Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Pascha

Christ is Risen!

Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee. But He had to go through Samaria. Samaria! What a strange place that was, a place you are not supposed to visit if you are well brought up. All of us had some section of town when we were growing up that we were not supposed to visit. Two thousand years ago, that place was Samaria. But you know what? Jesus went through it anyway. Jesus goes through all the places that we think are off-limits. So He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired from His journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

Jesus was tired. Can you imagine Jesus being tired? If he is the Son of God, how is it that He can be tired? Does God get tired? We must remember that Jesus always shows us what it means to be truly human and what it means to be truly God. Jesus is both: God and man. This means that, with the exception of sin, whatever we feel in life, Jesus experienced it as well. Jesus knows us and He shares in our human experiences and emotions. When we are flat-out, dead tired, we need to remember that Jesus has been tired too.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well, and Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” He was alone at the well, as His disciples had gone on to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that you, a Jew, as k a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? She was taken aback at Jesus’ request because Jews did not really have anything to do with Samaritans.

Sound familiar? How many of us were talk as we were growing up not to talk to strangers? How many of us were taught not to associate with people of other nationalities or races by our parents because they were different from us, even inferior to us? Two thousand years ago, Jews were not supposed to speak with Samaritans.

Yes, we were all taught not to talk to strangers. And we were probably taught, implicitly, that there were some people we were just not supposed to associate with. Two thousand years ago, Jews were not supposed to speak with Samaritans. And they were certainly not supposed to eat with them, or drink with them, or especially drink after them. That would be more than just not right. For the proper Jewish man, to drink with a Samaritan would be like one of us drinking from the bottle of a wino on the street in a bad section of town.

Today, even among us “educated” and “enlightened” white people, many still do not like Blacks or Hispanics, considering them unequal and inferior. Some Irish still do not like Italians and vice versa. Some Muslims do not like Christians and some Christians look down on those who are Muslims. Well, that is not the way Jesus things.

Men during Jesus’ time were not supposed to mingle with women in that culture. I do not mean co-mingle. I mean that men and women did not share the common exchanges of daily commerce and need. But Jesus broke those rules. Jesus respected women. He respected women so much that he was able to share His ordinary need with a women; he shared His thirst.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The women said to Him, “Sir, You have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Living water? What is this living water of which Jesus spoke? Is not all water living? No, all water is not living. All of us have seen the opposite at some time or another. The opposite of living water is dead water. Some water is absolutely dead. Some water is dead, and yet folks continue to drink it. Do you know what that water is?

Dead water is an addiction to drugs. It is the constant need to inject or inhale chemicals into one’s body to experience joy and happiness in life. Dead water is an addiction to alcohol so that one can escape or cope with the difficulties and stresses of life. Dead water is an addiction to sex, a never-ending drive for self-gratification and carnal pleasure which never satisfies but leaves one wanting more. Dead water is the same old television show every night. Dead water is the same old argument over money, the kids, of feeling unsatisfied with your marriage or relationship. Dead water is that little habit you persist in nourishing, that habit which is small in itself, but which will kill you one day. Dead water is not something that gives one life, but is something that will slowly poison you and kill you. Dead water is not something that satisfies and nourishes you, but leaves you crying out for more.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Yes! The Samaritan woman wants this water now! She knows exactly what Jesus is talking about. Sir, give me this water!”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

Jesus knew what was going on with the woman. She went from one husband to another to find satisfaction, to find whatever happiness she thought she was missing. Like her, we keep chasing after the elusive dream, that happiness that always seems to escape us. We try this self-help book. We try that therapist. We try this drug. We try that drink. We try this husband. We try that wife.

But, ultimately, we have no husband. Jesus knows that we have no husband. Jesus knows that our searching has been fruitless. Our well is dry. Or at the very least, it is full of stagnant and foul water.

The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, I know that You are a prophet.” Yes, Jesus knows. But He loves us nonetheless. He knows what sin is in us, but he seeks after us anyway.

The woman continues, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but You say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. True worship has to do with spirit and truth. If you truly want to worship God you must enter fully into the Spirit and let the Spirit completely fill you up with His grace. You must also worship God in truth. This means that you must be willing to worship God with the truth of who and what you are. If you can worship god in truth, then you are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in you.

The woman said to Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming, who is called Crist. When he comes, he will reveal all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am He, the one who is speaking to you.”

“I am He,” Jesus said. “I am.” That was the phrase that Moses heard from the burning bush. “I am Who am.” “I am becoming who I am becoming.” “I am He.” Jesus says the same to us. He says too, “I am that living water. I am that Spirit. I am that Truth, that Way, that Life.” Jesus is saying all this to us right now, if we have ears to hear. He is speaking to us, here and now, in this very church, at this time, at this well.

If you have ears to hear and the mind to understand, then Jesus is in that ambulance that goes speeding toward the hospital. He is speaking through the volunteers who give of their time at the local soup kitchen. He is at your favorite restaurant among the workers who serve you your lunch or dinner. He is in that fire house or police station where men and women put their lives on the line to serve and protect you every day. He is in that nicu ward taking care of a premature baby born with a heart valve problem. Wherever you see goodness and charity, there you will find Jesus speaking and reaching out.

As Jesus was speaking to the woman, His disciples came back. They were astonished that He was speaking to a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” The woman then left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can He?” So they left the city and were on their way back to Him.

Somehow, the people were convinced. They realized immediately from the woman that something extraordinary had happened. Do you know what convinced them? It was the woman’s testimony, to be sure. She was a witness to the truth and the truth manifested itself in her. People were convinced that she spoke the truth by the manner in which she spoke. The Holy Spirit was working in and through her. And when the Holy Spirit is able to work unimpeded in us, great and wonderful things happen. People are brought to the Truth.

While all of this was going on, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought Him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to complete His work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest?’ But I tell you, look around you, and see the fields are ripe for the harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

This is the Jesus we worship today. This is the Jesus we worship in Spirit and in Truth: the Savior of the world.

Christ is Risen!



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Pascha

Christ is Risen!

This morning’s Gospel reading from St. John has much to say about human nature. We also get some special insights about Jesus as well.

