Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Third Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Luc Thuku, OHC
The Third Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2020

Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Click here for an audio version of this sermon.

Spirit of the risen Lord, fall afresh on me. Mold me, shape me, enlighten me, use me; that every word that comes from my mouth may be what you want said for the Spiritual nourishment of your people and for the greater glory of your name; you who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In one of her quotable quotes, Pema Chodron says, "When there is a big disappointment, we do not know if that is the end of the story... It may just be the beginning of a great adventure."

This is true of two of the disciples we encounter in today’s gospel, popularly called the disciples of Emmaus. They are going away from Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Holy City, the Lord’s ‘holy mountain’, God’s dwelling place, built strongly compact! (Psalm 2:6, 122:3) The disciples are on a descent, both topographical and spiritual, from this very city, the city of God. They are going the wrong way: they have left their hopes in Jerusalem! The two have given up hope of, or at least are disappointed with, the Messiah that they thought Jesus was and are headed back home to Emmaus.

As disappointed people usually do, they are talking to each other about it. As he always does by making the first move, approaching without intrusion, Jesus invites himself to their discussion and journey. One of the disciples has a name, Cleopas, and the other one is nameless. We will come back to these two in a moment. First let us consider some broad thoughts or messages that today’s gospel passage is presenting to us.

One: The story is happening later in the afternoon of the Resurrection Sunday, and death has been defeated, but the news goes unknown and unheeded. The world is mute and filled with fear. Life has made a full circle from Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, the city was welcoming a messiah with jubilation and pomp. The Messiah has been crucified and the question is…what now? Unfortunately for them, they were looking and hoping for a different type of a Messiah, one who would reign from the throne of David. They conceive the wrong throne and in their eyes death remains the apparent king. The good news however is that God gives us the Savior we need, not the Savior we want. Israel has just been redeemed, rescued, and saved in a way way bigger than was expected. It can be compared to a teenager expecting his wealthy parents to buy him a used Subaru when he gets his driver's license, but dad buys a Ferrari instead and the kid doesn't know how to deal with the situation...mainly because the responsibility on his part will be bigger!

Two: There is a profound difference between knowing something and believing something. These two gentlemen know their scriptures well. In fact if they are the average Jew, they have the majority of the Old Testament memorized. The issue here is that they know in their mind. The problem is that the movement from knowing to believing is a supernatural act that they were not engaging with. The point of the Bible is not to know the Bible but to know God. You can know something without can know the resurrection happened but deny it every day with how you live. I can know that sin will kill me but not believe with my being. My behavior will tell you what I believe. There is always a chasm between what I know in my head and the way I walk with my feet. It is therefore understandable when Jesus scolds the two and by extension you and I: "Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!" Jerome teaches that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. The Lord affirms the converse: Knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ.

In our Gospel today, Luke is wrestling with answering a question that we have found ourselves posing to ourselves… more than once I guess… if we are genuine Christians: How do I know that the resurrection really happened? How is it not a fairy tale like that of the Easter bunny that lays eggs, or the magical man that comes through the chimney bearing gifts at Christmas, or even those of the one eyed giants that were supposed to come and eat us as children if we lived short of expectations?

Luke gives us three discernible marks.

The first one is Scripture. In verse 25 of our gospel passage Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, speaks to them, all in scriptures written about himself. The point where Jesus starts should tell us something! Another author of quotable quotes, the Presbyterian theologian Tim Keller asks, “If Jesus didn’t think he could live life well without knowing scriptures inside out, why would we?”  Well, if you look carefully at everything from Genesis all through the Old Testament, the ties of activities and stories point to one thing: a life story, a face and a name: JESUS!

One of the Prophets that Jesus quoted at length at the commencement of his public ministry is Isaiah. (And I would imagine Isaiah was Jesus' favorite prophet because he happens to be my favorite, and Jesus and I have a lot in common!) Isaiah gives the people of Israel the hope of redemption by a loving God, who came to redeem us in the form of his only begotten son. This God loves us unconditionally; he is with us and continues with us in and through the small or great things that happen in our day-to-day life. It is he who is reassuring us (in Isaiah  43:1-12, a passage that I would recommend we individually read and do lectio divina on) that we should not fear because he has called us by name, he has redeemed us, we are his! He assures us that when we pass through the waters he will be with us and the waters will not overwhelm us! He tells us that when we walk through fire we shall not be burned and the flames shall not consume us for he is our God, the Holy One of Israel, our savior! He tells us that we are precious in his sight, honored, and loved! He continues to assure us not to fear for he is with us to the end of times. You and I are his chosen Witnesses. We are his servants, the chosen ones; so that we may help others know and believe in him. Before him there was no God and beside him there is no savior. Our two disciples are in for a lecture that doubles up as self-disclosure!

