14 April 2006

Rejoice! He is dead

Good Friday 2005: Is 52.13-53.12; Heb 4.14-16, 5.7-9; Jn 18.1-19.42
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Hear it!
Why do we do this every year? Why do we celebrate betrayal, abandonment, and brutality. Why do we attend this Good Friday’s party of violence?

Our celebration of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday is as perverse an event as any we might conjure. Or, it would be if we were to settle for watching from the crowd, coolly watching events as they unfold. It is not enough to observe. Not enough to stand behind the crowd not caring. Our apathy, our lack of passion for Christ’s suffering and death for us, that will make today’s celebration truly perverse.

Rejoice then with each rip in His flesh. Rejoice with each drop of blood. Rejoice at the anguish of his betrayal, at the sting of his abandonment. Rejoice that He freely accepted this pain for you, instead of you. Rejoice! Or, cry. Or laugh. Or love Him more. But do not fall into the loneliness of not caring—that Pit is a Darkness older than humanity, and It is desperately hungry for your soul.

By the cross we are redeemed, by Christ’s willing sacrifice of himself we are saved from the Pit that would eat us for eternity. Christ freely choose to make his pain and death redemptive for us, to give his pain as our pain so that we might know the way to the Father. Without it we are lost and alone—forever.

Walk up and venerate the cross, the altar of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and offer your joy, your anger, your hatred, your love, your gratitude…offer something passionate to Christ and know that the loneliness you fear is dispelled. Who can be truly alone who lives in the presence of a Loving God? And that is what our redemption is about: living now with God in a friendship that takes us to a life with Him forever.

Walk up, touch the tool of your redemption, give yourself passionately to him. And rejoice! Give thanks!

Our Savior is dead.

12 April 2006

Speak kindly of Judas

Wednesday of Holy Week 2006: Isa 50.4-9; Matthew 26.14-25
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Hear it!
I will speak kindly of Judas. It is fashionable among the most fashionable to look at Judas and see a man too much maligned for his careful act of deceit and betrayal. Aren’t we being just a little too hard on the poor man? He was under a lot of stress! The agony of being the one of the Twelve who would betray his Master and friend must have been horrible to bear. The sweaty nights tossing in his bed, worrying about the small band’s money problems. The constant gnawing bite of ulcers, watching Jesus provoke the authorities. The pounding headaches from anxiety as his Master and friend claims, near-suicidally, in the middle of thronging crowds, that he is the Son of God! The insults, the arguments with the priests and scribes, even that day when the crowd starting throwing stones and they had to run for their lives! Too much, too much. You can see why he did what he did. All was lost anyway. Jesus’ end was inevitable.

Some suggest that Judas was predestined to hand Jesus over. Others will claim that Jesus asked Judas to betray him in order to fulfill the prophecies that prefigure his sacrifice on the cross. Still others will claim that Judas is an existential figure, a man persecuted by history for making a choice and playing out the consequences of that choice with a focused integrity. Maybe, maybe, maybe. What we know is that Judas went to the chief priests. Offered his friend’s freedom, his life, to those who would see him dead. Negotiated a price for his friend’s betrayal, thirty pieces of silver, the fine for murdering a slave. And then continued living, working, ministering with his friend, looking for an opportunity to hand him over.

But I said I would speak kindly of Judas. We all should. Why? Judas is so repugnant to us, so vile a man, and deserving of our contempt that, if we believe, truly believe, what Jesus died in order to teach us, we must find it in our hearts not only to forgive him his violence against Christ, but we must see clearly, staring back at us from the contorted face of the Messiah’s betrayer, our own face, creased with disobedience, etched with rebellion, scarred again and again with battles against killing temptation, the struggles to find, grasp, and cling to God.

If the Christ is the best face we could wear, turned to the Father in beatitude, then Judas is the face we could wear in those moments of despairing loneliness, dark, dark distress at the impossibilities of ever finding the light again. His is the face we put on when that small devilish whisper almost causally speaks ruin to us: “This cannot be forgiven. Not even God loves you that much.” What aren’t we capable of then? What act of betrayal, deceit, selfishness, or violence is beyond us when we believe we are unlovable?

Speak kindly of Judas not to excuse his sin, not to make right what is always wrong. But perhaps as an act of caution against what we hope is impossible for us. He is our anti-exemplar, the model of what happens in the ruin of despair, the wreck we make of ourselves when we kill tomorrow’s hope with yesterday’s hatred or today’s passing anxiety.

Sometime today, ask in prayer, “Surely, it is not I, Lord?” Wait for an answer and then, with whatever answer you receive, speak kindly of Judas.

09 April 2006

Who is this?

The Procession
Palm Sunday 2006: John 12.12-16
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

Jesus rides his donkey into the Jerusalem crowds. Most cheer. Most wave their palm branches. Most call his name. But some, shaken by the adulation and the apparent fulfillment of ancient prophecy in their own day, ask anxiously, “Who is this?”

He is the one prepared for burial by the woman at Bethany. He is the one sold by his disciple and friend, bought for the price of a murdered slave—thirty pieces of silver. His is the blood of the new covenant, the new wine shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He is the one betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, interrogated by Pilate, and, finally, sentenced to death by the same crowd that cheered him earlier. Whipped, mocked, spat upon, and stripped naked, he is the One nailed to the cross, pierced by a spear, the one who died so that we might live.

Who is this? We know already what the Roman soldier shouted aloud: “Truly, this is the Son of God!”

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At the Mass
Palm Sunday 2006: Is 50.4-7; Phil 2.6-11; Mark 14.1-15.47
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

Though we welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with singing and waving palm branches, we will spend this week celebrating his betrayal and execution. What a truly perverse thing to celebrate! If we are tempted to move too quickly from our Lenten self-examination and denial to the joy and exultation of Easter, we have this holy week to contemplate the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings: the nature of his vicarious suffering.

Take these rather dark questions with you into Holy Week, pray with them, wrestle with them, and come back on Easter Sunday to hear again the answers our Teacher gave us through His death and resurrection:

How am I like the woman of Bethany? How do I honor his sacrifice? How do I show respect for his suffering for me?

How am I like Peter and Judas? In what ways do I deny Jesus under the pressure of ridicule from friends, family, colleagues? How do I betray him for worldly approval?

How am I like the High Priest and the Sanhedrin? In what ways do I envy Jesus and seek to discredit him? How do I seek false testimony against the Church’s ancient witness about who Jesus truly is?

How am I like the crowd that frees Barabbas?
In what ways do I “hand Jesus over” to popular opinion? To the masters of my culture? To the mainstream media? To the rulers of this world?

How am I like the Roman soldiers?
In what ways do I just “do my job” in the face of injustice, oppression, and falsehood?

How am I like Christ? In what ways do I suffer for others? How is it that the way I deal with pain and death can be healing for others? Am I ready to die so that my worst enemy might live?

Finally, How am I like the centurion? Can I show up here on Easter Sunday, and answer the question “who is this?” with the awesome confidence of the centurion:
“Truly, this is the Son of God!”