Experience teaches that, most of the time, people act in predictable ways. They seek answers to their problems in predictable ways as well. But, once in a while, God surprises people in ways that disturb their predictableness. God’s grace comes in different forms. And, as we will see again this morning, God’s grace changes lives.

Our Gospel this morning brings us the story of a miracle. It also provides us another account of an ongoing conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities. We begin, though, with the miracle.

You know, sometimes change happens because we are actively searching for it. At other times, however, change happens in a serendipitous fashion – unexpectedly, at just the right time, and with great benefits. The change we need may be physical. Or, it may be spiritual. Sometimes, as it is with the man in this morning’s Gospel reading, it is both.

This morning, we were told about a pool. The name of the pool is Bethesda. The name suggests a “place of outpouring” or a “house of kindness, grace and mercy.” The pool of Bethesda is an interesting place. For the longest time, scholars believed that this pool never existed, because archaeologists had not found any sign of it. But then, in the nineteenth century, an archaeologist discovered a pool, which he thought was the one described in today’s Gospel. Further excavations, in 1964, confirmed the pool had been fund, and that it was part of a collection of waterworks that included the so-called “upper pool” of the Hebrew Scriptures. Whatever its history, one thing is certain - the pool was a place of hope for many people, especially the disabled and those afflicted in other ways. But it was also a place of disappointment, as we see with the man we met in this morning’s Gospel reading. We do not know the name of the man at the pool. But, in order to make this homily a bit more personal, we are going to give the man at the pool a name, let us say Tobias. Tobias had a serious problem. He had been disabled for a very long time, 38 years as a matter of fact. His hope had faded, over time. John’s Gospel records how Jesus came to this place of uncertainty and false hopes with His grace and healing.

John tells us that, at the time this event took place, there was a festival going on. Bible scholars are not exactly sure which festival it was. But Jesus went to Jerusalem. And, on the Sabbath day, He went to the pool at Bethesda, walked up to a desperate person, and asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

There is a very good chance that Tobias, with his disability, would have come to the pool every day until his dying day. It is very likely that, if Jesus had not intervened, nothing would have changed for Tobias. We need to remember that Tobias was not searching for Jesus. It seems that Jesus was the furthest thing from his mind. Truth be told, the Lord was searching for him. There is a basic spiritual truth revealed to us here. On our own, by our own reason and strength, we do not seek the Lord. As a matter of fact, we avoid Him. On our own, His Word and His ways seem to be foolishness and we cannot understand them.

Tobias’ focus was on the pool, rather than on Jesus, the Messiah.  The Gospel this morning describes a crowd of down and out people, who had gathered by the pool. It is said that if you managed to get into the water at just the right moment, you would receive a healing. These people put their faith in the so-called healing waters. Jesus suddenly stepped into this forlorn community and asked one individual if he would like to be healed. We are not sure why Jesus chose this particular individual. Perhaps he had been there the longest. We just do not know. At the end of the day, however, wholeness was not to be found in this pool, despite the commonly held belief. At the end of the day, wholeness and healing was found in Christ and in Him alone.

“Sir,” Tobias said to Jesus, “There is never anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. Someone else always gets there first!” It seems that Tobias had no friends. He was sick. He was alone. And it had been that way for a long time. Jesus spoke to Tobias, simply and firmly. “Rise, take up your mat and walk,” He said. Tobias stood to his feet. He reached down and picked up his mat. And he walked away from that place. When he looked around to thank his benefactor, he was gone!

You know, there are many people in our world, even in our own community here in Utica, who sit and wait, year after year, waiting for something magical to happen in their lives. They wait, year after year, seeking healing and wholeness, peace and forgiveness, and hope. But the angel never appears, and the water is never stirred up. The false gods of our day always let people down. Promises are made, but they are never kept.

The Scriptures say that all of us, by nature, are powerless when it comes to spiritual things. In our natural state, before God comes into our lives, we are blind and dead. We live in the darkness of sin and ignorance, of doubt and uncertainty. Without God in our lives, we are empty and unfulfilled. Always reaching, always grasping, always searching for something to give us true happiness and contentment. But the Gospel this morning reminds us that full provision has been made for our care, by means of a cross and an empty tomb. Our Lord Jesus cured the man by the pool, despite the fact that he did not ask for the healing and did not know his Healer.

We are reminded this morning that, as human beings, our idea of God is often too small, too limited.  Instead of looking to God and to His Word for what is needed most, people look elsewhere. They look to shamans, to life coaches, to therapists, to sex, to drugs, to alcohol, to all the false gods that promise happiness but in reality give nothing but false hope, disappointment and even hurt and pain.

What Christ did for Tobias by the pool He did out of love and grace. There were no strings attached to what Christ did for this man. There was no bill to be paid. No demands or expectations. Christ brought Tobias what he had longed for, for so many years. Christ initiated a relationship with Tobias and he hoped that Tobias would see fit to continue on in it. Jesus makes the difference between what we are, sinful human beings, and what we can be, His forgiven and healed sons and daughters.

As he always does, Jesus speaks to every person in every generation. “Do you want to get well?” “Do you want to be healed?” In other words, “Would you like to have your sins forgiven?”  “Would you like to have your relationship with God restored?” “Would you like to experience real happiness?” The waters of the pool, which, for so long, Tobias believed were the key to his healing, played no part whatsoever in what happened. The plans he made for himself were very different from the plans Jesus had for him. As it turned out, Tobias did not have to work for his healing. He did not pay for it. He simply obeyed the Word.

Even after his healing, Tobias did not seem to fully understand what happened to him. He seemed to be without spiritual insight, and he had no faith, at least not at first. Not long afterwards, Jesus re-appeared. He brought Tobias words of comfort and words of warning. Again, Jesus took the initiative. He reminded the man of his healing and told him that he must “sin no more.” Jesus then said that if his sin did not cease, something worse would happen to him. Think about it for a moment. What could be worse that what Tobias had already been through? What could be worse? Eternal separation from God! Jesus was, in effect, telling Tobias that he needed more than just a physical healing. He needed spiritual healing as well. He needed to allow Jesus to establish a saving relationship with him. Then, his healing would be complete. This was something the man had to think about very seriously. What did his physical healing really mean to him? Did he just simply walk away after he was healed and think nothing more about it? Or did he walk away with a thousand and one questions in his heart? Questions only faith could answer. We do not know because as soon as he was healed, Tobias was approached by a group of stern-looking religious leaders. They questioned him, not about his healing, but about the fact that he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath Day. Tobias said it was not his fault. He said that he was only doing what he had been told to do.

