Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday in Holy Week - Preparing for Easter Sunday

Prayer on the Wednesday of Holy Week

O God, who willed your Son to submit for our sake to the yoke of the Cross, so that you might drive from us the power of the enemy, grant us, your servants, to attain the grace of its effects. Through Christ our Lord.

Detail, The Isenheim Altarpiece


O sacred head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding head, so wounded,
reviled and put to scorn!

Our sins have marred the glory
of thy most holy face,
yet angel hosts adore thee
and tremble as they gaze

I see thy strength and vigour
all fading in the strife,
and death with cruel rigor,
bereaving thee of life;

O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesus, all grace supplying,
O turn thy face on me.

In this thy bitter passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me
with thy most sweet compassion,
unworthy though I be:

beneath thy cross abiding
for ever would I rest,
in thy dear love confiding,
and with thy presence blest.
[Words: Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877), 1861;
after Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153); and Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)]

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Easter Sunday (Year "A") - April 24, 2011

Benvenuto di Giovanni, The Resurrection (circa 1491)

CHRIST HAS BECOME OUR PASCHAL SACRIFICE [Texts: Acts 10.34, 36-43 [Psalm 118]; 1 Corinthians 5.6-8 (or Colossians 3.1-4); Matthew 28.1-10 (or John 20.1-18)

God's fulfilment of Old Testament promises in the glory of the risen Jesus serves as a key for comprehending the scripture passages of the Easter Vigil and the early Church's proclamation of Jesus' resurrection in the Acts of the Apostles. As Peter put it, “All the prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”.

During the Easter season we will hear Peter's powerful preaching from the Acts of the Apostles, as well as reflections on his ministry drawn from First Peter. All of these early Christian writings witness to the earth-shattering change that has taken place with Christ's resurrection.

For the evangelist Matthew, the paschal mystery--the death and resurrection of Jesus viewed as a whole—is summarized in the earthquake. At Jesus' death, a great earthquake took place, powerfully communicating Jesus' victory over death (Matthew 27.54).

In today's gospel, a second earthquake precedes proclamation of Jesus' resurrection to the faithful women at the tomb. It heralds the arrival of the new creation in the risen life Christians share with Jesus.

No one was eye-witness to the resurrection. Through the earthquake, Matthew symbolized Jesus' resurrection breaking into the static world of human beings. God's glory became visible in the angel's appearance (“like lightening, and his clothing white as snow”) and powerful intervention (“an angel of the Lord ... rolled back the stone and sat on it”), as well as in the utter fear that came over the guards (“the guards shook and became like dead men”). Clearly God was at work in raising Jesus from death.

The angel's interpretive word referred to the crucifixion in the Greek perfect tense (“you are looking for Jesus who was crucified”). This past tense indicates that the completed events of Jesus' Cross and Resurrection continue to have implications now. So, Jesus remains forever the “Crucified One”; his atoning death continues to bring salvation to all who believe.

As well, Jesus remains for all time the Risen One, communicating eternal life to those who follow in His way. In His glorified state, Jesus shares the on-going dimension of His death and risen life with others in such a way as to transform their lives (“Our paschal lamb, Christ has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival ... with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”).

Paul's words “sincerity” and “truth” stand for a way of life that is guileless, without pretence or pseudo-sophistication. This is what living the risen life of Christ should mean for his followers. In a false sense of Christian freedom, the Corinthians had allowed themselves, instead, to tolerate sexual immorality in their midst (a man living in an incestuous relationship with his step-mother [1 Corinthians 5.1-5]).

Paul demanded the man's expulsion from the community on the principle that “a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough”. This Jewish saying was the equivalent of our idiom, “a bad apple spoils the whole barrel”.

Leaven was a fermenting agent (like yeast), which was normally added to a batch of bread dough by using an unbaked portion of dough from a previous batch. Besides being a religious feast, the observance of Unleavened Bread probably also was a health provision. Week after week the fermentation process increased the danger of infection. So, once a year, the Israelites had to purge their homes of all leaven (Exodus 12.14-20).

Both in rabbinic literature and the New Testament, leaven came to symbolize an evil which spreads insidiously within a community until everyone is infected (cf. Mark 8.15). Because the feasts of Unleavened Bread and Passover had become joined in Jewish celebration, Paul easily passed from the symbol of leaven to the image of the paschal lamb in his challenge to the Corinthians.

Paul explains how Christians have become “a new batch, as you really are, unleavened”. As in John's Gospel where Jesus is identified with the paschal lamb slaughtered on Passover Eve (19.36-37), Paul applies the death of Christ to the killing of the paschal lambs on the first day of Unleavened Bread. Christ has been sacrificed, Paul says. Through Jesus' self-offering, Christians have received forgiveness of past sins, and true freedom enabling them to live a new life in and with Christ.

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