated service of Uncle Tom. George freed his slaves with the advice, “Remember about your freedom when you look at the wooden cabin of our dear Uncle Tom. Remember that great man and his sacrificial suffering and heroic death which gave you your freedom.” On Good Friday, our mother the Church gives us her children a similar challenging reminder: “Look at this Holy Cross of Christ and learn to appreciate the great price he paid for our freedom from sin’s enslavement by his suffering and death on the cross.”
Message of the cross: The poet gets the message of the love of God from the cross. The business man views the cross as a ransom, a redemption price. The lawyers and judges prefer to remember the message of the cross as an expression of the justice of God for the wages of man's sin. Converted Jews prefer to compare the cross to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. For the martyrs and saints, the cross of Christ gives meaning to our pains and suffering.
1) Message of sacrificial Divine love: To the poets and philosophers among us the cross of Christ represents the love of God as manifested to the whole world. That is why the apostle John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16). Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, "Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8). The cross truly does demonstrate and reveal the love of God the Father who sacrificed His only Son for us. God showed us what real love is by giving his Son to save us and make it possible for us to share and experience that love: "We love, because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). St. John continues: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). In the cross God did something more than tell us he loved us. His love was expressed in action. The cross is also a symbol of the sacrificial love of God the Son and the renewing love of God the Holy Spirit. Good Friday is the day to assess how well we return that love by loving God living in our fellow human beings. It is the day to remember the new commandment of love Jesus gave us after instituting the great Sacrament of love, the Holy Eucharist: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
2) The message of redemption from our sins and salvation. For the business people among us, the cross tells of the terrible price that Jesus had to pay as the horrible cost for our sin. That is why the Bible describes Christ’s cross in terms of a price that was paid. Jesus said, "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45). Peter explains, "You know that you were ransomed...with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" Paul tells the Corinthians, "Do you not know that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price." (1 Cor. 6: 20). “You were ransomed from your futile conduct handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless, unblemished lamb.” We were purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28). The cross shows us exactly what we are – sinners. The prophet Isaiah explains, "Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole; by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way. But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6). Our freedom was obtained by the price that Jesus paid for us in dying on the cross.
3) The message of justice and atonement: For lawyers and judges who are always concerned about the law and justice, the cross demonstrates that man has broken the law of God and, hence, deserved punishment for sin. Jesus took that punishment for us by dying our death, thus fulfilling the demands of justice for us. Paul wrote, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23). We were the guilty parties, while Jesus was innocent, yet God laid our sin upon him that he might receive our punishment. Paul explains it: "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul reminds the Hebrew Christians, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22). Good Friday challenges us to make reparation for our sins by reflecting on the sufferings of Christ and to share in his atonement by actively doing good for others.
4) The message of eternal sacrifice: For Jewish Christians, the death of Jesus is the sacrifice of one life for another as animals were sacrificed in the Old Testament period for sinful people as atonement for their sins. It is the blood of one for another. But the offering of a blood sacrifice of animals was not able to bring about man's salvation. Hence, the scriptures teach that the death of Jesus redeems not only those under the New Testament but those under the Law of Moses (Heb. 9:15). You may have heard the story of soldiers who were prisoners of war on the River Kwai. At the end of a hard day’s work, a Japanese guard insisted that a shovel was missing. He ranted and raved, but no guilty party stepped forward. Finally in his anger he shouted, "All die! All die!" He raised his gun and prepared to start shooting. Suddenly a Scotsman stepped forward and said, "I did it." One guard kicked him. Then they hit him. They bashed his head with their rifles. Soon he was dead. The other prisoners picked up his bruised body to bury it. The shovels were counted and none was missing. The Scotsman, innocent of the accusation against him, had given his life as a sacrifice for the rest. You all know how the Polish priest St. Maxmian Kolbe offered his life in the gas chamber to save another man. In another case, Cardona Pineda of Columbia, a twenty-two year old man, had been without a job for weeks. In order to support his family, he had been donating blood. Eventually he became so ill he had to go to the hospital. They said he had pernicious anemia, but he could not afford treatment or medicine. He went home and went to bed and never got out of it again. In a very literal way he had given his blood as a sacrifice for his family
5) The message of heroic suffering: Crucifixion was used early in history by the Phoenicians, then the Greeks and the Romans as a feared way of subduing conquered territories. The cross was the crudest instrument of torture used by the Romans to punish rebels and criminals, and the slow death by hanging on the cross was the most excruciating experience of pain in the world. Jesus knew beforehand every detail of his coming cruel suffering, humiliation, rejection and death, but he welcomed it all wholeheartedly according to the eternal plan of God his Father. The challenge from the cross for us is to accept our unavoidable share of pain and suffering in this life, deriving strength and inspiration from the suffering of Christ and to offer it for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of the world. Jesus proved that voluntary acceptance of suffering has salvific value. It was in fact a condition for his disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24, Mark 8: 34, Luke 9: 23).