As the Jewish leaders interpreted the Scriptures, and as they understood the traditions of the elders, this act of carrying a mat on the Sabbath day was forbidden. The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities arose because Tobias’ healing has taken place on a Sabbath day. The Jewish religious leaders, not surprisingly, were more interested in the supposed Sabbath infraction that they were in Tobias’ healing. At the root of these Sabbath prohibitions was the thought that, because God had rested on the seventh day, His people should do the same. The problem, of course, arose in defining what was “work” and what was not. Jesus said that He worked on the Sabbath day because that was what His Father had been doing. The way Jesus explained it, God the Father continues to do good on the Sabbath Day, and so does His Son. Jesus had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.”

The Pharisees now had further evidence of what they saw as Jesus’ blatant disregard of their Sabbath regulations. What was, to us, an unexpected, pure act of God’s grace was, to the Jewish leaders, a lawless act performed by a man who played fast and loose with their hallowed traditions. To make things worse, by saying that God was His Father, Jesus was making Himself equal with God. As I say, Jesus defended His actions by pointing out that He was imitating His Father by working on the Sabbath. In what sense was God working? He was working to maintain His creation. He was working to bring about His plans and purposes. He takes no days off from these works. And neither does His Son.

Tobias’ infirmity is symbolic of sin and what sin does to people. As we have seen, Tobias had convinced himself that his healing depended on his own efforts and initiative. He lived in a “survival of the fittest” kind of world. But Jesus healed Tobias, without being asked to do so. God’s salvation is not something we need to push and shove each other around to achieve. God’s salvation is offered by grace alone. It is completely and totally undeserved and we have the freedom to either accept it or reject it. Our Lord always takes the initiative. He always takes the first step. Whether He succeeds in His efforts really depends on us. Either we want to walk in the light of God’s truth and grace or we want to continue wallow in the muck and mire of sin and a stinking swamp. The choice is ours to make. Without God’s intervention, we would die in our sins and heaven would be denied to us.

In St. John’s account of what happened at the pool of Bethesda, the person who most needed the healing would be the least likely to receive it. When it comes to our salvation, God does respond to our actions, our efforts, or our good works. He simply responds to our need – our need for forgiveness and new life. He simply reaches out a gracious hand to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We acknowledge our need for Hs salvation and, enabled by His Holy Spirit, we reach out the hand of faith and we receive His gifts from Him. When Jesus intervenes in our lives by means of His Word and the Holy Mysteries, healing takes place. Not just temporary healing, but permanent spiritual healing. Jesus’s Word and His life, when brought into us by the Holy Eucharist and faithfully lived in our own lives, brings life.

What Tobias received from Jesus can be described in one word, and that word is wholeness. This word is repeated five times in this morning’s Gospel, in verses 6, 9, 11, 14 and 15. The original Greek word emphasizes wholeness and restored unity. Jesus’ gracious intervention brought liberation to Tobias, a whole new life. Weakness and bondage were left behind. In His ministry, in His dealings with the common people, as well as the religious leaders of His day, Jesus brought a radically different way of doing things. But to people whose minds were locked onto their traditions and could not countenance any changes, Jesus was a huge threat. When it comes to people with a mindset like this, the question might be asked, “How would they change a light bulb?” The answer is simple, “Oh, they wouldn’t change that light bulb. They would just stand around and admire the old one or walk around in the dark.”

Jesus’s words and deeds definitely rant counter to the expectations of the Jewish religious elite. Jesus Himself had once said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.” (Mark 7:6-7).

We have seen this morning that Jesus’ healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda brought joy to one person and consternation to a group of others. We have seen that all of us need the healing Jesus provides: healing from the effects of sin through His death on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead. We have also seen that, too often, people look in all the wrong places for this healing. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus always takes the first step in reaching out to us with His salvation. Every time we come together here for Divine Liturgy, the Lord asks us, “Do you want to be healed?”

May we all rejoice in God’s wonderful salvation, and do our best, both as individuals and as a parish community, as we are able according to our abilities, to share His blessings with each other and with the world.


Christ is Risen!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As you know, my dear friends, I often look to the Fathers of the Church for inspiration for my homilies. There is such depth of knowledge and spiritual enlightenment in their writings. I could never hope to achieve that eloquence and beauty in my own writings that fill those of the early Church fathers. When I compare my writings to theirs, I am sorely inadequate and lacking. So today, I want to give you a break from my own mediocre efforts and provide you with something much more substantial and profound. Today, I want to share with you a homily of St. Gregory Palamas, which he wrote for today’s feast of the Myrrh-bearing Women.

The Resurrection of the Lord is the regeneration of human nature. It is the resuscitation and re-creation of the first Adam, whom sin led to death, and who because of death, again was made to retrace his steps on the earth from which he was made. The Resurrection is the return to immortal life. Whereas no one saw that first man when he was created and given life – because no man existed yet at that time – woman was the first person to see him after he had received the breath of life by divine inbreathing. For after him, Eve was the first human being. Likewise, no one saw the second Adam, who is the Lord, ride from the dead, for none of his followers were nearby and the soldiers guarding the tomb were so shaken that they were like dead men. Following the Resurrection, however, it was a woman who saw Him first before the others, as we have heard from St. Mark’s Gospel today. After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared on the morning of the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to Mary Magdalene first.

It seems that the Evangelist is speaking clearly about the time of the Lord’s Resurrection – that it was morning – that He appeared to Mary Magdalene, and that he appeared to her at the time of the Resurrection. But, if we pay some attention, it will become clear that this is not what He says. Earlier in this passage, in agreement with the other Evangelists, Saint Mark says that Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb earlier with the other Myrrh-bearing women, and that she went away when she saw it empty. Therefore, the Lord had risen much earlier on the morning on which she saw Him. But wishing to fix the time more exactly, he doesn’t say simply “morning,” as is the case here, but “very early in the morning.” Thus the expression, “and the rising of the sun” as used there refers to that time when the slightest light precedes from the east on the horizon. This is what Saint John also wants to indicate when he says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in the morning while it was still dark and saw the stone pulled away from it.

