We hope these homilies are helpful to you as you prepare to enter Holy Week. Your work is vital to the life of the Chuch and God's people are hungry for the Good News that your embodied voice and unique perspective can help them hear, believe and live.
God bless you in this work!
Holy Thursday ~ Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer
"Walk with Me"
I have a friend who owns a shoe store.
Tony and his family make their living
selling work boots.
If you ask him about his line of work,
the first thing he’ll tell you is this:
“We are servants.
We are in business
to make people’s lives more comfortable.”
He seldom has to ask the customer
what line of work they’re in:
If the boot smells, he knows they come from the oil fields.
If the boots are caked with cement, the man is a construction worker.
If the boot is worn and dusty, the guy’s probably a farmer.
If the boot is stained with manure, he could be a feedlot cowboy.
If there’s a short wrinkle in the in-step of the boot,
the ball of the foot is too far forward.
If Tony detects the feel of calluses beneath the sock,
he inquires about points of pressure and discomfort.
Sometimes, the boot begins to shapes the foot itself…
molds the bones and muscle into a shape
adjusted to demands of the job.
Most of the time, most folks judge a person by their face.
But Tony knows that it is a person’s feet
that reveal the miles they walk and the burdens they carry.
Tonight, our Lord and God, looks us over and judges us,
not by our face, but by our feet.
In tonight’s gospel, he asks the apostles to remove their sandals
and allow him to bathe their feet.
In the days of the Bible,
this was the lowest work that a slave could perform.
Yet, the Lord Jesus, the Son of God,
kneels before us
and asks his followers
—that’s you and me—
to allow him to bathe the dust and the dirt from their feet.
Between the sound of the water splashing into the basin
and the brisk rub of the towel,
what does the Lord discern in the bones and the muscle,
the tendons and calluses on your feet?
Does he discern the feel of bedroom carpet
as you step out of bed each morning?
Does he feel the memory of desert sand down along the border?
Does he feet the hardness of concrete on the floor of a packing plant?
Is there, imbedded within the structure of your foot,
a memory of that first bicycle pedal?
Or the day you learned to skip rope?
Or a faint echo of the pounding of your feet on the basketball court
the day your team played in the tournament?
Does he detect the ache of arthritis?
Does he note a scar from stepping on a nail?
Does he feel in its suppleness wonderful days
when you move through life as though in a dance?
Does he sense, in the heaviness of your foot,
the burdens that you carry out of love Him?
We judge one another by the appearance of the face.
God examines the state of our feet.
Why does He do this?
Because he asks us to follow Him.
“Walk with me,” He says.
Every mile you travel, every step you take…
walk with me."
Good Friday ~ Susan McGurgan
We cannot turn back time,
and walk where he walked,
carefully fitting our faltering steps into his dusty footprints.
We cannot turn back time, and watch,
our throats tight with wonder and fear,
as Lazarus tears off his shroud and stumbles out of the tomb
or the leper’s skin becomes whole.
We cannot turn back time, and stand anxiously beside Pilate,
wringing our hands while the procurator washes his.
Even in the midst of our deepest suffering,
we cannot turn back time, and leap across the void
to hear his voice speaking a word of healing and hope.
And yet, strangely, the cross—
an instrument of torture and shame,
has allowed us to do more than simply turn back time.
The cross has enabled us to transcend time.
St. John Paul II once said,
We are invited to look upon the Cross.
It is the “privileged place” where the love of God is revealed …
On the Cross, human misery and divine mercy meet.
The Cross is planted in the earth
and would seem to extend its roots in human malice,
but it reaches up, pointing as it were to the heavens,
pointing to the goodness of God.
By means of the Cross of Christ,
the Evil One has been defeated,
death is overcome,
life is given to us,
hope is restored,
light is imparted. *
Today above all days, we remember the cross.
Standing before the cross
we stand in a privileged place of horror and hope;
pain and promise.
Today we look upon the cross,
and stand close enough to its rough beams
so that we feel its shadow across our face.
Standing close to the cross changes our perspective.
It sharpens our vision and broadens our view.
The closer we stand to the cross,
the more we can see the image of the people we are called to be.
The closer we stand to the cross,
the more clearly we can hear God calling our names,
and naming our vocations.
When we stand close to the cross
there are things we can no longer say about ourselves
or our sisters and brothers. **
When we stand at the foot of the cross,
forgiveness becomes possible,
healing becomes real,
and death itself can be transformed.
When we stand at the foot of the cross,
we are invited to see the world,
both broken and blessed, through God’s eyes.
Ever since Salvador Dali’s “Christ of Saint John of the Cross”
was first exhibited in 1952,
it has evoked admiration, criticism, and controversy.