But carrying one’s crosses does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love. That is how the martyrs and saints understood it, and that is how we have to accept our crosses and carry them. Carrying Christ’s cross is suffering for others by sharing our blessings sacrificially with others. It is accepting the pain involved in controlling our evil tendencies in order to allow God and His love to become the real Center of our lives. It is the pain involved in standing with Jesus and gladly following him even if that means scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world. Hence, let us learn to love the cross of Christ, venerate it and draw daily inspiration from it for our Christian life. “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
Additional anecdotes: "But you wear a cross.” On her first night there, the head counselor said that three of the boys had asked to escort her to dinner. Alone! How would she handle it if all three decided to act out at once? She swallowed hard. She desperately needed this job so she fought back the panic and walked with her charges to the dining hall. They passed through the cafeteria line as tantrums and fights erupted around them. Fortunately none of her boys exhibited any kind of behavioral outburst. They made their way to a table in the center of the busy cafeteria and the boys took their seats. Margaret picked up her fork and was about to take the first bite when she noticed that all three boys were staring at her. "What's the matter?" she asked. Aren't you going to ask a blessing?" asked eight-year-old Peter. "I didn't think I was supposed to," she responded. "This is a state school, isn't it?" "Yes," said David, his blue eyes brimming, "but you wear a cross." Her grandmother's words surged to the surface of her memory. "Never forget what this cross means," her grandmother said. "We thought that meant something," said Roman, clearly disappointed. "It does. Thank you for reminding me," Margaret said, as she bowed her head, no longer afraid. (Catholic Digest, Feb. 92, p. 64) Margaret learned something about sainthood that day. Saints trust in God and God alone for their ultimate security. Saints submit their will to the will of God. Saints stand firm and witness to their faith.
2) “What’s that plus sign doing up here?” A young Jewish girl visiting a Catholic church for the first time, was puzzled at the cross on the altar. She asked her Catholic friend, “Marie, Why do you keep that plus sign on the altar?” That’s one wrong understanding – the cross as a plus sign. It is an equally distasteful idea that the cross is the I, the capital “I” crossed out. The truth is that cross is “I” stretched out - reaching down into the ground of being, up in the infinity of becoming, and out toward as many others as it can touch. With the Cross as a plus sign shaping our lives, we can live while we wait, knowing that a) renewal comes through rejoicing; b) grace is communicated by gentleness; c) peace comes through prayer; and d) attitudes produce action.
3) “You took my parking space at church”: One day, a man went to visit a church; he got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near the driver got out and said, “I always park there! You took my place!"
The visitor went inside for Sunday school, found an empty seat and sat down A young lady from the church approached him and stated, "That’s my seat! You took my place!" The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday school, the visitor went into the sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit! You took my place!" The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still He said nothing. Later as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, "What happened to you?" The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, "I took your place.”