According to Saint John, she did not come to the tomb alone, even though she left the tomb without yet having seen the Lord; for she ran to Peter and John, and instead of announcing to them that the Lord was risen, told them that He had been taken from the tomb. Therefore, she did not yet know about the Resurrection.

It is not Mary Magdalene’s claim that Christ appeared to her first but that He appeared after the actual beginning of the day. There is, of course, a certain shadow covering this matter on the part of the Evangelists that I shall, through your love, uncover. The good news of the Resurrection of Christ was received from the Lord first, before all others, by the Theotokos. This is truly meet and right. She was the first to see Him after the Resurrection and she had the joy to hear His voice first. Moreover, she not only saw Him with her eyes and heard Him with her ears but with her hands she was the first and only one to touch His spotless feet, even if the Evangelists do not mention these things clearly. They do not want to present the mother’s witness so as not to give nonbelievers a reason to be suspicious.

In that now my words about the joy of the risen one are directed to believers, the opportunity of this feast moves us to explain what is relative to the Myrrh-bearers. Justification is given by him who said: There is nothing hidden that shall not be made known, and this also will be made known.

The Myrrh-bearers are all those women who followed with the mother of the Lord. stayed with her during those hours of the salvific passion, and with pathos anointed Him with myrrh. After Joseph and Nicodemos asked for and received the body of the Lord from Pilate, they took it down from the Cross, wrapped it in a cloth with strong spices, placed it in a carved out tomb, and closed the door of the tomb with a large stone. The Myrrh-bearers were close by and watched, and as the Evangelist Mark relates, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were seated opposite the grave. With the expression “and the other Mary” he means the mother of Christ without a doubt. She was also called the mother of Iakovos (James) and Joses, who were the children of Joseph, her betrothed. It was not only they who were watching the entombment of the Lord but also the other women. As Saint Luke relates:

“And the women, also, who had come with Him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher and how His body was laid. These women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Iakovos, and the other women who were with them.”

He writes that they went and bought spices and myrrh; for they did not yet clearly know that he is truly the perfume of life for those who approach Him in faith, just as he is also the odor of death for those who remain unbelievers to the end. They did not yet clearly know that the odor of His clothes, the odor of His own body, is greater than all perfumes, that His name is like myrrh that is poured out to cover the world with His divine fragrance.

For those who wanted to remain close by the body, they contrived an antidote of perfumes for the stench of decomposition and anointed it. Thus they prepared the myrrh and the spices and rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. For they had not yet experienced the true Sabbath nor did they understand that exceedingly blessed Sabbath that transports us from the confines of hell to the perfection of the bright and divine heights of heaven. Saint Luke says that “on the first day of the week, very early in the morning,” they came to the sepulchre bearing the spices that they had prepared.

And Saint Matthew says that those who came “late on the Sabbath towards the dawn of the Lord’s day” were two in number. Saint John says that it was only Mary Magdalene who came, and that it was “morning, even though it was still dark.” But Saint mark says that three women came very early in the morning on the first day of the week. By ‘the first day of the week” all the Evangelists mean the Lord’s Day (Sunday) and they use the expression like “Late on the Sabbath,” “early dawn,” “early morning,” “morning,” and “even though it was still dark” to refer to the Lord’s Day which is Sunday. They mean the day breaking hour when the darkness fights with the light and the hour when the eastern part of the horizon begins to become light as it presages the day. Observing from afar, one sees the light changing colors in the east at about the ninth hour of the night, which colors remain until the fulfillment of the day three hours later.

It seems that the Evangelists disagree somewhat concerning both the time of the visits and the number of women that are involved. This is attributable to the fact that, as we said, the Myrrh-bearers were many; that they did not come to the sepulcher one time only but two and three times, and not always in the same groups; that all the visits were at dawn but not exactly at the same hour. Mary Magdalene also came by herself without the others and stayed longer. Each of the Evangelists, therefore, relates one journey of some of the women and leaves the others. Consequently, by comparing all the Evangelists, and I said this before, I conclude that the Theotokos was the first who came to the grave of her son and God, together with Mary Magdalene. We are informed of this by the Evangelist Matthew who said, “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher.” (Matthew 28:1)

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who was, of course, the Mother of the Lord, went to look at the sepulcher. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightening and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards did shake and become like dead men.

The other women came after the earthquake and the flight of the guards, and found the grave open and the stone rolled back. The Virgin Mother, however, was there when the quake occurred, when the stone was rolled back, when the grave opened, and while the guards were there, even though they were completely shaken with fear. That is why the guards immediately thought of fleeing when they came to from the earthquake but the Mother of God rejoiced without fear at what she saw.

I believe that the life-bearing grave opened first for her. For her and by her grace all things were revealed for us, everything that is in heaven above and on the earth below. For her sake the angel shone so brightly so that, even though it was still dark, she saw by means of the bright angelic light not only the empty grave but also the burial garments carefully arranged and in an orderly fashion, thereby witnessing in many ways to the Resurrection of the one who was entombed. He was, after all, that same angel of the Annunciation, Gabriel; he watched her proceed rapidly towards the grave and immediately descended. He who in the beginning had told her, “Fear not, Mary, you have found grace with God,” now directs the same exhortation to the Ever Virgin. He came to announce the Resurrection from the dead to her who, with seedless conception, gave Him birth; to raise the stone, to reveal the empty grave and the burial garments, so that in this manner the good news would be verified for her.

He writes: “And the angel answered the women and said, ‘Fear not! Do you seek the Christ whom they crucified? He is risen! Here is the place where the Lord was placed. If you see the soldiers overcome with fear, do not be afraid. I know that you seek the Christ whom they crucified, He is risen! He is not here; for not only can he not be held by the keys, the bars, and the seals of hell, of death, and of the grave, but He is even the Lord of the immortal angels of heaven, and the only Lord of the whole world. See the place where the Lord lay. Go quickly and tell His disciples that he is risen from the dead.” And they departed, he says, with fear and great joy.