The second discernible point is the Eucharist. In verse 28, we hear that as they approached the village, Jesus pretended to move on but when invited did not decline the invitation. God takes our little gestures of love and makes them occasions for Salvation. He joins them for a meal and then breaks bread and their eyes are opened! When we gather at the table together and invite Jesus in our midst, something happens deeper within us, something mysterious, something mystical, something bordering crazy, something that you and I cannot put a finger on; but one thing it does is to enrich our individual and communal faith. We get courage to do the impossible.

After inviting Jesus and having this intimate encounter that opens their eyes to recognize him. He vanishes from them, yet he only departed in bodily form, for he remained nonetheless present, then as now, under the form of bread. Our two disciples took a seven mile return journey to Jerusalem at night because their doubt, their disappointment, and the fear that doubt and disappointment brings, had been lifted up! The word used for their setting out at once for Jerusalem in Greek is anistanai …"to rise up"... the very same word that describes Christ’s resurrection. They too, like Christ, have been raised to new life and filled with the glorious news, like Mary the mother of Jesus at the Annunciation and the Magdalene earlier in the day at the tomb; they cannot contain themselves! Converted, they make an about-turn and dash off to announce the victory of the Lord.

We hear the same in today’s first reading from the book of Acts. We see Peter also transformed by the resurrection event and of course the Spirit of the Risen Lord to overcome his fear, a fear clearly depicted at the passion, to become bold. He too “rises up” from the death that fear causes and preaches filled with courage, and this led to a mass conversion of about three thousand people! Something happens when we celebrate the resurrection together. Our collective spirit shouts from the rooftops… “He is alive and I know it….not because I have read it but because I have experienced it!”

The third discernible point is that You Meet a Person who has Met Jesus. In verse 31, we hear when the eyes of the two disciples were opened, they recognized him, he disappeared and they asked each other: "Were our hearts not burning within us?" They rose up, returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven and said "It is true; He is alive!" Earlier on, Peter, I guess had said, “I think he is alive,” of course from Mary Magdalene’s account, but seemingly nobody was believing him. The disciples are now confirming: Peter was telling the truth because we had this experience as well!

Now, If I were there when these two guys came back, in my mind I would be saying, Good for you, Peter; good for you, Cleopas; good for you, Nameless guy...but what about me? When do I get to meet Jesus? Maybe some of us are saying the same thing and asking the same question.

The good news this morning, however, is that you have met Jesus, maybe without knowing, because you have met someone who knows the resurrection is real because he or she has met the resurrected Jesus!

If you have never met someone who has met the resurrected Jesus, this morning I want to serve as your proxy. Some of you I know and some of you I don’t know, but I can tell you as certain as the sun will go down this evening and rise tomorrow, that I have met Jesus and the resurrection is real. I will testify about a few times out of many that I have met Jesus and mostly for me it happens when the battle or darkness in my life is at its thickest. However, it is important for you to recognize that it has nothing to do with me. It is all about Jesus. It is all about what he has done in my life, just as he has done in the lives of numerous others including all (or at least most) of you listening to me this morning, and if you haven’t met him yet, I hope today is that great day for you to meet him!

I was with the resurrected Jesus in March 2005 when I was leaving a beloved vocation and religious congregation. All looked bleak, lost and hopeless; but Jesus was there whispering to me all the time that all will be well,  I heard the following words very clearly in my heart one morning after a very agonizing and tearful moment of prayer: "I am preparing you for a life that will draw you even more closer to me because I want your undivided attention!" It never made sense at the time but I believed! Wasn’t my heart burning all the way as he led me to contemplative Benedictine Monasticism!

In November 2009, I had what appeared like a mild stroke and it was diagnosed as TIA (Trans-Ischemic Attack). I was terrified that I would get paralyzed on my left hand side that had weakened considerably. However the main issues were resolved within a week. I did receive a lot of visits at the Hospital and prayers were said almost round the clock by the Missionary Sisters I was working for at the time and by friends and relatives. In the midst of the fear, wasn't my heart burning because deep within me and from those who visited and called I kept hearing the voice of the resurrected Jesus assuring me that all will be well!

I met with the resurrected Jesus about two years ago when I was severely depressed and doubt about matters of faith assaulted me, but my heart was burning within me because he was there assuring me: “I am with you...there is grace for you because I am still here”... Words that seemed to come from nowhere! Wasn't my heart burning within me because I knew he was there and it was HE speaking those words to my heart!

