Our efforts cultivating the fruit of the earth were modest at best, because growing up in Brooklyn meant not have having much gardening space. In our backyard, we had a few small rectangles of soil in which to plant our hopes for fresh vegetables and herbs. We experimented with everything from eggplants to pumpkins, but what I remember most is the tomato plants tended by my father and grandfather, taller than me at the time and filled with beautiful ripe tomatoes. That such a prodigious crop could come from so tiny a handful of seeds never ceased to amaze me. And after we had planted the seeds for next season, I waited with a mixture of hope and awe for what seemed like a miracle, new tomato plants rising from the ground in which the seeds were buried.
Nowadays, many of us who live in cities don’t consider anything about our food very miraculous, and we probably aren’t familiar with placing all our faith in a seed. But the lives of our ancestors, certainly in Jesus’ time, were intimately woven with nature’s cycles of death and new life. The fruit of each plant gives its life for the rich potential of its seeds, and each seed itself must die so to bring forth new growth. Continue reading →
Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University. Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture in which we live. I remember being surprised to hear him say that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake. Tonight we will understand why this is true.
Tonight we watch in wonder as the only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. Tonight we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant. The King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples. Continue reading →
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
This one phrase from John’s Gospel encapsulates the essential sprit of what we call the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection to New Life. On this Tuesday evening in Holy Week, these words are also something like a “preview of coming attractions,” awakening our hopes and grounding our intentions as we prepare for the single, liturgical arc of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.
We believe that our sincere and wholehearted participation in this liturgical drama is one of the central means by which we participate in the saving work of Christ. This is the unfolding drama of how, in his own particular life and flesh, Jesus underwent the human experiences of suffering and death and was, in defiance of all expectation, raised from death by the One he called Father. As a liturgical tradition, we do not simply re-enact or reminisce about very significant events that happened long ago in ancient Palestine. No. To see what we are doing as pious commemoration would be to keep the Crucified at a safe distance in the historical past, separate from ourselves. Rather, the unboundaried space opened to us as the assembled body of Christ invites us truly to enter the sacred, inner dynamic of the events by which we have been claimed and marked as His own forever. On a personal level, this week invites us into a more intimate, transformative encounter with the mystery of our own suffering, death, and resurrection. Each of us has undergone, and will yet undergo, countless passions, deaths, and resurrections – in churches, yes, but also in hospitals and office buildings, by bedsides and firesides, under the open sky and around kitchen tables. Though these experiences are potential fountainheads of meaning through our union with Christ, many of them go unnamed as such and so their graces remain unrealized. In the chapter from our own Rule entitled “Holy Death,” we receive this reminder: “Week by week, we are to accept every experience which requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.” This is the paschal mystery writ small, in lowercase letters, across the individual history of every child of God. The small mystery enclosed within one’s own skin is grounded afresh in the Great Mystery of Christ’s Body by reading our small print alongside the bold, capital letters of this week’s unitive liturgical action. Continue reading →
It is hard to believe that a week from tomorrow marks one year since my brothers Curtis, John, Luke, and I embarked on a journey to the Holy Land to lead a pilgrimage. Each of us brothers prepared two reflections to give at designated sites during our two week journey. I was assigned to give my first meditation at ‘The Shepherd’s Field,’ in the countryside just outside of Bethlehem where tradition says the shepherds would have encountered the great angelic hosts proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth. My second meditation I gave at the teardrop-shaped church on the Mount of Olives called ‘Dominus Flevit,’ which is Latin for “The Lord wept.” It was here that I could begin to piece together in my mind the scene we celebrated at the beginning of this morning’s liturgy. Continue reading →
During Holy Week 2014, the Brothers offered a daily “Holy Week School of Prayer”: short videos offering suggestions on how to pray and experience that day’s liturgy. Click on the links below to view each day’s video.
“Pay attention to what happens in the next few days. Pay attention to what goes on around you and within you. Pay attention to the water on your feet and the roughness of the towel in your hand. Pay attention to the softness of the bread and the sting of the wine in your throat. Pay attention to the brusqueness of the kiss and the splinters of the cross. Pay attention to the coldness of the tomb and the terror that clutches your heart. Pay attention to the brightness of the dawning light and the life that bursts forth.“
– Br. James Koester
On Tuesday in Holy Week at the Monastery, we celebrate the Eucharist in the evening. This evening gathering around the Lord’s Table invites us to join the disciples at the Upper Room, sharing a meal with the Lord.
We reflect together on the words of used at the presentation of the Bread and Cup here at the Monastery, which derive from St. Augustine’s Sermon 57, On the Holy Eucharist: Behold what you are. May we become what we receive.
These words point to one of the deep truths of Christian faith: Through our participation in the sacraments (particularly baptism and Eucharist), we are transformed into the Body of Christ, given for the world.
How is God transforming you into Christ’s Body and giving you to the world?