At this point I am of the opinion that Mary Magdalene and the other women who had come up to that point were still frightened. For they did not understand the meaning of the angel’s powerful words nor could they contain to the end the power of the light so as to see and understand with exactitude. But I think that the Mother of God made this great joy her own, since she comprehended the words of the angel. Her whole person radiated from the light in that she was all pure and full of divine grace. She firmly appropriated all these signs and the truth she believed the archangel, since, of course, he formerly had shown himself to be worthy of trust for her in other matters. And why shouldn’t the Virgin understand with divine wisdom what had occurred in that she observed the events first hand?

She saw the great earthquake and the angel descending from heaven like lightening; she saw the guards fall as dead men; she saw the removal of the stone, the emptying of the tomb, and the great miracle of the burial garments which were kept in place by Smyrna and aloes, even though they contained no body. In addition to all these things, she saw the joyous countenance of the angel and heard his joyful message. But Mary Magdalene, in responding to the annunciation, acted as if she had not even heard the angel at all; he had not in fact spoken directly to her. She testifies only to the emptying of the tomb and says nothing about the burial garments, but runs directly to Peter and to the other disciples, as Saint John says. The Mother of God went back to the tomb again when she met the other women and, as Saint Matthew says, behold Jesus met them and told them to rejoice.

So you see that even before Mary Magdalene, the Mother of God saw Him who for our salvation suffered and was buried and rose again in the flesh. And they approached, touched His feet, and worshipped Him.

Just as the Theotokos alone understood the power of the angelic words, even if she heard the good news of the Resurrection together with Mary Magdalene, when she met her son and God with the other women, she saw and recognized the Risen One before all the other women. And falling down, she touched His feet and became His apostle to His apostles. We learn from Saint John that Mary Magdalene was not with the Mother of God when, on her return to the sepulcher, she encountered the Lord. He writes, “She runs to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and tells them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they have put Him’” If she had seen and touched Him with her hands and heard Him speak, how could she say the words “They have taken Him and placed Him elsewhere, and we don’t know where?”  But after Peter and John ran to the grave and saw the burial clothes and returned, Saint John says that Mary Magdalene was standing near the tomb and crying. 


You see that not only had she not yet seen Him but neither had she been informed of the Resurrection.  And when the angels that appeared asked her “Why are you crying, woman?,” she again answered as if she thought that He was dead.  Thus when, upon turning, she saw Jesus and still did not understand, she answered His question “Why do you weep?” in the same manner.  Not until He called her by her name and showed her that He was the same did she understand.  Then, when she also fell down before Him wishing to kiss His feet, she heard Him say: “Don’t touch me.”  From this we understand that when He appeared previously to His mother and to the women who accompanied her, He allowed only His mother to touch His feet, even if Matthew makes this a common concession to all the women.  He did not wish, for the reason we mentioned in the beginning, to suddenly present the appearance of the mother into the issue. 

It was the Ever Virgin Mary who came to the grave first and she was the first to receive the good news of the Resurrection.  Many women then gathered and they also saw the stone rolled back and heard the angels, but they were separated on their return. As Saint Mark says, since they were afraid, some of the women left the tomb in a frightened and ecstatic state without saying anything to anyone.  Other women followed the Mother of the Lord and because they happened to be with her they saw and heard the Lord.  Mary Magdalene left to go to Peter and John, and with them was returning to the grave.  And even though they left, she stayed and she also was made worthy to see the Lord and to be sent by Him to the apostles.  Thus, as Saint John says, she again comes to them shouting to all that she had seen the Lord and that He had told her these things.

And Saint Mark says that this appearance happened in the morning, the indisputable beginning of the day, when the dawn had passed.  But he does not contend that the Resurrection of the Lord occurred at that time, nor that it was His first appearance.  Therefore, we have information concerning the Myrrh-bearers that is exact and the general agreement of the four Evangelists as a higher confirmation.  But even with all that they had heard on the same day of the Resurrection from the Myrrh-bearers, from Peter, and even from Luke and Cleopas that the Lord lives and that they had seen Him, the disciples showed disbelief.  That is why He castigates them when He appeared to all of them gathered together.  When, however, He showed them many times through the witness of many that He was alive, not only did they all believe but they preached it everywhere.

Their voice poured out on all the earth and their words spread to the ends of the earth; and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by signs that accompanied it;  for until the teaching is preached to all the earth, the signs were indispensable.  Exceptional signs were needed to represent and certify the truth of the message.  But excellent signs are not needed for those who accept the word through firm belief.  Who are these who have firm belief? They are those whose deeds bear witness to their faith.  ‘’Show Me your faith in your deeds,” He says.  “Who is faithful?  Let him manifest it with the deeds of his good life.”  For who will believe that he who commits wicked acts and is oriented to the earth and material things has a true, exalted, great, and heavenly understanding which is, so to speak, exactly what piety is?  Brethren, what does it profit a man to say that he has divine faith if he does not have deeds analogous to the faith?  What did the lamps profit the foolish maidens when they had no oil, in other words, the deeds of love and of compassion?  What did it profit that rich man who, when he was burning in the unquenchable flame because of his indifference to Lazarus, invoked the father of Abraham?  What did it profit that man to accept an invitation to the divine wedding and that incorruptible bridal chamber when he did not have a suitable garment of good deeds?  Of course, in so much as he believed anyway, he received an invitation and went to sit amongst those holy ones who were at the banquet.  But he also received the examination and was ashamed because he was clothed in the wickedness of his attitude and works, through which his hands and feet were tied and he was lowered to Gehenna where wailing and gnashing of teeth reverberates.  May no one who has the name of Christ experience such a thing. Rather let us all manifest a life analogous with the faith and enter the bridal chamber of unstained joy and eternal life with the saints, which is the resting place of all who perceive the true joy. 

Here ends St. Gregory’s homily on the Myrrh-bearers. In his homily, St. Gregory gives us much information and different concepts to consider. Many here would never even think to read the writings of the fathers of the early Church so it is good for us to hear them read here in Church. Many of the writings are lofty and written in language that is somewhat difficult to understand. But it is good for us to hear what they write because it expands our knowledge and deepens our faith. They also provide us with deeper insight into some of the complex issues and concepts of our faith which may sometimes perplex and confuse us.