4) The Eagle Has Landed is a book by Jack Higgins set during World War II. Hitler proposed the idea of capturing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Steiner was forced to accept the mission. Steiner and his men were relocated to an airfield on the northwestern coast of Holland, where they were to familiarize themselves with the British weapons and equipment. The team would be air dropped into Norfolk. The commandos outfitted themselves as Polish troops. Their plan was to infiltrate the village, Studley Constable, complete their mission, and make their escape. At first, the plan went off without a hitch. Then, one day one of Steiner's men saw two local children fallen in a water wheel. His first instinct was to jump into the river to rescue them. But, he knew that his action would reveal who they were and would defeat their mission. Any attempt to rescue them was risking his life and the life of his fellow soldiers. The sight of the children being drawn to the water wheel could not hold him back. He jumped into the water and rescued them. During the rescue operation he was killed and his German uniform, worn under the Polish uniform, was seen by the local people. That revealed the identity of Steiner and his men. All of them were shot dead in the encounter that followed. The German soldier risked his life in order to give life to two of the local children. (Fr. Bobby Jose). L-15
Anecdote #1: Alzheimer's patient remembered the cross of Jesus. President Ronald Reagan’s family watched in pain as he lost different aspects of his brilliant memory due to Alzheimer's disease. First, he began forgetting ordinary things like how to turn on the shower or to use a toaster. Soon he could no longer remember people who were his old friends or close work associates. Then he began to forget even who his children were and finally his wife. As the Reagan’s life was drawing to an end, his family gathered around his bed. He knew none of them. Five day’s before his death his wife Nancy Reagan placed a small cross in his hand. At first he seemed puzzled, then looked intently and said, “Jesus” and closed his eyes. On the day he died after 1 p.m., as Nancy Reagan held his hand, Ronald Reagan opened his eyes, which he hadn‘t opened in five days, looked right at his wife of 52 years. Then he closed his eyes and he drew his last breath.
(A) The cross and the crucifix are meaningful symbols, as the dove symbolizes peace and the heart symbolizes love. The crucifix and the cross are the symbols of the loving and sacrificial offering of self for others. First, it is only in the cross that we see the face of God’s love. There is no greater love than that of a person who is willing to die for another, and the cross tells this love story. Second, the cross is the symbol of the remission of our sins: The Bible says that when Jesus died he took all our sins to himself on the cross, and so he conquered sin and the devil's power forever. Whenever we see the cross we should realize that Jesus was bruised, crushed and died for our iniquities. “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” (Is 53:5). Third, the cross is the symbol of humble self-emptying for others. It is the symbol of the cross-bearing Christ leading us in our life’s journey of pain and suffering, carrying his heavier cross and still encouraging us, strengthening us and supporting us. Fourth, the cross is the symbol of the risen Christ who promises us a crown of glory as a reward for our patient bearing of our daily crosses.
Anecdote #2 The Soviet premier’s cross: In 1962, President John F. Kennedy met USSR's Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. Their wives were present. The US State Department warned Mrs. Kennedy to avoid Mrs. Khrushchev. Mrs. Kennedy did not follow the advice. She gave a silver plate as a gift. Mrs. Khrushchev was embarrassed, for she had no gift. She searched through her large handbag. Finally she found a cross. The premier's wife of the officially Godless USSR gave the cross to Catholic Jacqueline Kennedy. Though neither spoke each other's language, the cross served as their translator.
(B) The Cross always means pain. But the pain I suffer for myself is not Christ’s cross. The true cross of Christ is the pain I suffer for others. It is the sanctifying pain involved in sharing our blessings sacrificially with others. It is the pain involved in controlling our evil tendencies responding to God’s loving invitation to us to a higher degree of holiness. It is the pain involved in standing with Jesus, his ideas and ideals and gladly following him even if that means scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world.
(C) We have our crosses mainly from four sources. Some of our crosses, like diseases, natural disasters and death, are given by Mother Nature. We face some other crosses when we do our duties faithfully. Our friends and enemies supply a few of our crosses. Finally, we ourselves create many of our crosses as natural consequences of careless living and evil addictions.
(D) On Good Friday we should ask the question: why should we carry our crosses? First, cross-bearing is a condition for Christian discipleship. Jesus said: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”(Matthew 16:24). Second, it is by carrying our crosses that we make reparation for our sins and for the sins of others related to us. That is why St. Paul said that he was suffering in his body what is “lacking” in Christ’s suffering. Third, it is by carrying our crosses that we become imitators of Christ in his suffering for us. St. Paul explains it thus: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2: 19-20).
