Saturday, April 3, 2021

Burial Cloths In An Empty Tomb: A Reflection on Easter Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for Easter.

We laughed while reading the Easter Gospel passage. Right in the middle of the most important story John will ever tell—the Resurrection of Jesus—he mentions three times in three sentences that he arrived at the tomb first:

"They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed." (John 20:4-8, emphasis added)

As a parent, I want to tell John to stop bragging: "We get it. You got there first. Congratulations!"

But John's words are more than just bravado at being a good sprinter. (One writer estimates they ran about 0.75 miles from the Upper Room to the Tomb.) John's details about the race provide supporting evidence for Jesus' Resurrection: John arrived first, but didn't go into the Tomb. Nothing was touched until Peter arrived. Once they were both at the Tomb, Peter went inside, followed by John, and they witnessed Jesus' burial cloths together.

Roman leaders were pushing a counter-theory, suggesting Jesus' disciples stole his body to fake a resurrection. Sounds like an easy scam: sneak in, steal the body, make up a story about finding the tomb empty, and start a religious revolution!

If you were going to steal a dead body from a mausoleum, how would you do it? Would you grab the body and run? Or would you take the time to unwrap cloths wrapped around the body and then sneak off with a stiff, naked corpse?

John's strange description of used burial cloths in an empty Tomb offers evidence for early Christians to realize Jesus' body wasn't stolen; He truly resurrected. John understands people might doubt Jesus' ability to overcome death. He doubted it himself until discovering the burial cloths in the Tomb, and then "he saw and believed" (John 20:8).

We have an opportunity to insert ourselves into the Gospel narrative this week. John often uses phrases like "the disciple," "the other disciple," or "the disciple whom Jesus loved" instead of his own name as he writes, which allows us to imagine ourselves in the story. (See John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7, John 21:20.) How would you react if you arrived first to Jesus' Tomb and encountered the burial cloths with Peter?

"They both ran, but ______ ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; ______ bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after ______, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then ______ also went in, the one who arrived at the tomb first, and ______ saw and believed." (John 20:4-8)

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad! Happy Easter!


Photo Credit: Dameli Zhantas on Unsplash

Friday, March 5, 2021

We Proclaim Christ Crucified: A Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on our parish blog on the Mass readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

What good is religion? Why be Catholic?

In this week's Gospel reading, we hear about people attracted to Jesus because of "the signs he was doing." Others were drawn to the temple as an easy way to make money off religion—"those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers" (John 2:13-25).

Our New Testament reading describes people seeking spirituality for the sake of signs or wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

For those motivated by money, Jesus flips their tables in the temple. For those seeking miracles, Jesus "would not trust himself to them" (John 2:25).

Are we coming to religion for the sake of entertainment? Wise words? Feel-good emotions? Money?

St. Paul challenges us to check our motivation: "We proclaim Christ crucified," he writes to the Corinthians. "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."

And so, we pray in this week's Responsorial Psalm: 

Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

He Heals the Brokenhearted: A Reflection on the Mass Readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection at our parish blog on the Mass readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job is a brokenhearted person. Can you relate to some of his feelings?

Bored
"Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?" (Job 7:1)

Unappreciated
"Are not his days those of hirelings?" (Job 7:1)

Overworked
"He is a slave who longs for the shade." (Job 7:2)

Underpaid
"...a hireling who waits for his wages." (Job 7:2)

Miserable
"I have been assigned months of misery." (Job 7:3)

Hopeless
"My days… end without hope." (Job 7: 6)

In contrast to Job's dejection, St. Paul's exuberance in this Sunday's New Testament reading is almost annoying. Can you relate to some of his ambitions?

Desires to Freely Give
"What then is my recompense?... I offer the gospel free of charge." (1 Corinthians 9:18)

Desires to Serve Others
"I have made myself a slave to all." (1 Corinthians 9:19)

Desires Weakness
"I became weak to win over the weak." (1 Corinthians 9:22)

Desires Unity with Others
"I have become all things to all." (1 Corinthians 9:22)

What happens to make someone desire those things? Why would someone let go of money, prestige, strength, and tribalism?

We see the answer in this Sunday's Gospel reading. The transformation from brokenness to freedom is represented physically as Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. She is sick with fever, unable to even get up, but after a healing encounter with Jesus, she is revived and serves those around her.

Where in my life am I experiencing brokenness? Jesus, please heal me.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3)


Saturday, January 2, 2021

House Blessings for the New Year: A Reflection on the Mass Readings for Epiphany Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection at our parish blog on the Mass readings for Epiphany Sunday:

On Epiphany, we celebrate the magi's visit to Jesus. This week's Gospel reading shares two very different responses to Jesus' birth:

King Herod is "greatly troubled" (Matthew 2:3). He is so upset at the announcement of this newborn king that he conspires to kill Jesus.

The magi are "overjoyed" (Matthew 2:10). They travel a long distance, then prostrate in worship before the Child Jesus.

Others mentioned in the story—the chief priests, scribes, Mary—aren't described with explicit emotions. Perhaps they felt concern, hope, fear, uncertainty, or curiosity.

How are you feeling this Christmas season? Troubled? Joyful? Uncertain?

In the spirit of Epiphany, let's open our hearts and homes to Jesus in this coming year. There's an ancient tradition of house blessings on Epiphany. Many Catholic websites offer creative suggestions, such as chalking the year and C+M+B (Christus Mansionem Benedicat: "Christ, bless this house") on doorposts. The USCCB also offers a simple and brief liturgy for Epiphany house blessings that concludes with this prayer:

Lord God of heaven and earth,
you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation
by the guidance of a star.
Bless this house
and all who inhabit it.
Fill us with the light of Christ,
that our concern for others may reflect your love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.