I met the resurrected Jesus about two years back when he gave me a job that proved to be exactly what I needed. Not the money-making endeavor I was hoping for, or the rescue I wanted, but the rescue that I needed; a time of rest and healing combined with serving the needy so that I do not lose focus on the calling he had put in me a long time ago of service to the poor and needy! Wasn’t my heart burning within me throughout the duration I was on the job because he was right there with me and in the midst of it, drawing me back to him and back to his plans for me while I was busy taking the direction to Emmaus rather than persevere in Jerusalem!

Dear people of God, there is a difference between a heartburn and a burning heart! And I know from experience that people and events especially in the world, country and times we are living in at the moment, are capable of giving us both with a lethal dose of the first at times! I am however speaking of the later, a burning heart, that only comes from love or a realization that we are loved even when we don’t deserve it, and unconditionally!

Like Paul, I do not come to you with persuasive words, clever arguments, or anything of substance other than this: I have met Jesus. He is alive. He is risen from the dead just as he said! He is with us, He is in this church this morning and in a moment we are going to acknowledge him in the creed, and encounter, worship and receive him in the Eucharist, because if He is risen from the dead and He is God, we can’t do anything else but adore, worship and celebrate Him!

One question to ponder as we take a moment of reflection this morning and for as long as it lingers is...Is your heart burning within you? And if not, what is holding you back? 

Thine be the glory, Risen conquering son.
Endless is the victory, thou o’er death has won!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Second Sunday of Easter - April 19, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
The Second Sunday of Easter - April 19, 2020

Acts 2:14a,22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Click here for an audio version of this sermon.

Day by day, dear Lord,
of thee three things I pray:
to see thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.

If you have been following the readings for the daily Eucharist and daily Offices appointed for this past Easter Week, that week that the Eastern Orthodox tradition calls Bright Week, you will have heard or read no less than thirteen Gospel accounts of various appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection.  And this is in addition to the passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians that we read on Monday, one the earliest text we have attesting to the Resurrection, where Paul tells us:
“…I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
Paul adds that sometime later, perhaps several years later, Jesus also appeared to him on the road to Damascus, an event which Paul understands to be of the same nature and magnitude of those Gospel stories and making him an apostle in his own right.

These thirteen accounts overlap and, as you know, the details do not always agree. Through the ages there have been numerous attempts to construct a ‘harmony” of these accounts, to make them orderly, to assign a time and place for each, and to mold them into a coherent whole. But in truth, this is virtually impossible. And to say this is to say no more or no less than that these Gospel narratives of the appearances of the Risen One are exactly what we might expect in ordinary human experience.

I am thinking here of reports of accidents or crimes or other sudden, dramatic events. Those directly involved or even more distant observers often have strikingly divergent accounts of what occurred. It is now generally accepted that people see and remember things differently or fail to see certain things at all or forget or embellish or even create important details.

If you, for example, have taken an introductory psychology course in the past 20 years or so, you have probably been introduced to the Invisible Gorilla. This is a fascinating video test of perception, of its power and its limitations. The subjects are asked to watch a video of two teams of three people each pass around a basketball. They are instructed to be attentive to how many times the team in white shirts did a pass. It lasts for about a minute. And about halfway through, a woman dressed as a gorilla walks into the middle of the group, faces the camera, beats her chest, and then exits. The amazing thing is that, when shown in a classroom setting, about 50 percent of the classroom subjects do not notice the gorilla. They were too busy counting the number of passes. If you’ve never seen this video, you can watch it on YouTube. Just enter “Invisible Gorilla.” You will find yourself asking, as did I: how did they ever not see that?

Another equally famous experiment involves a journalism professor delivering a lecture. In the midst of it, an accomplice enters the classroom, a mildly charged verbal exchange ensues between the professor and the accomplice, who then pulls out a banana, “shoots” the professor and exits. The class is then immediately asked to write down what they saw. And not surprisingly, perhaps, many saw not a banana but a gun. Now admittedly the banana was painted black, but still. What do we really see and how trustworthy are our perceptions? And what do we miss? And when and how often?

And then of course there is the recognized fact that memories can be and are modified and change over time and under certain conditions, often tailored to what we would have liked to have happened or what we think the inquirer might want to hear.  Certainly, the older I get, the more dramatic this appears. I am now often surprised at what my sister remembers of our childhood and at how different it is from my own memories. Hers are often more textured or nuanced and certainly different.

There is an extensive literature in the social, psychological, and medical sciences surrounding this that touches on all areas of our life, from the reliability of eyewitnesses in criminal or civil investigations to community relations to, yes, even biblical truth.