Life messages: (1) We should carry our crosses with the right motives: This means that we should not carry our crosses cursing our fate as does the donkey carrying its load. Nor should we protest as do the bulls or horses pulling their carts. Our motive should not be reward by God as the hired workers labor for their wages. We should carry our crosses like a loving wife who nurses her paralyzed husband or sick child, with sacrificial love and dedicated commitment. The carrying of our crosses becomes easier when we compare our light crosses with the heavy crosses of terminally-ill patients or patients in emergency wards. We need to draw strength and inspiration from Jesus Who walks ahead of us carrying his heavier cross while supporting us in carrying our crosses.
(2) We should plant the cross of Christ in our daily lives: We have to begin every day with a sign of the cross, asking the blessing and protection of the crucified Lord in our lives that day. Our repeated promise of sharing the crucified Lord’s love with others around us at home and in our place of work, will enable us to live dynamic Christian lives. A loving, prayerful touch on the cross we wear on our body will encourage us to serve others selflessly with real commitment. Such prayer will also open our hearts to receive immunity from a lot of temptations and an increase of divine strength to fight and defeat stronger temptations. At the end of the day, we can make an examination of conscience by reviewing how much or how little we have stayed upon the foundation of Christ's cross.
(3) We should heal our inner wounds through the cross of Christ: An area where it is very important for us to apply the cross of Christ in our life concerns the area of inner healing. We all need healings from those wounds to our character that we sustained early in life, especially during our first seven years. Someone who has an abusive or withdrawn father or a critical mother will develop specific character traits in an attempt to respond to the wounding, for example, a tendency to anger or a tendency to fear and withdrawal. The good news is that the cross of Christ can heal and undo even these early wounds to our character because every moment of our life is present to God and hence He can heal the wounds in our past. Part of this healing involves repenting of the sinful ways in which we have responded to those wounds. Forgiveness is vital to such healing. If we do not forgive those who have wounded us we are actually holding on to the bitterness and hurt in our hearts and this will completely block healing and transformation. Thus, through the cross of Christ, inner healing is accomplished in accord with the pattern of dying and rising with Christ.
St. Paul on suffering and the cross
1) Gal 2: 19-20: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”
2) 2 Cor 4:10–11: “We are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
3) 2 Cor 5:14–15: “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
The Monk Thomas Merton talks about the Cross and Suffering:
“The Christian must not only accept suffering: the Christian must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering. Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except perhaps to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up by pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial…..Suffering, therefore, can only be consecrated to God by one who believes that Jesus is not dead. And it is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.”
The redemption of all people is only accomplished by the death of Jesus upon the cross. This truth is the foundation of all transformation and holiness in us. Because Christ's cross is the price of our redemption, we must treasure this gift unceasingly throughout life. Joy and gratitude to God for the work of the cross must be the bedrock of any Christian spirituality. At the same time, Christ calls us to apply the power of the cross in our lives so that we may truly "take up our cross and follow him." As St. Paul teaches so clearly in Romans 6, taking up the cross in our lives can only happen if we daily reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. The Good News is that Jesus has saved us through his cross and gives us the means to be fixed with him to his cross in our death to sin and to rise with him to the life of grace leading to eternal bliss with God.
The transformation of the Roman Cross. Brutal and barbaric, the cross was a tool of political power for the Romans. They maintained their power because of people’s fear of death on the cross. When one was condemned by the state, the condemned literally had to "take up his cross" and carry it to the public place where he was to be crucified. It was part of the humiliation process, the mechanism of social control for which crucifixion was invented. Even the Jews considered it an instrument of suffering and shame: "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree" (Dt 21:23). Jesus went to the cross as one who was rejected and abandoned – rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and abandoned almost completely by his disciples, too. Jesus did not die as a hero or a martyr. Yet Christianity had, and still has at its center, this most awful symbol of death and disgrace. But some modern preaching reduces bearing the cross to little more than performing acts of kindness toward other people. Hence, we must learn to appreciate the real message of the cross in our Christian life.
