Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Feast of the Empty Tomb

Easter Sunday

Gospel John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Three non-church-goers died and met at the pearly gates of Heaven. St. Peter told them that they could enter the gates if they could answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first man, “What is Easter?”

The man replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and are thankful…” “Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second man the same question, “What is Easter?”

The second man replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter looks at the second man, shakes his head in disgust, tells him he’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third man and asks, “What is Easter?”

The third man smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.” “Oh?” says St. Peter, incredulously. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. The third man continued, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out… and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”

If Jesus had not risen and had not appeared to the apostles, there would be no Christianity today and none of these men would have even heard of Easter to get it wrong. After Jesus’ death, all the hopes of the followers of Jesus were dashed. Many of them went into hiding. This Messiah that they had decided Jesus was, died the worst death – that of a criminal – and achieved none of the expectations of a Savior. Jesus’ death may have saved the world, but we would have never heard about it.

This is a major event, very hard for any of us to comprehend. We cannot find in the Scriptures any consistent, single or unified explanation of the resurrection. What makes it believable, for me, is that these people who were in hiding, totally disappointed, totally lost, suddenly changed. Not just one of them, but all of them. They had an experience of the risen Lord, came out of hiding, and understood finally what Jesus was all about all along.

As a child, I used to think that Jesus rose and was exactly the same as he was before, only with holes in his hands and feet. As an adult, I read more carefully the Gospels, and realize that Jesus raised was not the same as he was before. He could appear and disappear, he could change his looks so he wouldn’t be recognized, yet he could eat and be touched. This is something new to grasp.

In every case, however, the followers of Jesus recognized him, believed in him and changed. We went from a group of frightened and scattered followers to a group of excited men and women, anxious to share their joy, their insights, their love. That is the miracle of Easter. We need to not take this for granted. Each time we hear this story we need to examine it and get excited about it just as the Apostles did.

Isn’t this why the church reminds us each year with this glorious feast, made all the more glorious by the contrasting days of Holy Week. We need to awaken to this glorious news of the Resurrection, be as excited as the women who saw the empty tomb, be changed in the way Jesus’ followers were.

Thus, Jesus has conquered death and so we also can conquer death as well. We are an Easter religion. We believe that despite all the evils surrounding us, all of the natural disasters that hit us, the poverty, hunger and discrimination of the world, that we will not give ourselves over to that power, but through faith in the resurrection, we believe that all this suffering will be vindicated, and that like Jesus, we will be raised up and renewed. We realize that risen life will come because of our self-sacrificing love of others, with Jesus as our prime example of that.

Today’s Gospel reading, you may have noted, is not about the appearances of Jesus, but simply about an empty tomb. I doubt that any of us will see the risen Jesus in this life. We have to take our faith from what is unseen – the empty tomb. Faith in Jesus’ resurrection came originally from the empty tomb, the tears of Magdalene, and the gradual belief of the followers in what had happened. We too must take our faith from the empty tomb.

Let it be a symbol for us of the faith that we are all developing, our own gradual understanding like Peter and the Beloved disciple of what it all means, and a growing awareness that we too will conquer death and be with Jesus in the kingdom! Philip Brooks, an Episcopal Bishop, said “The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death – that is not the great thing – but that…we are to, and may, live nobly now because we are to live forever.” – Happy Empty Tomb! Happy Easter! This is the Good News and the Best News that we celebrate today!

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

We are Transformed by the Cross

Palm Sunday

Gospel Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone saysanything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

Many years ago I was standing in a reception line at a fundraising event. Near me was a young man in his early teens who has spina bifida. He could only stand supported by braces that he held with both hands. A woman seeking to express great kindness said to him, “My what a brave young man you are.” To this he replied, “Lady, everybody has a cross to bear. You can just see mine.”

At a certain point when the line began to thin out I reminded my young friend of his response. A big smile came over his face as he said to me: “It’s true you know. Everybody has a cross. We can read about them in the morning newspaper.

Faith, provides us the prism through which to see reality and the unfolding of our daily life, what Catholics used to call the prism, the eye of faith. Through faith we see that God’s plan, Christ’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit are part of who we are, how we’re supposed to act and react to the living out of our human condition, how we live out our life.