Should it surprise us, then, that the various stories of the Resurrection diverge in details both small and great, and that individual and communal memory over time has shaped and reshaped the narratives of these biblical authors and their sources?  I think not.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Thomas and us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Nevertheless, we prioritize seeing. We still say, “Seeing is believing.”  Though again we must ask: what is seeing? Just what kind of seeing are we and Jesus talking about? Are we like those subjects who observe an event and miss the gorilla right in their midst? Or like those who see a gun where there is only a banana? Are there deeper, more adequate ways of understanding seeing and sensing Truth that go beyond crude experiments?

In his weekly column posted on Good Friday, New York Times opinion writer Frank Bruni profiled Cyrus Habib, the young lieutenant governor of Washington state. And in a follow-up newsletter, Bruni reminds us that Habib, who is not yet forty:
“…went blind at age 8, graduated from Columbia University, won a Rhodes scholarship, got a Yale law degree and made a big splash in politics, then decided that ambition was consuming him. He recently announced that he would leave office later this year to begin the roughly 10-year process to become a…Jesuit priest.”
Bruni continues:
“Because of space constraints, there was much about Habib that I didn’t get to share in the column. For instance, I mentioned his trek last year to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro but not his revelatory, gorgeous explanation of what a blind climber experiences in lieu of a conventionally defined view.

“You feel it,” Habib told me. “You feel the whole world dropping away. I have a sense of spatiality, based on acoustics and maybe even other types of senses that I can’t scientifically describe. I can feel when I’m in a huge cathedral. I can feel when I’m in a small bedroom.” At the top of Kilimanjaro, he said, “It felt to me like I was on the moon, because of the thinness of the air. You’re kind of high — lightheaded — and you feel this sense of vastness that’s not just around you but also below you. You can feel it in your body.”
Bruni's title comment for this is: “We see with more than our eyes.”

Cyrus Habib certainly sees with more than his eyes. Mary Magdalene saw with more than her eyes. And so did Peter and Thomas and the other Apostles. And the women at the tomb and maybe even those 500 disciples that St. Paul refers to. And so, my brothers and sisters, do we. Our seeing, our faith is never perfect. We sometimes see guns where there are only bananas and we miss the gorillas. But we do see Jesus, somehow, with more than our eyes, though we may not be able to describe it scientifically. And that seeing is for me, at least, at the very root of faith. That is why I am here today. And probably why you are as well. And that may be enough for us to know now, today in this very strange season.

What then do I say of the Resurrection of Christ? I say: Yes! But what exactly that Yes entails is often quite unclear or downright opaque.  Some days I’m ready to affirm the words of the 39 Articles of Religion that:  “Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with flesh, bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature.”  And on other days, all I can manage is simply to confess that “Christ is risen” and trust that he will, in his tender mercy and at the right time, fill in the details. In either case, however, and in any case, I need to be prepared to see with more than my eyes. And so must we all.  We need to sense with our whole being and, as Cyrus Habib says, feel in our body the advent of the Risen One who comes to us in our upper rooms or on our road to our Emmaus or who meets us in Galilee, wherever that might be. We must keep our eyes open, all of them. We must, to paraphrase the Prologue to Rule of St. Benedict, gaze with the eye of the heart.

Once again I find myself challenged and comforted by the words of Archbishop Rowan Williams who said, “No matter how early you go to the tomb, God has already been there first.”

It’s not about getting up early enough or getting there fast enough, is it?  It’s about opening our eyes to the One who, no matter how early or late we arrive at the tombs or graveyards or dead places in our lives, is there ahead of us preparing a place, longing to greet us, to feed us, to heal us, and embrace us and who is content to abide with us forever.

If only we could see this. If only we could see him. If only we could learn to see with more than our eyes.

Day by day, dear Lord,
of thee three things I pray:
to see thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter: The Sunday of the Resurrection - April 12, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
The Sunday of the Resurrection - April 12, 2020

Romans 6:3-11
Matthew 28:1-10

Click here for an audio version of this sermon.

Augustine called the Great Vigil the Mother of All Vigils. It lets ritual and Scripture do its work on us by recounting our salvation history, unfolding our theology in an experiential way through sacred gestures and acts of ritualized memory, that cannot be exhausted or explained by words alone. The work of sacred rituals like initiation is to situate life in a larger frame, so nature, beauty, suffering, work, sexuality, and ordinary moments are seen to have transcendent significance. They give life meaning— the one thing the soul cannot live without. The integration of heaven and earth is the necessary human and spiritual task, or this world never becomes home.

This morning, as we made our way from death into hope for new life, we let the fire, light, scriptures, water, and gathered community testify to the deep truth of what is sometimes lost in translation. Paul too lets the water do the talking as he uses baptismal practice to convey his theology. There is more than what we see and do, far more than we can say or explain. That’s the truth of the sacraments and the sacramental encounter. Sacraments are gestures of both memory and hope, empowered by anamnesis---remembering. Baptismal language gives definition to the bookends of the Christian life. It marks both the beginning and the end of one’s faith journey. The paschal candle itself, the symbol of the Risen Christ, that once burned bright for a person’s baptism burns again for that person’s funeral liturgy.