“Wherever in your life is victory; there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is joy, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is wonder, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is resurrection, there is Christ calling you to follow him out of death into his larger and more glorious life.” – Br. James Koester
The Great Vigil of Easter is the most solemn and ancient liturgy of the entire year. It is the culmination of Lent and Holy Week, and the Triduum.
Ring the bells! Worshippers at the Great Vigil of Easter ring handbells as we sing God’s Paschal Lamb at the beginning of the first Eucharist of Easter and during the singing of Jesus Christ is Risen Today. The tradition of silencing church bells on Maundy Thursday and ringing them again on Easter Day likely reflects an even more ancient custom of keeping silence before a spring equinox or a winter solstice, then celebrating it with a joyous celebration of light and sound announcing that the darkness has fled and that new life is coming back into the world. We know that this is true on Easter Day.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“Love Reborn” – Br. James Koester
We should all be standing on a street corner today throwing our hats, or gloves, or coats or even our surplices into the air, because hope and forgiveness and love are reborn, and we want the world to know. Alleluia.
“Those Five Words” – Br. James Koester
Those five words turned the world upside down. They renewed love. They restored hope. They rekindled courage. “I have seen the Lord.”
“From Still Days to Dawn” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
We stand with the women at the empty tomb, at the dawn of universe, at the threshold of Life.
“A Cause For Great Joy” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
On Easter, we celebrate that Jesus has called us brothers, as he rolls the stone away from our hearts.
“Court Robes” – Br. Mark Brown
Even as we face the messiness of past, present, and future, we proclaim the glorious news.
“Joy Comes in the Morning” – Br. David Vryhof
The evidence for the Resurrection lies not in the empty tomb, but in the encounters of the first disciples with the Risen Lord.
“The Power of God” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
The power of God, which raised Jesus to life, which is more powerful than anything else in all creation, is the power of love.
“Shekinah” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
We need all the help we can get to keep us awakened to the wonder and significance of Easter: that “because he lives, we live also.”
“About the only thing we can say for sure is that the fruit of our resurrection, our rising by Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, is to live our lives as prayers of thanksgiving, bearing witness to God’s Truth, reflecting the Light of Christ, and serving in the Spirit of Love. So, show me your resurrection. Or, better yet, let’s show each other. Let’s show the world.”
– Br. Nicholas Bartoli
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting, anticipation, and preparation for Easter. We know that Jesus is in the Tomb.
An ancient homily for Holy Saturday, which you can listen to below, meditates on the mystery of this day: “Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.”
You might pray today with stillness, silence.
What parts of you are dying? What parts of you are waiting for new life?
Consider what in your life is giving you life right now – and give thanks. Consider what is draining or destroying life in you right now. As we await the glory of Easter, ponder what God’s invitation to ‘new life’ might look like in your present circumstances.
“The cross bears us and the weight of the world. Nothing is too much. Here is our hope: everything is held and healed on this broken body which the Good Shepherd chose to lay down for us. ‘Look on the one whom they have pierced.’”
– Br. Luke Ditewig
Good Friday marks the second day of the Triduum (from the Latin for ‘three days’), the day on which we commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and death.
The worship offered at the Monastery is in fact a continuation of the liturgy begun last night and it will not ‘end’ until the Great Vigil of Easter. The vesture of the sacred ministers is deep red, accented with black, recalling the solemnity and sobriety of the day, and the Gospel according to John is chanted to an ancient tone, which you can hear below.
The liturgy crests as a cross is carried in and venerated by the gathered congregation. All depart in silence to the awkward waiting of Holy Saturday and the restrained anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter.
How will you stand beside Jesus in his hour of greatest need?
“Look at Love” – Br. Luke Ditewig
Would you rather turn away from the Cross? Br. Luke encourages us, “Admit your fear or grief or confusion, your guilt and shame.” And look at love on the Cross.
“Life out of Death” – Br. Curtis Almquist
We are not spared the experience of the cross, we are shared the experience. And the only way to survive the many deaths of this life is to surrender to Christ, taking him at his word: that life comes out of death.
“Love Upon a Cross” – Br. David Vryhof
We have been captured by this love, smitten and overwhelmed by this love, changed and transformed by this love. And how could it not be?
“Life By His Death” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our greatest hope in Jesus is that however dark the day, even as dark as Good Friday, we can look in confidence and trust to the cross. “For he hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”
“Will you stay a little longer, reclining on His bosom; accepting the invitation to have your feet washed; following him to the cross and waiting in the wee hours of the morning for the sun to rise? If you have the courage to stay with Jesus, you may find as the Easter sun shines through these stained glass windows that the identity of the beloved disciple all this time has been you.”
– Br. Jim Woodrum
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the holiest three days in an already holy week. The liturgy commemorates the humility of the Lord in his willingness to do the most lowly of tasks.