Holy Week is a time the Church sets aside each year so that we can experience in the liturgy the events of our salvation, renew our faith, strengthen our spiritual life and give strength to that vision of life that only our faith can provide us. And, as we make our faith journey we recognize that it is through the eyes of faith that we see so much more of what God intends for us. Palm Sunday calls us to begin this spiritual journey. It helps us approach the mysteries of salvation with lively faith and grow that much closer to Christ.

The reading for the Blessing of Palms sets the stage for our spiritual journey. With the eyes of faith we can truly grasp what is unfolding as Jesus completes His three- year public life, as he comes now to this final stage for the last time to the gates of Jerusalem.To the crowds who lined the streets, and to His own disciples, this was a triumphant moment. Jesus enters Jerusalem and is hailed by many as the king—the long-awaited messiah, the one who would come in the name of the Lord and re-establish the Kingdom of David.

It is only in the painful sequence of events during this week that the true nature of Jesus’ kingdom and our part in it become clear. His is a kingdom of the Spirit. We will be invited to take up the cross as he did. We will be encouraged to see in our own limitations, suffering, pain and even death a new fuller, richer meaning. Jesus will hold out for all of us the revelation of the transforming power of love. So great is His love for us and His Father that he will freely take up the cross, suffer and die on it for us, for our salvation.

Christ holds up for us the cross with this under-standing: If we embrace it with love, as he did, the cross can be redemptive. Into every life comes a cross. There’s no way to avoid the cross that each of us must carry. Some are simply “more visible” than others. Yet no one escapes the ups and downs of the human condition. Sometimes the cross comes in the form of aging, physical suffering, disease, disability. Other times it presents itself as a betrayal of a friendship, an abuse of a relationship. Our cross might simply be the struggle to live out the wondrous yet demanding promises to love, honor and support one another “all the days of our lives.” Whatever the cross,Jesus tells us we must take it up. We must carry it. We must pick up our cross and walk with him.

Jesus embraced the cross, and in His great love he transformed it into an instrument of God’s grace and instrument of God’s power, an instrument of the Spirit. So too can we. We are able to unite our personal cross to the cross of Christ and, in our love, transform it and make it into something just as Jesus did. Make it into something redemptive, transforming, life-giving.

In one of the most familiar and probably most cherished forms of the Stations of the Cross, we find this invitation to prayer: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.” To which we reply: “Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” In this brief prayer Saint Alphonsus Liguori captured the essence of that ancient creedal proclamation Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” All of this for a purpose. “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

There is much more to the statement of faith than the simple recognition that Christ died. If Christ had not redeemed us by his cross, His death would have had little or no meaning, certainly for us today. With eyes of faith, the apostles and all believers after them gaze on the cross and see much more than just the instrument on which Jesus hung until he died. The death of Jesus is a historical and theological reality that can be interpreted correctly only with eyes of faith.Toward the end of Luke's Gospel, as Jesus takes His last breath, the eyes of the Roman centurion are opened and he recognizes the meaning of what is happening, of what he has just witnessed of what he’s been a part of. And he says: “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Later, in explaining more profoundly the theological significance of Jesus’ death, St. Paul points out that “just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life comes to all” (Rom. 5.18).

Jesus’ saving actions are the work of a person who is both God and man. They have, therefore, superabundant value. Jesus Christ is the only one who could offer God a fitting atonement for sin. It is here that we see the immensity of God’s saving mercy. Not only does God save us, but he also brings about salvation in a generous way and in a manner that honors the humanity he saves. In Christ, God allows a human being to bring him gifts worthy of salvation. Jesus took on human suffering, pain, loss, fear, anxiety, diminishment and even death.

Through the power of His love he transformed all of these harsh realities into means of grace. And, by the blood of the cross he won for us our salvation. In so doing, he invites us to transform our own sufferings, our own limitations, disabilities and distress into a sharing in His own redemptive love.How is it that we will have the spiritual power, the power, the grace of God to make this spiritual journey through life, to take up our cross and carry it, to transform the events of our lives through God’s love? The answer is in the great gift Jesus left us at the Last Supper.

In the Eucharist, Jesus has instituted the sacrament in which the very passion, death and resurrection that he would undergo would be made present again in our lives. This presence enables us to share in the benefits of the cross. We speak of our dying to sin and rising to new life because we participate in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

With lively faith, then, let us approach this Holy Week with the recognition that the cross each one of us bears can be a real and true gift. To the extent that we see with the eyes of faith, we allow ourselves to enter that world of redeeming love and embracing grace. This is the world that Jesus proclaimed as he entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday, fully aware that this was the prelude to both his death and his glorious resurrection.

