Sunday, March 31, 2024

Should You Believe in the Resurrection?

I give the same homily whenever it's the first year that I preach on Easter in a parish. Every once in awhile we have to stop and ask why we're even here, doing this, believing that...Why? Every once in a while it's good to step back and ask the core questions again. Even to let ourselves doubt and wrestle with that.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Say Less

I didn't preach the parish Mass today, but I did cover the Spanish Mass in Tecumseh, so I'm just going to post the English text here. Yeah, sorry, no stumbling Spanish audio because 1) my desire for Lenten humiliation isn't that powerful, and 2) I never even considered recording it. But there are some benefits content-wise of having to switch languages. You know you'll be a lot slower. You know you can't ad lib. You know you can't use contemporary terms or references as much. Add that together and basically you're just allowed a little exposition and then make one point. Huh. Weird. How not-like-me.

Anyway, big shout out to my brother-in-law for fixing what Google Translate gets wrong and for crafting a much more "audience friendly" work than Spanish speakers would've ever had from me. There's no replacement for true expertise. 

Today we hear Jesus say: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." This is from the gospel of John, chapter three. 
There is one other time in the gospels that Jesus speaks of himself being lifted up. It is also from the gospel of John, in chapter twelve. And we will hear it next Sunday. Jesus says: "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." And Saint John adds the statement: "He said this indicating the kind of death he would die."

So, from these two quotes in this same gospel of John we know two things. Firstly, that when Jesus says “the Son is lifted up” he is referring to himself being crucified and lifted up high on the cross. 
And secondly, that him being lifted on the cross is to be thought of as being like when Moses lifted up the serpent up high on a pole.
But what is this story? Neither the readings today nor next Sunday give us that story. So here it the short version: "With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses. The Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people said to Moses: 'Pray the Lord to take the serpents from us.' So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a serpent like these and lift it on a pole.' Moses made a bronze serpent and lifted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived."   
So, Jesus is saying that when he is lifted up upon the cross, dying, he will be in some way like the bronze serpent. And that, like that metal serpent, he and his cross will give eternal life. 
This seems very strange. This seems like a strange comparison. Jesus did not hurt us. He did not poison us. He is not the cause of our suffering and death. 
This is true. But as with Moses, God is taking the power out of the deadly thing and making it somehow into the cure for the problem. It's like a vaccine. We take the weakened form of germs, of bacteria and viruses, and put them back into our bodies as a protection against the sickness. The serpent is deadly, but God makes the bronze serpent like a vaccine against the deadly danger. 
Now, Jesus is not the danger. He is not the problem. But death is the problem. Suffering is the problem. Sin is the problem. They are the serpents that have bit us all. Jesus breaks the power of sin and suffering and death by going to the cross. 

To the people of Jesus' time, the cross means certain death. It means maximum suffering and maximum shame. It is the death for slaves and rebels and criminals. When Jesus endures the shame and pain of the cross, he breaks the power of death, the power of sin. The cross is now the vaccine against death. It looks like death, in the same way that a weakened bacteria looks like sickness, but it is actually the cure. 
His death breaks our death. His death cures our death.