Additional Anecdotes: # 1: Trinket or Treasure: Ann Thomas tells this story of herself. She was at a garage sale with her friend Betty. Ann had just sorted through a tray of trinkets. Betty came up and asked, “Any luck?” “No!” said Ann. “It’s just a pile of junk. She stepped aside to let Betty see for herself. Betty took one look at the pile, picked up a tarnished old cross and said, “I can’t believe it. I’ve found a treasure! This cross is made of antique silver.” When Ann’s friend got home, she cleaned the cross and polished it. It was indeed a treasure. Ann ended the story saying, “Betty and I both looked at the same cross. I only saw junk; Betty saw a treasure.” Later Betty’s seven-year-old son, Bobby picked up the cross, held it reverently in his hands, and looked at it for a long time. Suddenly he began to cry. “What’s wrong?” asked Betty. Bobby said, “I can’t help it. I was looking at Jesus on the cross.” Three people looked at the same cross. One saw junk, another saw a treasure; a third saw Jesus. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies)
# 2: Powdered Christian. You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country!’" Smirnoff is joking, but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and disciples are born not made. Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. We must understand what it means to be a disciple. Does this mean denying ourselves? YES. Does this mean that just saying that you follow Jesus is enough? NO, it is not. We read in Matthew’s gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16: 24) (L-15)
Introduction: The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. Today’s liturgy combines contrasting moments of glory and suffering – the royal welcome given to Jesus by his followers and the unjust drama of his trial culminating in his crucifixion. Holy Week challenges us to remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation, to appreciate gratefully the price Jesus paid for our salvation, and to return God’s love for us, expressed through the suffering and death of Jesus, by loving others. The meditation on these Paschal mysteries should enable us to do our own dying to sin and rising with Jesus, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Proper participation in the Holy Week liturgy will also deepen our relationship with God, increase our faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus.
Scripture lessons: Today's first reading, found in the prophecy of Isaiah, is called the third Servant Song.. Jesus saw aspects of his own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs. The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of who Jesus is, and of how his mission saves us from sin and death. The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from his admirers. They paraded with him for a distance of two miles: from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Mark. We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience and condemned Jesus to death on the cross, Herod who ridiculed Jesus and the leaders of the people who preserved their positions by getting rid of Jesus.
Life messages: Let us try to answer five questions today: 1) Does Jesus weep over my sinful soul as he wept over Jerusalem at the beginning of his Palm Sunday procession? 2) Am I a barren fig tree? God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness. Do I? Or do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness? 3) Will Jesus have to cleanse my heart with his whip? Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of his Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does he approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God. 4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart? Am I ready to surrender my life to him during this Holy Week and welcome him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior? The palms should remind us that Christ is our King and the true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in life. 5) Are we like the humble donkey that carried Jesus? Let us carry and radiate Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service to our families, and communities.
PALM SUNDAY: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 11:1-10; Mk 14: 1--15:47 or Mk 15: 1-39
Anecdotes #1: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I, who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in AD 305, was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. When he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court. So he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disowning Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them saying: "If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and fidelity to His teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy. As we carry the palm leaves to our homes, we are declaring our choice to accept Jesus as the King and ruler of our lives and our families. Let us express our gratitude to Jesus for redeeming us by His suffering and death through our active participation in the Holy Week liturgy and our reconciliation with God and His Church, repenting of our sins and receiving God's pardon and forgiveness from Jesus through his Church.