The words of Paul’s Letter to the Romans comprise the most potent statement on baptism written in the New Testament. Paul interprets Baptism as an event that joins Christians to Jesus’ death and resurrection. He writes:
“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
This understanding of baptism as the paschal mystery has dominated in the West since the 4th century. It went hand in hand with the emphasis on Easter as the most appropriate day to celebrate baptism. Across cultures initiation is always, in some form, an experience of the tension and harmony of opposites: of loss and renewal, darkness and light, death and resurrection.

Paul insists that it is dying and rising, always held together, inseparable sides of the same life, that constitute a faithful way to make sense of one’s bond with Christ. Sometimes prepositions are the most important words in a Pauline sentence. Here, the prepositions “with” and “in” are critical to following his logic. We die “with” Christ in baptism, and we will be raised “with” Christ at his coming in glory. Between now and then, however, we walk “in” newness of life. We do not die alone, and we do not rise alone. Even the five wax covered nails in the Paschal candle, recalling the five wounds of Christ, remind us that his wounds are ours and ours are his. Six separate times in this letter Paul speaks of our lives being tied up with Christ.

Paul is not naïve about the lingering reality of sin in human experience. For Paul, sin is always in the singular, and its opponent is not forgiveness but the grace of God in Jesus Christ. We are not punished for our sins we are punished by our sins. Suffering was not something Jesus did for us but part of the paschal pattern that he revealed and invited us to share. Many with privilege in the United States are missing out on the redemptive meaning of their own suffering. By trying to handle it through willpower, denial, or medication, they’ve forgotten that we do not handle suffering, suffering handles us in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of new life. God used Jesus’ death to defeat the powers of sin and death.

We proclaim that Christ is risen this morning, although we know full well that we are not. We are keenly aware today of what is not yet true of the world in which we live. We struggle with the forces of evil that continue to torment God’s world. We face the certainty of our own deaths. What has changed in baptism is not the existence of sin and death, but their deadly hold over us. Not only does something die in baptism, but new life emerges. Paul talks of this new life in both present and future tenses. Resurrection is God’s final word and the Gospel’s first word. Easter announces the reality of death but announces the greater reality of life.

Matthew’s version of the resurrection story fits perfectly as the final reading of this liturgy. His Gospel is most linked to our salvation history and the developing story of God’s grace. It also parallels in narrative the darkness to light theme of the Vigil. As we gathered in darkness and moved toward the light, the story has the two women coming in the darkness and moving toward an encounter with the resurrection as the sun rises. Matthew recounts it from the women’s perspective, not only what they see, say, or do, but also what they feel. He conveys how the first Easter is exploding with excitement and urgent energy. They run with both fear and great joy.

Matthew’s point is that there is no merely naturalistic way of speaking of the resurrection. It is not about human capacities and possibilities. It is wholly about God’s capacity and determination. God acts at the boundary of life we call death and does something all together new. Angels and earthquakes are the only way Matthew can make clear that we are confronted with God’s possibilities and not our own. Having dispensed with the guards through overwhelming fear, the angel speaks reassuringly to the women, “Do not be afraid” (v.5). The even more important thing that Matthew says is that Jesus is going ahead of his disciples to Galilee, where he will meet them. Galilee, the place where he first called them, the place of his ministry where he taught the crowds, healed the sick, fed the multitudes, showed compassion on the suffering, welcomed the stranger, blessed the children, challenged the rich, announced a Messiah who would suffer, die, and be raised. The risen Jesus is to be met in the place of his once and future ministry among those where healing, feeding, teaching, and blessing will be carried on by them and those of us who come after.

For us adults today, fears can be more complex and words of reassurance harder to come by. The longer we live, the greater the sense that death eventually claims everyone we love. When an angel or Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” it is not assurance that nothing can go wrong, because often things do go wrong. It is not assurance that everything turns out for the best, because if we are honest about it, it seldom does. Rather, it is the assurance that, whatever may happen to us, God has the power to strengthen and uphold us; that whatever we must face in the days ahead, we do not face it alone; that nothing we can encounter is stronger than God’s love; that ultimately God gets the last word; that in the end, sometimes even before the end, God’s love is triumphant. +Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday - April 10, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
Good Friday - April 10, 2020

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42

No audio recording is available for this sermon.