 St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
 2301 E Sunset Road
Suite 18
Las Vegas, NV 89119
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Do Not Separate Yourself from God.

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2013

Gospel John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! The work of St Patrick is legendary, waging a war against sin and creating a stronghold for the catholic church in Ireland. But what is sin, exactly? Is it something that we do that is bad or wrong? Sort of. Sin is anything that we do that separates us from God.

Does anyone remember what original sin is? Remember when Satan tempted Eve in the Garden? Then Eve tempted Adam. That certainly put in a big rift between God and his people. Eating the fruit was not the sin, but by eating the fruit they disobeyed God and separated themselves from that love. That is sin. When Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and were cursed to endure pain and suffering and death. That sin, that separation from God, was passed down to all of us. We all have carried the burden of Original Sin.

Our first reading today from Isaiah is quite a prophesy. Like all prophets he sounds a bit cryptic, but in reality, he is being very clear and to the point. It sounds so cryptic because he can’t just say God. There were so many prophets proclaiming a god of one type or another or even multiple gods. He wanted to make it clear that he was speaking of the God of the Israelites. The God that led their people out of Egypt. But his prophesy does not speak of God delivering them from their current Babylonian oppression. It goes far into the future. It tells those who would listen that God will be changing from an angry, vengeful god and become a kinder, gentler god. A god that people will love, not fear. Isaiah is telling his people and is telling us to forget about the past. Forget the actions of that angry vengeful god and look to the future to see the marvels that God will do for us. He is telling us that God will no longer be separate from us, because he will be sending us Jesus, to be one with us, among us, and we will praise him for this.

Now we come to Paul. Long suffering Paul. We are blessed to have so many of his writings preserved in the New Testament. Of course most of his writings are to the many early Christian communities and they tend to focus on what they are doing wrong. Jesus had only recently risen in Glory, but there was growing unrest among the people that want to follow the teachings of Christ. All of these groups kept losing their way and straying from the path of Jesus. That’s why Paul had to write so many letters. In this particular letter, Paul is reminding the squabbling Philippians and us that he has given up everything of value in his life so that he can strive to be as Christ like as possible. He struggled every day to follow Christ’s example because he wanted to share in the Resurrection. He knew he would not achieve perfection, but he struggled for it none the less. Progress, not perfection, is what Christ asked of him and asks of us. Strive to do good works. Strive to make the world around you a little better. One person cannot change everything, but one person can make a difference. That is progress. And like many of us, as much as Paul wants to be in Heaven with Jesus, he is not quite ready to go now.

In our gospel, we get to see where the legacy of the angry vengeful god and Isaiah’s prophesy of the kind, forgiving, skin on god meet. The skin on god. I like the image of that. I like the idea of not just figuratively walking in Christ’s footsteps but actually following the man himself. Jesus spent a lot of time at the temple teaching and of course this did not enthuse the temple leaders. They started plotting and scheming and were determined to find a way to discredit Jesus and get rid of him. They thought they had come up with the perfect plan to trip up Jesus. When they brought the person whom they had caught in the act of adultery (apparently the other one didn’t get caught…) they posed the question to Jesus “What should we do with this sinner?” Well we know what would have happened if this was Adam or Eve, that angry vengeful god would have cast down a mighty vengeance and scorched the land and produced plagues and pestilence.

Jesus’ reply was so simple and yet so powerful “Let the one among you with no sin cast the first stone” the crowds could do nothing but turn and walk away, even though they were plotting and scheming, they all knew that they were sinners too. Jesus showed us the kinder, gentler god that Isaiah prophesied and simply said “Go and sin no more.”

He gave absolution, and did not demand a punishment or penance. Jesus reconnected his love with the sinner and simply said to maintain that connection. Do not separate yourself. Sin no more. Are we able to forgive so easily? Can we re-establish those connections with one another when we have been wronged, or when we wrong someone? Are we helping the people around us be better than what they are? Progress. Are we trying to be perfect? Are we making any progress? If we are getting closer to the finish line, if we are keeping our eye on the prize, then yes, we are making progress. We all have our shortcomings and we all fail, and there was a time when those flaws were unacceptable in God’s eyes. But Christ shows us that we are all flawed and imperfect. And that is OK. God sees us all as his creation and he knows we all have different gifts and talents. And that does make us perfect in his eyes. God looks at us and sees that we are good.


Written by Fr. James Morgan

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)