The viewer looks down from a perspective
high above the bowed head and the outstretched arms
of the crucified Lord.
From that perspective—
the perspective of God—
the eye is drawn to the foot of the cross
plunged deep into the earth;
plunged deep into Calvary,
where God offered us his greatest gift.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
This passage has been called the Gospel in miniature.
Our whole story--
our whole future--
is contained in these few words.
God loves us.
God invites us to believe.
God saves us through the gift of his son.
Stay close to the cross, plunged deep into the earth;
for it is the place where human misery and divine mercy meet.
Stay close to the cross, plunged deep into Calvary,
for it is the place God offered us his greatest gift.
Stay close to the cross, plunged deep into our lives,
for it is the place where time itself is transformed and hope is restored.
Stay close to the cross,
for in its shadow,
death is destroyed forever.
*Pope John Paul II Excerpts from homily September 14, 2003
**Larry Gillick, S.J. Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
© Susan Fleming McGurgan
Easter Homily I ~ Rev. Dick Eslinger
It is very early on the first day of the week when Mary Magdala comes to the tomb. In fact, it is still dark. She does not come with any particular task to accomplish—there is no anointing of Jesus’ body needed or other preparations. Those have all been completed by Joseph of Arimathea and, of all people, Nicodemus. No, Mary Magdala comes to this place more to be close to old memories, like when you return to the old country place you knew as a kid, now all fallen down and grown up with vines. Mary comes in the dark to get as close to the past as she can on this first day. But even that intention is blocked by the open tomb door she discovers and by the absence of the remains of her Lord. Mary’s need to be near some old memories has just been replaced by her fear of the unknown in this present darkness.
Mary turns and dashes back to where Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple are hiding. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb,” she announces, “and we don’t know where they have put him.” What an amazing statement! On one hand, Mary identifies herself with some group or other who are in the know about the absence of Jesus from the tomb. Other women,…unnamed disciples,…we aren’t told. But then Mary expresses her dread—some people, some “they”—have taken the body and its whereabouts are unknown. Indeed, Mary has every right to suspect such a thing. In her age and in ours, there are places where people just disappear—especially the ones who are a danger to the state or those in power or to some group of terrorists or other. Just now, people disappear in Iraq and nobody knows where “they” have put them. The same was true with the Argentinean death squads during that dictatorship. People just disappeared. So it is reasonable for Mary to suspect some anonymous agents of power as taking Jesus’ body from its resting place. In such a case, we might never know where they put him.
Peter and the other disciple hear the news and run to the tomb. This is sometimes spoken of as a “race,” but it may disclose some further darkness among Jesus’ followers. They do not run together, helping each other and giving mutual support. No, they just take off, each one for himself. The other disciple arrives at the tomb first, but pauses at its entrance, looking in. Peter, though, is the tortoise that catches up and keeps going right on into the tomb. What he sees is that Mary was right. The Lord’s body is gone. He also sees the burial clothes there, but notices that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was not piled up with the other clothes, but in a different place, rolled up neatly by itself. Here is a revelation about the work of the Father in raising the Son and of the risen Son already beginning to order this new creation. But to Peter’s eyes, this revelation remains hidden; the face cloth’s ordered appearance simply a mystery. “Then,” the Gospel continues, “the other disciple also went in,…, and he saw and believed.” However, exactly what he believed is rather confused, because on one hand, we are told that neither disciple yet understood the scripture that Jesus “had to rise from the dead.” On the other hand, these two disciples responded to the empty tomb and the grave cloths and the rolled up face cloth by, of all things, simply returning home. No Easter proclamation, no joining others in jubilation. They just returned home. So what did they believe anyway? Maybe they only now believed poor Mary’s theory about Jesus’ body being taken from its place. In fact, we could say that they now believed Mary’s witness—that some people have indeed intruded into this sacred place and removed the body of the Lord. It may no longer be dark on this first day morning, but it seems that everyone at the tomb has remained in darkness.
(The Easter Day Gospel lection in the Roman Catholic Lectionary concludes with the ninth verse of the chapter, providing more a Markan sense of a “short ending” rather than the full witness of this Johannine narrative. But such a short ending leaves everyone—including Peter, Mary, and the other disciple--in a state of ambiguity. Mary weeps at the empty tomb and the other two have not yet believed the scriptures and have just returned home (literally, “to themselves”). If no canon of the church is violated, the story and the homily must continue until there is light rather than darkness on Easter Day.)