Most visual art aspires to create something for the viewer who is the other. The art is for the viewer. We look at a painting, for example, and enter into the world it presents to us from the safe and objective distance of outside. The boundaries of time and space are fixed and familiar because I know as a viewer I am not in the presence of the actual Mona Lisa, I am not really among Monet’s water lilies or gazing at Van Gogh’s starry night. I look at their beauty, but I can only look and imagine.

The photo below, Christ on the Living Cross, 1420-30, by the Master of Saint Veronica, is doing something quite different. This depiction is one of many of a similar motif of Christian art that changes the nature of observer and observed, transcending the categories of time and space, and makes the event, the crucifixion, of a different category than historical memory.

Christ on the Living Cross (ca.1420-30)

We are not just looking into this scene. For the artist the cross is a present reality, and thereby explicitly Eucharistic. The chalice is the one chalice that receives from the side of Christ the one flow of blood and water that with the bread of Christ’s flesh makes the Church. The crucifixion is an eternal now, which is exactly what the Church says about the Holy Eucharist. Christ is risen, yet ever crucified.

The artist is shifting the artistic relationship from for to with. It is good and right to say that Jesus died for us. He is subject and we are object. His death is a gracious self-offering and atonement on our behalf. But Jesus also dies with us. With is about relationship, presence. With makes us participants in the action. With is the preposition of empathy, of being on the same side, of close association. With is about joining in, being together. The painting places the dying Jesus with us and we with him at a particular moment in the story.

John alone among the Gospels recounts the piercing with the sword and the flow of blood and water. This is John doing what John does – lifting the ordinary physical to the level of cosmic metaphor. This mere blood and water are no ordinary blood and water. In both the Matins and Vespers hymn for Lent B in our Breviary, reference is made to the sword-pierced side. The lyrics evocatively state what is birthed in that moment:
He endured the nails, the spitting, vinegar and spear and reed;
From that holy body broken blood and water forth proceed;
Earth and stars and sky and ocean by that flood from stain are freed.
Is it surprising that the whole cosmos shudders at this mystery? Golgotha is the second Big Bang of creation. Behold the majesty of God’s greatness. The uttermost evil and cruelty that could be inflicted on flesh and muscle and nerve becomes the occasion and revelation of God’s greatest glory. The event of deepest sorrow and pain gives life and light and movement to all things. The cross is the foundation and fountain of the world. It holds the stars in their courses, moves every heartbeat. The word became flesh, one of us, while retaining his divinity, with the same weariness in his bones, the same hunger in his gut, the same thirst in his throat, the same craving for oxygen in his lungs, with the same affliction of mind such as ours, with the same awareness that his continued embodied existence is beyond his control. At Vespers we sing:
Where from that wound deep in his side, by cruel lance torn open wide
Both blood and water, flowing free, have washed away iniquity.
Baptism now joins into the dance of images. From the depth of the desolation and despair of the cross break forth the springs of eternal life in Baptism and Eucharist. This blood and water continuously flow. All the water of baptism comes from the side of Christ. All the blood of the Eucharist comes from the side of Christ. Christ gave compassion and mercy, he gave wisdom and judgment, he gave of himself to all, and yet he gives more.

Christ does not just tell us about life, but his very life is poured out onto our lives. In the trampling down of death by death, Jesus’ very flesh itself is the answer to the question, “is hope lost?” In John, the cross is the glory, the apocalypse, the exaltation, the undeniable truth of the presence of life. Crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are one glorifying, simultaneous moment in which dying is also always rising and ascending, and rising and ascending are also by the one who ever bears the marks of the nails and the scar of the sword. Life arises out of this blood and water, out of the absolutely certain sign of death. A life of self-giving love gives in its last gift the seal and promise of eternal life. This free flow, which flows still, is the source of all life.

Behold his broken body and his spilt blood! Do not think it is over there, away from you, long ago, that you are safe from it, that you can hide. No, the Lord draws, drags all things, even us, to himself on the cross. His shattered arms stretch East to West, his limp body North to South.

The days of Holy Week have coincided with the greatest number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. Physical, financial, and spiritual suffering has become very real for very many. Our distance from family, friends, and guests is felt in an absence and silence thrust upon us – less retreat and more vacuum. Today we as a community have decided to refrain from receiving Communion from the Reserved Sacrament in a break from our custom and in remembrance of the sick and dying and those who mourn and in solidarity with those who are not able to receive communion right now. We are praying for you. To our guests, we miss you. We await our joyful reunion. We need, we call upon Jesus who is with us and suffers with the suffering and dying in these days.