The word maundy is an English corruption of the Latin mandatum, from the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gives his disciples after washing their feet, an event we reenact and remember in the liturgy. At the conclusion of our Eucharist, we are invited, as were the first disciples, to watch and pray with the Lord on the night before his crucifixion and death. We keep watch through the night, here at the moment of Jesus’ greatest need. On Maundy Thursday, as you are fed by God’s body and blood, pray for your deepest need. As your feet are washed, ask God to bring healing to what is broken in you.
“Jesus knew that the only way to explode the myth of death and sacrifice was to undermine it by entering into it. To prove to us that we will live even when we seem to die. To defeat the myth from within by showing us that ultimately God has nothing to do with death or with our sacrifices.”
– Br. Robert L’Esperance
On Wednesday, the Brothers pray the ancient monastic office of Tenebrae, a service that derives from the monastic services of matins and lauds. The liturgy uses darkness and the gradual extinguishing of candles, until only a single candle remains, a symbol of our Lord. The service provides an opportunity for sustained reflection on the Lord’s suffering and death.
This liturgy, parts of which you can listen to below, is a choral offering, with chanted psalms and canticles set to plainsong and chanted lessons from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet). As you listen, you might light a candle, allowing its light to inspire your meditation.
In what ways has Jesus’ coming penetrated the darkness of your own life? In what ways are you blind, or unable to see?
“The Identity of the Beloved Disciple” – Br. Jim Woodrum
“Who are you in this story?” Br. Jim Woodrum asks, inviting us to step into the gospel and find our own place – and responses – to the story unfolding.
“In the Shadows” – Br. Luke Ditewig
Jesus was troubled, sad, and afraid – as we all are. This night invites us to linger in the darkness with him.
“Live As Though Death Does Not Matter” – Br. Robert L’Esperance
An invitation to see Jesus’ death on the cross not as sacrifice, but as the ultimate teaching of Jesus’ core message: we do not have to live our lives as death’s victims.
“And It Was Night” – Br. James Koester We only know the relief of dawn when the terrors of the night have kept us awake, so spend some time today in the darkness.
“Why do those who speak the truth, who champion the cause of the poor, who offer hope to the downtrodden, so often become the targets of insults, persecutions, and violent attacks? We wouldn’t expect it to be this way, but so often it is. Perhaps it makes sense, then, for God’s Servant to enter into the dark rhythms of the human condition; perhaps it’s the only way they can be challenged and undone, once and for all.”
– Br. David Vryhof
Monday in Holy Week offer a pause, a chance to recollect from the drama of yesterday before plunging into the sacred events to come.
What are the lessons Holy Week has to offer you this year?
Since Holy Scripture is the living word of God, as we encounter again the events of the final week of Jesus’ life, look for those passages, those haunting details of the story that seem to rise up from the page to snare your attention, things you had not noticed before. Ponder what special meaning these passages might hold for you this year? Why is God bringing them to your attention at this time? What might God be saying to you? Take time to meditate on these questions. Be especially alert to listen because God will be speaking to us through the liturgies, through scripture, homilies and also in other unexpected ways this week.
Praying Your Way Through Holy Week: A Meditation – Br. Eldridge Pendleton
God who loves us so much and continually delights in our creation, is continually offering us grace in the form of answered prayers, healing, reconciliation, hope and deeper faith, and in the Paschal mystery has given us the means to triumph over death. Two practices to deepen your awareness of this love during Holy Week.
“Just as God was entrusted into human hands in the Incarnation, hands that carefully, lovingly swaddled, fed, caressed and held him, so also the Son of Man is betrayed into human hands that will slap, bind, torture, and nail him to a cross. It is our hands that betray this Son of Man. Our hands betray the one who made us with his own hands. ”
– Br. Keith Nelson
On Palm Sunday, we begin the journey to Calvary that we will live out across the next week. We are invited to join the crowd in shouting “Hosanna” and “Crucify.” And we are invited to accompany our Lord in the dramatic events of his final days.
The psalmist says that “weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning!” (Ps. 30:5) And there is no more joyous morning for Christian people than this morning, the morning of Resurrection!
Through Lent and Holy Week, we have symbolically passed through a “night of weeping” in which we followed Jesus on the Way of suffering and death so that we might share with him the joy that comes on this morning! We are disciples of this Way that he both lived and taught – the way of dying and rising. We have identified ourselves with him, and with this Way – and we have found it to be the Way that leads to Life! Continue reading →
Today is the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week. Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Alleluia!
It was still very early in the morning, Luke tells us, with just the first streaks of dawn, when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women, came to the tomb in order to carry out the last offices of love for their beloved Jesus, and to embalm his body with their spices.
But, to their amazement, when they got to the tomb, they found that the stone had been rolled away. They looked inside and the body was gone. Continue reading →
Click on the player above to hear the recording.
The Passion Gospel is sung by:
Br. Jim Woodrum (Narrator)
Andrew Sinnes, SSJE Intern (Jesus)
Noah Van Niel (Pontius Pilate, the crowd, and other voices)
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. Continue reading →