Today’s Gospel is not only about the Myrrh-bearing women but of Joseph of Arimathea who, being a devout believer and disciple of the Lord, went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus so that he could bury it.

Between Joseph of Arimathea and the Myrrh-bearing women, there are two very important messages this morning’s Gospel imparts to us. The first is that of boldness. Joseph of Arimathea was very bold when he went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. He had courage; he was not afraid. Pilate was a very powerful man, and could be very cruel. Yet, Joseph was not afraid. He was determined to get what he wanted. And he did. Pilate gave him the body of Jesus. Like Joseph, we too must never be afraid to ask for what we want when it comes to doing what is right. We must be firm and adamant in the stands we take against evils like poverty, discrimination, human rights violations, etc. We must always have the courage to seek the better path and the common good of all people. A true disciple of Jesus Christ has a holy boldness, a boldness that is rooted solidly in the Truth, which is the Lord Himself. With the truth of Christ reigning in our hearts, there is nothing we should fear. We should be able to stand toe-to-toe with the most powerful people in our communities and with confidence and boldness, emboldened by the truth of the Gospel and the Spirit of Truth, speak truth to power and hold them accountable and demand from them what is right and just.

The second message that has been communicated to us this morning concerns faith. The faith of the Myrrh-bearing women shines like a bright light through the darkness of sorrow and grief. Nowhere in today’s Gospel reading do we hear anything spoken of doubt or disbelief. Though they were afraid, they did not doubt, but were amazed and rejoiced at the words of the angel. St. Gregory, in his homily on the Myrrh-bearers, gives us wonderful testimony to this. Faith carries us through all doubts; it dispels the clouds of doubt and allows us to see things that non-believers cannot see. Only through the eyes of faith do we become more fully aware of the eternal truths and things of God. The deeper our faith, the more clearly we see and understand things. The reality and certainty of events like the Resurrection, which many people today doubt and question and even deny, become so much clearer and stronger for a person of faith. This is because God reveals to the believer deeper knowledge and understanding of things relating to such truths like the Resurrection that unbelievers could not possibly grasp and understand.

So, for us as Orthodox Catholic Christians, we must develop the traits of boldness and confidence in ourselves and work to deepen our faith. Let us pray that God will deepen our faith and strengthen us so that we too may go forth with boldness and confidence and proclaim with great joy the Resurrection of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen.



Sunday, May 8, 2016

2016 Mother's Day Message

We have come together today, first and foremost, to honor the Lord Jesus Christ with our worship, but today is also a special day for us. This day, May 8th, is a time for us to honor our mothers, grandmothers, and the mothers of our children. This is a lifetime task, not one that can be confined to a two and a half hours worship service.

Today is a day for greetings and expressions of love. It is also a day for remembering.

Motherhood is a special gift from God. I do not believe that anything has ever been said, or ever will be said, that is eloquent enough or expressive enough to articulate the true value of a mother or convey the importance of motherhood.

Without a doubt, something miraculous happens when a woman gives birth to a child. It doesn’t matter if it is the first or sixth. When we see a new life being brought into the world because of the unselfish love of a mother, we see God’s work of creation coming to full fruition. Of course, we must also consider the father of the child in this act of bringing new life into the world, but we will be giving all fathers their special day of honor next month. Right now, though, we are thinking about and reflecting on our mothers.

As children, we relate to our mothers differently through the years. At age 4, we say, “My mom can do anything!” At age 12, “Mom doesn’t know everything.” At age 15, “mom doesn’t know anything!” At age 18, “Mom is touch of touch with the times.” At age 25, “Well, mom knows a few things.” At age 35, “Before we decide, let’s get Mom’s opinion.” At age 45, “I wonder what mom would say about this?” At age 65, “I wish I could talk to my mother.”

A mother has the angelic voice of a member of the celestial choir as she sings the Brahm’s lullaby to the babe held lovingly in her arms. Yet this same voice can dwarf the sound of an amplifier, when she calls her children in for supper or cheers them on at a softball game or soccer game.

So many times mothers display patience when many a man would have given up. There is a story I heard from another priest once. There was a mother pushing a shopping cart through Wal-Mart one day. Her little daughter was riding in the cart and she was continually screaming.
Her mom kept saying, “Now calm down Ellen. It will be all right, Ellen. It’s almost time to go home, Ellen.” One of the checkout clerks saw this and said, “Maam, you are to be commended at how patient you are with little Ellen.” The mom looked at the checkout clerk and said, “Lady, I am Ellen!” Yes, mothers have great patience and endurance.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you days may be long in the land.” (Exodus 20:12) St. Paul echoed these words in his letter to the Church in Ephesus, “Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:2-3) This is the first commandment with a promise.

Some may say, “But my mother wasn’t honorable!” Well, the Scriptures are clear. There is no qualification, no standard to be met. The only requirement to receive honor is that she is your mother.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, the commandment to honor your father and your mother is the only one of the Ten Commandments that comes with a promise. If you honor your mother, you will receive a blessing.

Beloved, Jesus honored His mother Mary, even as He hung upon the Cross. One of the last things He did on earth was to take care of His mother. Even in the dying moments of His life, he never stopped loving her.

“And there was standing near the Cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27).

The disciple whom Jesus loved we know to be the Apostle James, who eventually became the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Jesus tells James that Mary was now his mother. Jesus makes this statement in front of witnesses, which makes it binding. Thus, He formally places His mother under James’ protection, requiring him to provide for Mary after His death.

We are all called to hon or our mothers and to care for them right up until they are called home by God. This is our personal obligation. It is not an obligation we can put on others. No matter how difficult the task may be or however great the burden we, as children of our parents, are duty bound to provide for and care for them until their natural death. Those children who do so will find favor with God and will receive many blessings.

A mother is considered “old fashioned” to her teenager; just “Mom” to her seven year old; and simply “Mama” to her little two year old. But there is hardly a thrill in life that can compete with pointing to that wonderful woman and be able to say to all the world, “That is my mom!” “That is my mother!”

When a mother passes away, it is one of the most difficult things to go through. Mothers can leave a wonderful imprint on the lives of their children. Their lives and their actions speak volumes. Upon their passing, they leave an indelible mark on the lives of their children.