Now Mary had obviously come back to the tomb following the two disciples and remained there after they went home. Now, she stands outside the tomb weeping in her loss and uncertainty. Still weeping, she bent over to look in the tomb and saw “two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been.” A very different scene from what greeted the two disciples when they entered the tomb. Now comes that question for the ages—“Woman, why are you weeping?” It is a question Christ’s people hear every Easter morning, whether we remain in darkness or dwell in the light. Mary’s response is to run the same tape about some unnamed group who have taken the body of her Lord. But Mary now speaks as the one solitary follower of Jesus remaining at the tomb--she does not know where they have put him. There is not even a hint of the community left in her lament. Even the appearance of two angels seems not enough to snap Mary out of her fixation on this “earthly” issue of the whereabouts of the body of the deceased Jesus. She then turns away from them—amazing in itself and revealing a grief that refuses to have any interest even in a pair of angels! As she turns, she sees Jesus there, but does not know it is her Lord. In fact, she assumes that he is a gardener. Again, she is asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”…this time by the “gardener.” The stranger also asks, “Whom are you looking for?” Mary pleads with this gardener to tell her if he has taken Jesus away. If so, she will take him. Mary is still in the dark. Her issue, and that of the others, remains the question of a dead body and who has control over it. Perhaps we need a judge to settle this matter! Hers is the stance of a church that lives three days before Easter—just operating in a “caretaking” mode. Taking care of the building, the dwindling parishioners, the endowment. Taking care of Jesus as if he remained among the dead. What a pity for Christ’s own to remain in such darkness.
It is at this point that morning comes, daybreak on the first day of the week. The risen Lord speaks her name. “Mary,” he says. She turns and recognizes her living Lord. “Rabbouni,” she exclaims. “Teacher,” she says. One of the sheep has recognized the voice of its Shepherd as it is called by name. “Mary.” (Other names of those in the assembly maybe be added here as well.) And named by our risen Lord, we exclaim with Mary our Easter joy. Oh, Mary does try to cling to her Teacher, but the moment cannot be protracted. It is time for her to go and tell the good news of Easter, that Christ is going “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And so she runs and announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” The apostle to the apostles runs in the light of this new day. She is filled with good news and she proclaims it with joy. Now Peter and the other disciple and all of us can join in our “alleluias.” “Christ is risen,” Mary proclaims. And we answer with great joy, “He is risen indeed!”
Easter Homily II ~ Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer
On Easter morning, our songs, our prayers, our minds…
focus on the Empty Tomb.
But was it really empty? Completely empty?
No. According to the Gospel of St. John,
there were two pieces of cloth left behind:
The burial cloth. And the cloth that covered his head.
Have you ever notice many cloths, garments and clothes
get mentioned in the life of Christ?
Let me list a few:
the swaddling clothes in which his mother wrapped him in the night of his birth
the towel that Jesus tied around his waist to dry the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper
the tunic ripped off a young man fleeing the cops on the night of Jesus’ arrest
the red cloak thrown across Jesus’ bare back, lacerated from the soldiers’ whips
the veil that Veronica used to wipe his face on the way to Golgotha
the seamless garment on which the soldiers toss their dice
the curtain in the Temple ripped from top to bottom at the moment that he died…
the shroud in which he was buried.
These references to woven cloth are handed down to us to help us believe:
Listen, once again, to the scene as described by John:
When Simon Peter arrived…he went into the tomb
and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head…
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw…and believed.
How can a simple cloth help us to believe in something we can’t see?
Years ago, widow confided in me a poignant story from her life.
She and her husband had been married more than fifty years.
When her husband died, her days were full of sorrow.
At night, the only way she could fall asleep
was to go to the closet in the bedroom,
wrap herself in her husband’s bath robe
and go back to bed.
Ever think that a bath robe
could serve as a channel of God’s grace?
Her story brings to mind another robe,
the one mentioned in the story of the Prodigal Son.
When the father in that parable
catches sight of son trudging toward home,
he runs to him and yells to the servants,
“Quick, bring a ring for his finger, shoes for his feet…and the finest robe!’
Why the robe?
Was it not because the kid was likely shirtless and dirty?
And stunk like a pig?
And was so skinny that you count his ribs?
Instead of dressing down the kid, the father dresses him up!
Has the Lord ever clothed you?
When you were young, did he clothe you with
a football jersey on Friday night,
to let you know that He was proud to call you His son?
When you turned fifteen,
did He clothed you on the day of your quinceañera
with a dress as beautiful and bright as His love?
Upon your graduation, did He clothe you
with the honor and dignity of a work uniform?
A military uniform? A nurse’s uniform? A fire-fighter’s uniform?
How often, when you gouged yourself with the sharp knife of sin,
did He arrive with bandages and swab your wounds?
In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we read,
“I rejoice greatly in the LORD,
for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness!”
Friends, Christ did not leave the Empty Tomb empty.
Rather, He left us standing open-mouthed
at the mouth of an open tomb,
gaping at clothes left behind,
garments for the journey
and vesture for a glory yet to come!