#2: Zechariah foresaw it. Jesus fulfilled it. The Greek author Plutarch describes how Kings are supposed to enter a city. He tells about one Roman general, Aemilius Paulus, who won a decisive victory over the Macedonians. When Aemilius returned to Rome, his triumphant procession lasted three days. The first day was dedicated to displaying all the artwork that Aemilius and his army had plundered. The second day was devoted to all the weapons of the Macedonians they had captured. The third day began with the rest of the plunder borne by 250 oxen, whose horns were covered in gold. This included more than 17,000 pounds of gold coins. Then came the captured and humiliated king of Macedonia and his extended family. Finally, Aemilius himself entered Rome, riding in a magnificent chariot. Aemilius wore a purple robe, interwoven with gold. He carried his laurels in his right hand. He was accompanied by a large choir singing hymns, praising the military accomplishments of the great Aemilius. (http://www.sigurdgrindheim.com/sermons/king.html) That, my friends, is how a King enters a city. But the King of Kings? He entered riding on a lowly donkey. Zechariah envisioned the King of Kings, the Messiah, coming not on a great stallion, but riding on a humble donkey. Zechariah foresaw it. Jesus fulfilled it. (http://www.tosapres.com/sermons.php?sermon=96)
#3: Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of Holy Week: On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army, at the McLean house in Appomattox, Virginia. This surrender ended the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. State against state, brother against brother, it was a conflict that literally tore the nation apart. Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, America’s most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre. It was Lincoln who wrote the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in the U.S. forever. It was Lincoln who wrote and gave The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln hated war, but he was drawn into this one because he believed it was the only way to save the nation. On Palm Sunday the war ended. Triumph. On Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Tragedy. Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the six days preceding Easter. (Surrender location corrected by Fr. Richard W. Frank, email@example.com)
Introduction: The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. It is on Palm Sunday that we enter Holy Week, and welcome Jesus into our lives, asking him to allow us a share in his suffering, death and resurrection. This is also the time we remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. That is why the Holy Week liturgy presents us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus. The liturgy also enables us to experience in our lives, here and now, what Jesus went through then. In other words, we commemorate and relive during this week our own dying to sin and selfishness and rising in Jesus, which result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. No wonder Greek Orthodox Christians greet each other with the words, "Kali Anastasi" (Good Resurrection), not on Easter Sunday but on Good Friday. They anticipate the Resurrection. Just as Jesus did, we, too, must lay down our lives freely by actively participating in the Holy Week liturgies. In doing so, we are allowing Jesus to forgive us our sins, to heal the wounds in us caused by our sins and the sins of others and to transform us more completely into the image and likeness of God. Thus, we shall be able to live more fully the Divine life we received at Baptism. Proper participation in the Holy Week liturgy will also deepen our relationship with God, increase our faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. But let us remember that Holy Week can become "holy” for us only if we actively and consciously take part in the liturgies of this week. This is also the week when we should lighten the burden of Christ’s passion as daily experienced by the hungry, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the lonely and the outcast through our corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Passion Sunday liturgy combines contrasting moments, one of glory, the other of suffering: the welcome of Jesus into Jerusalem and the drama of his unjust trial and suffering, culminating in his crucifixion and death.
First reading: Isaiah 50: 4-7: In the middle section, chapters 40-55, of the book of the prophet Isaiah, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Today's first reading is the third Servant Song. These four songs are about a mysterious figure whose suffering brings about a benefit for the people. In the original author's mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. However, Jesus saw aspects of his own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the Church refers to them in this time of solemn meditation on the climax of Jesus' life. In today’s Psalm, the psalmist puts his trust in Yahweh for deliverance and salvation. The context of this day's worship also conveys Jesus’ confidence in God’s protection in the midst of his trial and crucifixion.
Second Reading: Philippians 2: 6-11: is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of who Jesus is, and of how his mission saves us from sin and death. It is a message that Paul received from those who had been converted to Christ. “Jesus was Divine from all eternity. But he didn't cling to that. Rather he emptied himself and became human. He accepted further humbling by obeying the human condition even unto death by crucifixion. So, God highly exalted him, giving him the highest title in the universe.” Christians reading this passage today are joined with the first people who ever pondered the meaning of Jesus' life and mission. We're singing their song, reciting their creed, during this special time of the year when we remember the most important things Our Lord did.