One day several years ago, I was out to dinner with a couple of priest friends of mine. We were discussing the Bible and the merits and weaknesses of the various translations of the Scriptures. One of those present told us a story about four ministers who had a similar discussion about the exact same subject. In the story, one of the preachers liked the King James Version of the Bible best because of its simple, yet beautiful, English prose. Another like the Revised Standard Version, which to him, while remaining faithful to the original source flowed much more easily off the tongue and was easier to read. The third liked the New International Version because of its modern language. When the fourth was asked his opinion, he was silent. When pressed for an answer, he replied, “I like my mother’s translation best.” The other ministers asked, “Your mother translated the Bible?” He replied, “oh yes, she certainly did! My mother translated the Bible into her everyday life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.” Thank God for mothers who live in and proclaim the faith of Jesus Christ!

Moments spent with mothers and grandmothers often become the foundation of memories that, in turn, become stories that are shared with the family for years to come. Most of us have fond memories of our mothers, grandmothers, and of home.

Mother and home; when you mention one you just automatically think of the other. No matter how difficult our lives may have been, and no relationship is ever perfect, it is the sounds, the sights and the smells of home and the memories of our mothers that keep us grounded: of screen doors banging in the summer time, of the aroma of cookies just out of the oven at Christmas time, or the smell of a favorite meal. Whatever it is, it is our parent’s house that is home; it is that place of acceptance, of safety, of assurance and reassurance, and most importantly, that place of unconditional love.

Few things are more powerful that the tears and the prayers of a mother. Few things are more tender than a mother’s hug or a compassionate touch. A godly mother translates the Scriptures into her everyday life. Like the most Blessed Virgin Mary, a mother gives unselfishly of herself and strives to walk in the way of the Lord.

The love a mother has for her child or children bears all things, even the most intense suffering and pain. It is not easy to be a mother, especially today. It is for this reason that we set apart one day of the year to pray for and honor our mothers, and our grandmothers and godmothers, both living and deceased. Each of them is so precious to us all.

My dear ones, let us take the time, not only today, but every day of our lives to give thanks to our mothers, grandmothers and godmothers. To those who are alive always show them your appreciation, respect and love. For those of you whose mothers, grandmothers and godmothers are dead, pray for them always; for your prayers are spiritual bouquets and gifts of love.

May Almighty God bless all the mothers, grandmothers and godmothers here present with us this morning and everywhere!

Christ is Risen!




Homily for St. Thomas Sunday

Christ is risen!
Cristu arrivisciutu esti!
Christos Anesti!

In the section of the Gospel of John right before today’s Gospel lesson, Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus and comes to the apostles and disciple and proclaims, “I have seen the Lord!” There could not be a more amazing announcement. Jesus, their teacher, master and friend has conquered death. Not only are they going to see Him again, but all of the promises that He made before His execution look like they are going to come true. The disciples respond by locking themselves away and hiding in fear.

We probably should not be too critical. How often do we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday and then stuff Him back into the tomb so that we can trot Him back out again in a year? How often do we proclaim the Resurrection on that one Sunday, only to return to our own doubts and fears of our own mortality on the following Monday and every day thereafter? We close our Easter vigil with an exuberant celebration of God’s victory over death, and then we quickly return to our everyday lives.

For Jesus’ closest friends, the apostles who only a few days before were made the first bishops of the Church, just hearing about the Resurrection was not enough to change their lives. Fortunately, God is relentless. While they sit huddled and locked away in a room, unbelieving and afraid, Jesus seeks them out. Their unlisted address and locked door are not enough to keep Him out.

In the blink of an eye, Jesus stands among His friends and says, “Peace be with you.” In their final meal together, Jesus had promised peace in the midst of tribulation (John 16:33). Now that the apostles and disciples are getting their first taste of the problems they will face for following Him, Jesus makes good on that promise. Jesus steps into the midst of their fears, and He offers them peace. But they remain speechless and astonished.

Perhaps, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, they thought they were seeing a ghost. Perhaps they had trouble believing that peace was possible in a world where people could get killed for preaching a message of peace and hope. Perhaps the idea of a resurrected savior was so hard to believe that they wanted more proof than simply seeing what looked like their dead friend come back to life.

Fortunately, Jesus does not give up on them. He shows them the scars in His hands and he shows them also the healed wound in His side. Jesus shows them that he is not an angel or an apparition, or a, illusion wrought from immense grief. He shows them that He is, indeed, the flesh and blood God who walked beside them, who suffered and died for them; and He still has the ugly marks to prove it. Finally, the disciples are convinced, and they rejoice. Hearing the good news had not done it. Seeing Jesus had not done it. It was only when they saw the marks in His hands and side that they finally believed.

We are the heirs to those disciples. Then Gospel we are commanded to preach is the story of their direct experience with God in the person of Jesus. We proclaim, “Christ is risen!” because we trust the witness of the apostles and disciples who encountered the risen Christ.

So are we better than them? After all, they were not willing to believe when Mary Magdalene told them she had see Jesus. They were not even willing to believe when they saw Jesus for themselves. They only believed when they saw the wounds He had suffered for them. Yet, thousands of years later, we believe because….because why? If you asked some people, they would say, “Well, just because. It’s faith. It’s not something you can explain.”

There is a lot more to it though. Something brings us back to this sacred place week after week. It is not just the good company or the chance to do meaningful community service.  It is certainly not the falling plaster, or the gaping hole in the floor, or the lack of heat or electricity. No, it is not any of these things that make us come back here week after week or even keep us away. The only reasonable explanation is that we come because somewhere along the way we have encountered a scarred and risen Savior in the life of the Church.

We may have glimpsed the risen Christ in a Sunday School teacher who always took the time to listen to our stories. Perhaps Jesus came to us in a sponsor for a 12-step program, or perhaps it was a priest who sat with us as we grieved the loss of a parent, spouse or child. A single person might not have been involved at all. It may be at this altar, where we are offered forgiveness, redemption, mercy, and hope, that we have encountered the scars and wounds of our Savior.