Receiving Communion has been such an unquestioningly central part of our lives that in its very regularity I too often take it for granted or allow the lukewarm boredom of repetition to creep in. While our daily liturgical rhythm has not much changed until today, may the absence of Communion be more than a blank space in the liturgy, but awaken us and enliven us to its mystery and change our hearts so that we may desire and receive its gift of grace ever more deeply – with ever more gratitude, wonder, commitment. In whatever way God begins to direct the evil of this virus toward the good - within us, our community, the larger church - however God prompts us to participate in and witness to what transformation may come, may we know Jesus with us and watch close to the wounded, torn, broken side from which comes our life and keep the Crucified One ever before our eyes. Amen.

Maundy Thursday - April 9, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC
Maundy Thursday - April 9, 2020

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Click here for an audio version of this sermon.

Maundy Thursday by Malcolm Guite
Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.

The three readings tonight have three common themes: gathering, a common meal and remembrance. In the reading from the Book of Exodus, we hear instructions about gathering for the passover meal. It ends with the injunction: “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.” In the second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians we hear how, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal, offered his body and blood and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In the reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus washes feet and commands love in remembrance. “You also should do as I have done to you.” In this sense remembrance is not simply about recalling or returning or recreating the past. I want to suggest that remembrance is an active process of bringing an event from the past into the present moment that it may have a continuing effect and impact on our lives. It is the window into a new and larger life. There is something about the human condition that hungers for remembrance because remembrance has the ability to feed and nourish life.

So here we are, at the beginning of these most holy days of remembrance in the Christian tradition. Two years ago Br. Robert Leo encouraged us to enter them “in the spirit of praise and thanksgiving to our Creator for having brought us once more to this holy season”, and to enter these days with a “child's eyes and a beginner's mind” and “as if it were the first time.” And it does feel very much like a first time this year. We don’t have a guesthouse full of guests. Our services will be modified. There was no ritual of foot washing and there will be no night vigil. The Passion narrative won’t be sung as we’ve done in the past few years, and there will be no communion from the reserved sacraments tomorrow. It all makes sense since we don’t have our guests. I am beginning to understand that our hospitality to our guests is about inviting them into our way of life, our rhythm of prayer and our practices, yes, but a lot of it is also a generous presentation to them in the form of ministry. Some of the ways we do things just don’t feel quite the same without our guests.

I miss our guests. It is true that our vibrant guesthouse ministry can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. We need all the breaks we have set in place. It is also true that we fulfill our “vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. Hospitality is our main ministry, and as Br. Aidan reminds us, our guests help us to live our spirituality as Benedictine monks more fully, to welcome our visitors as Christ. There is a void in our monastery during this Easter Triduum, and a certain sadness in the air as we carry out our observances in remembrance. And the sadness echoes the sadness around the world during this time of pandemic. We “weep with those who weep” and I certainly have done my share of that. But we are also people of the resurrection. We know that Jesus took the sacrifice of his body and blood and turned it into the bread and wine that holds the promise of the resurrection to come and God’s promise of eternal life. We know that these coming days will take us into darkness and despair, but on Sunday that Easter fire will be kindled, and we will hear the Exsultet.

There has been much debate lately within dioceses of the Episcopal Church and also within other Eucharistic Christian denominations about virtual communion, drive through communion, whether or not virtual consecration is valid, and so on. I’m in absolutely no position to share an opinion on the matter. Indeed, I hear the strong arguments from different angles and know that they all come from a good place. And I’m aware of our privileged position here at Holy Cross as our participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion remains uninterrupted. Instead, I want to share with those who will read and/or listen to this homily, an alternative for consideration (or perhaps a reminder for those who already know) that I learned in my childhood in Puerto Rico, from the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Brentwood.

There is a very old practice called Spiritual Communion, which is the practice of desiring union with Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. As a child, I learned it as a preparation for Mass. But it is also used by individuals who, for whatever the reason, cannot receive Holy Communion. St. Thomas Aquinas defined Spiritual Communion as "an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and a loving embrace as though we had already received Him."

Spiritual Communion has been practiced for centuries by Christians in times of persecution, as well as in times of plagues, and it is the preferred practice in many other countries during the present Coronavirus pandemic. I, for one, have been in situations many times in my life when I cannot attend church and receive communion, and have used this practice. It has always been effective and fulfilling to me. In the eighteen century, St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote a special prayer for Spiritual Communion:

“My Jesus, I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you. But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment, feed my soul at least spiritually. I unite myself to you now as I do when I actually receive you.”

May we approach these Great Holy Days of the Easter Triduum, wherever we may be, with honesty about the void we may be experiencing, openness about our vulnerability, with receptivity, and with steadfast love, gratitude and hope. ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday - April 5, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday - April 5, 2020

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11

Click here for an audio version of this sermon.