The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from his admirers. They paraded with him for a distance of two miles: from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. Two-and-a-half million people were normally present to celebrate the Jewish feast of the Passover. Jesus permitted such a royal procession for two reasons: 1) to reveal to the general public that he was the promised Messiah, and 2) to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Zephaniah (3:16-19): “Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion…. see now your King comes to you; he is victorious, triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zech. 9:9). (The traditional “Palm Sunday Procession” at Jerusalem began in the fourth century AD when the Bishop of Jerusalem led the procession from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Ascension). In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Mark. We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus.
Exegesis: Notes on Palm Sunday events: 1) Jesus rides on a lowly donkey: Doesn't it seem odd that Jesus would walk 90 miles from the Galilee to Bethany and then secure a donkey for the final two miles to Jerusalem? In those days, Kings used to travel in such processions on horseback during wartime, but preferred to ride a donkey in times of peace. I Kings 1: 38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation. Jesus entered the Holy City as a king of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. The Gospel specifically mentions that the colt Jesus selected for the procession was one that had not been ridden before, reminding us of a stipulation given in I Samuel 6:7 concerning the animal that was to carry the Ark of the Covenant.
2) The mode of reception given: Jesus was given a royal reception usually reserved for a king or military commander. I Maccabees 13: 51ff describes such a reception given to the Jewish military leader Simon Maccabaeus in 171 BC. II Maccabees 10:6-8 refers to a similar reception given to another military general, Judas Maccabaeus, who led the struggle against the Greek Seleucid Emperor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and liberated the Temple from pagan control in 163 BC.
3) The slogans used: The participants sang the “Hallel” psalm (Psalm 118), and shouted the words of Psalms 25 and 26. The Greek word “hosiana” originally meant "save us now" (II Samuel 14:4). The people sang the entire Psalm 118 on the Feast of the Tabernacles when they marched seven times around the Altar of the Burnt Offering. On Palm Sunday, however, the people used the prayer “Hosanna” as a slogan of greeting. It meant “God save the king of Israel.”
4) The symbolic meaning of the Palm Sunday procession: Nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the "Pass Over," but the lamb which was sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day. On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession.
5) Reaction of Jesus: Before the beginning of the procession, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41-42), and when the procession was over, he cleansed the Temple (Lk 19:45-46). On the following day, he cursed a barren fig tree. Jesus cursed a fig tree for lying with its leaves. It looked good from the outside, but there was nothing there. Surely he must have intended a reference to the Temple. The religious folk of his day were impotent and infertile. They had taken a good thing, religion, and made it into a sham.
Life Messages: 1) Does Jesus weep over me? There is a Jewish saying, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner and sheds tears over a non-repentant, hardhearted one." Are we ready to imitate the prodigal son and return to God, our loving Father through the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this last week of Lent and participate fully in the joy of Christ’s resurrection?
2) Am I a barren fig tree? God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness. Am I a barren fig tree? Or do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness?
3) Do I expect Jesus to cleanse my heart with His whip? Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God.
4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart? Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”? Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy. Let us take them to our homes and put them some place where we can always see them. Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families, that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life; let us be reminded that He is the One with Whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world.
5) Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus? As we "carry Jesus" to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later. Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him. Let us always remember that a Christian without Christ is a contradiction in terms. Such a one betrays the Christian message. Hence, let us become transparent Christians during this Holy Week, enabling others to see in us Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service.
6) Can we face these questions on Palm Sunday? Are we willing to follow Jesus, not just to Church but in our daily life? Are we willing to entrust ourselves to Him even when the future is frightening or confusing, believing God has a plan? Are we willing to serve Him until that day when His plan for us on earth is fulfilled? These are the questions of Palm Sunday. Let us take a fresh look at this familiar event. We might be surprised at what we see. It could change us forever.
7) Let us rejoice and weep: Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday are two sides of the same coin because we have to rejoice and sing as we receive Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Savior and we have to weep and mourn as his death confronts us with our sin. Yes, we were there in the crowd on both days, shouting “Hosanna!” and later “Crucify!” Because of what Jesus has done for us and our faith in him, one day we will be in that great crowd gathered around the throne of God, and there everyone will shout words of praise, heavenly hosannas, that will ring through all eternity, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Rev (5:13).