Remembering these encounters is part of the purpose of this season. During Great Lent, we journeyed with Jesus and His disciples into Jerusalem. In Easter, we prepare alongside them to leave Jerusalem for the rest of the world, going forth to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Part of that preparation is remembering those moments where we encountered the risen Christ. In Great Lent, we reflected on our sin and brokenness. In Easter, we reflect on how Jesus steps into that brokenness and draws us into new life.

Recognizing those places where we have encountered Jesus in our lives is about more than just honoring our own presence. When the disciples are finally convinced that they have met the real and physical Jesus, He repeats Himself. “Peace be with you,” He says again. Then, repeating the act of God in the Garden with the first humans, Jesus breathes on His disciples. In that moment, they become more than just the people who follow His teachings – they become the Church, united by the Holy Spirit.

Encountering the risen Jesus is not just about being a Christian or developing our own faith, it is about becoming the Church – the Body of Christ. Being the Body of Christ carries with it considerable responsibility. He has given us many commands: “Do this in memory of Me,” “Love one another as I have loved you,” “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” You may remember that in Luke’s gospel, the people who didn’t believe in Jesus criticized Him for offering forgiveness to people for their sins (Luke 5:17-26). Jesus responds to them by telling them that He has the authority from God to heal bodies and souls. He continues that ministry of healing and redemption today through His bishops and priests.
John, on the other hand, only talks about forgiving sins here. Writing much later than the other Evangelists, John is speaking to people who never met Jesus and might have never met anyone who met Jesus. He knows that they are looking for hope, for mercy, for healing. John explains to them and to us that Jesus passed that work on to the Church, on to the people who have encountered the scarred hands and wounds of the risen Christ.

That is another question of the Easter season. Not only do we ask how we ourselves have encountered Jesus, we ask how e as a church (little “c”) and as The Church (big “C”) are stepping into the role Jesus assigned to us. How are we offering healing and redemption to a broken world consumed by sin and guilt? If we are to be the Body of Christ, how are people we meet seeing the scarred hands and wounds of Jesus in us?

Let me repeat that question. If we are the Body of Christ, if we are Jesus’ physical presence, and if even Jesus’ closest friends did not believe until they saw the scars of His hands, then how will anyone ever come to Jesus if they do not see in us the wounded body of the risen Savior?

The next person to enter the story reminds us just how important that question is. Thomas shows up late to the gathering and does not get to see Jesus. When Thomas arrives, the Apostles tell him with excitement the same thing Mary Magdalene said to them, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas does not believe them. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and can put my fingers in His side, I will not believe.”

You cannot blame Thomas. Even though history has named him “Doubting Thomas,” his reaction was actually quite normal and maybe even expected. Remember that when Mary Magdalene carried the good news to the other disciples, they did not believe her either. Thomas is no different from the other Apostles and no different from us. He wants to experience part of the miracle, but he wants to touch the scarred hands and wounds of Jesus.

A week later, another Easter miracle occurs. Jesus comes back. When everyone is gathered again, Jesus reappears and for the third time offers them peace. Thomas is among them this time and Jesus turns to him and says, “Here are my hands, put your fingers in them and feel the scars from the nails. Here is my side, feel the mark where the spear pierced Me.”

Jesus came back. He came back for the one disciple out of many. Like a good shepherd who will not sleep until the entire flock is gathered is, Jesus comes back for the one person who needs to see Him. One person, one struggling, questioning believer – or wants to be a believer – is important enough for the Almighty Creator of the universe to come back and touch him and be touched by him. As with the other disciples, it is the scars that convince Thomas. It is the tangible signs that God wanted to present Thomas with, signs that make real God’s presence to him, signs that show God suffers with him, and that God, in the end, is triumphant and victorious.

One person, just one person mind you, is important enough for Christ to come back. And now, He has entrusted that responsibility to us. The breath of the Holy Spirit fills our lungs, the Body and Blood of Christ nourishes us at this table, and we are sent into this world to be the scarred hands of Christ. Christ, Who is love incarnate, lives in us, and we are to bring that love to a waiting and wanting world. The charity we give to others are the scarred hands of Christ. By seeking out those who are hurting, who are wanting, who are doubting, and loving them unconditionally, we show them the scarred hands of Christ. This is the ultimate reality. Christ gave Himself unselfishly and totally for our sake. Now, we are to do the same for others.

Who are the Thomas’ among us? Who are the ones in our church or in our families or in our offices or on the streets of our city who are waiting to touch the scarred hands of Christ? How many of them have written off the Church because it seems like an empty ghost or a meaningless flight of fancy? How many of them say, and rightly so, that they see no evidence of Jesus in the so-called Christians they meet?

Like all of the apostles and disciples, including Thomas and including us, they will not believe until they are able to physically touch the scarred hands of the savior. Those scars were there because Jesus took on the brokenness of the world with His body and ultimately, with His life.

The big questions this morning are these: “Where are the scars in our hands? Where is the scar in our side? If we are the Body of Christ, how are people encountering the risen Jesus in us?  What in our lives would cause people to say in joy, excitement and amazement, “Christ is risen!”

As we ask ourselves these questions, we should also remember that Jesus did not name any of us singly as the Body of Christ; he did not entrust just one disciple with the Holy Spirit. It is not the task of any one of us alone to take on the emptiness and hurt of the world; it is the task of all of us together, as the Church, to take on this important and necessary work.

Every person outside the doors of this church is important enough for the risen Jesus to come back and be present in their lives. Every person inside these walls is important enough as well, and for those of us who have lost sight of the risen Jesus, or who are here because we want to meet Him for the first time, the message of today’s Gospel is that God’s presence is real and touchable. God comes to us in the Eucharist; He is present to us each and every time we receive Him in Holy Communion. He fills us with Himself, with His love, with His strength, with His compassion and mercy.

We can be like Thomas and say, “ I will not believe unless…,” but what excuse will we have when we approach the Altar and receive the risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist? For those who believe, and for those who doubt, Christ is not only spiritually present among us but physically present among us and in us. This Eucharist which we celebrate are the scars of the risen Jesus made present for us to touch and feel. How can we possibly walk away and still not believe?

You, my children, are the scarred hands and side of Christ. The risen Christ dwells in you. Now you must bring Him to a waiting, wanting and broken people.

Christ is risen!
Cristu arrivisciutu esti!
Cristo e risorto!