In today’s short version of the passion according to Matthew we follow the last hours of Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout, he remains mostly silent and is no longer the agent of what is happening to Him. The passion cruelly completes and firmly establishes God’s sharing into the human experience. There is no suffering God doesn’t understand in God’s very own human flesh and soul.


For the moment, humanity is sharing the profoundly felt fragility and precarity of the human experience. This sharing has the potential to bring us closer to ourselves and closer together as One Creation if we let it.

The Covid-19 pandemic forcefully reminds us of several realities that we need to embrace to find our true selves. They are realities we prefer to not think about. And they are realities not so different from what affected Jesus in his passion. Yes, even the Son of God, the Redeemer found out about these unpleasant but basic truths of life. The Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr says five realities need to be embraced to become fully human. In order to tame our ego and find the true self, we need to own the following statements:

1. Life is hard.
2. You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.


I argue today that in his passion, Jesus of Nazareth came into owning more deeply these tenets of human experience. And in doing so, the Trinity deepened its compassion for God’s Creation.

First, Life is hard. As a Galilean peasant from a little village and a travelling healer and preacher, Jesus already knew this. Yet in his passion the hardness of life took on an intensity that made him know the deepest suffering of the human condition.

Life is hard. This is true for each one of us at any time, but many of us often have the privilege of not living with our nose on this truth. But nowadays, we feel it more keenly in the medical, social, emotional and economic havoc this Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking on our world. And what’s more, we all feel it together, at the same time.

Second, You are not important. I know, I know, you are thinking “you can’t say that about our Lord and Savior.” But I am asking you to look at Jesus’ experience of his passion as the experience of a human being, not that of a self-assured god. The crowds, the priests and the scribes, the Roman authorities and soldiers were all making the human Jesus feel as scum. In that moment, it must have been difficult to hang on to the superior purpose of his life.

You are not important. Yes, I am talking to you, and me. At times, we can think and act as if we were the center of the universe, as individuals, or more often, as a country. Now, in our physical isolation and social distancing, our networks of work, ministerial, family and friendly relationships are deeply disturbed. And yet, the world continues. Maybe we are not as indispensable as we’d like to think. We are a part of the whole, but the whole is resilient enough to function without my fretful busyness.

Third, Your life is not about you. This part, Jesus seems to have known deep inside himself from a young age. His life was about God and about the all-embracing oneness of the divine. Jesus repeatedly escaped from honor and recognition while it was on offer. This life was not about boosting his ego. There was more to it than Him alone.

Your life is not about you. My life and your life don’t make sense without belonging to the whole of creation. Our life makes sense in relationship to God and one another. Our acquired capacities and knowledge, our unearned privileges are not for our self-satisfaction. We have a duty to use them for the greater good. That is what all these amazing healthcare providers are doing for the moment. God bless them. Catastrophe is striking. And we discover how keenly we need each other. We are not self-sufficient. We are not the sole purpose of all our perceived reality.

Fourth, You are not in control. Here is another truth which can be hard to apply to Jesus if we disregard his deep humanity. When you read Matthew’s account of his passion, you cannot help but see that he does not take control. The son of the Almighty experiences in a frightful manner what it means to be without privilege and power as a human being.

You are not in control. We inhabit the illusion that we do have control on a widening number of spheres in our lives. Most of us spend much of our lives and energy building systems that enable us to exert dominating influence on our living conditions. Modern life has greatly enhanced our technical capacity to do that. I can flick the thermostat up and my room swiftly becomes warmer. But fate cannot yet be controlled from a cell phone app. And in a situation like the current pandemic, whole sides of our lives fall out of our perceived control.

Finally, You are going to die. Jesus dies after crying “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The human Jesus on the cross, did not seem to know about his coming resurrection. He had referred to eternal life in his ministry. But on the cross, Jesus experienced the complete finitude of human existence as we know it this side of death.

You are going to die. Human knowledge and technologies have made tremendous progress in prolonging our lives. Two centuries ago, the average person was lucky to live into her thirties or forties. Nowadays, we know lots of people who live reasonably comfortable lives well into their eighties. The temptation to forget that we are mortal and vulnerable is understandable but ill-advised. Human life finds heft and meaning in its finitude. Hurry to love because no one knows what tomorrow is made of. Hurry to love because that is the meaning of life.

As the Apostle Paul puts it in the form of a hymn shared with the Philippians:
... (He) emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)

Can we learn from Jesus’ passion and from the Covid-19 pandemic to gauge the truth of our human experience? I think that is one of the challenges of this Holy Week we are entering and of this pandemic we are in. On the other end of these time periods, we will hopefully emerge more fully ourselves than we knew before.

May you have a blessed Holy Week.
May God keep you and preserve you.