Monday, April 13, 2009

Preaching with hands and voice

Lay people, women or men, are not allowed to give the homily in the Roman Catholic church -- though canon law (and the complementary norms approved by the US bishops) allow them to preach on the scriptures outside of the Eucharistic celebration under some circumstances.

On Holy Thursday I stood up at morning prayer and preached -- not a homily, since I'm not ordained -- but a ... reflection? sermon? I'm not sure there's a good word for it. I regularly reflect on the scriptures in print so in some sense the ground I trod on Maundy Thursday was not unfamiliar, but it turns out that it is a one experience to write for a community I do not see and for the most part do not know, and quite another to stand before a community I know, who knows me and preach. I think it went well -- and it was nice to have the series of short homilies for morning prayer during the Triduum. There's generally no preaching at morning prayer the rest of the year.

For the record -- here's what I had to say:

The text (from morning prayer, Holy Thursday):

We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, that through God’s gracious will he might taste death for the sake of all. Indeed it was fitting that when bringing many children to glory God, for whom and through who all things exist, should make their leader in the work of salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2:9-10

The homily:

My youngest, Chris, is 7 weeks short of being a teenager, and in anticipation he is getting wiser by the minute. At dinner the other night he pushed a pile of green vegetables to one side of his plate, declaring firmly, “I don’t like these!” “Did you taste them?” Uh- no. In his wisdom he knows that tasting something is not a half-hearted exercise, it’s an all or nothing proposition. One bite or the whole thing, the taste is the same; its memory will linger on his tongue regardless.

In this reading from Hebrews, we are reminded that Christ tasted death for us - as an all or nothing proposition, it all its fullness and — and as we will hear tonight — offering to keep the taste of his death and our salvation alive for us in the Eucharistic we offer.

St. Cyril, a father of the Church and a fifth century patriarch of Alexandria suggests that Hebrew’s author was “stupefied” by this mystery of God in all his divinity electing our impoverished humanity with all its messiness and pain. Cyril reflects that Christ was willing to do this, even “…at times allowing his flesh to feel what is proper to it, in order to fill us with courage.” The psalms set out for this morning fittingly sing of strength and courage, and in the canticle from Isaiah we hear what Cyril will echo back to us centuries later, “My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.”

In his poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter, John Updike challenges us to face this reality of God who would willingly taste of our lives and suffer unto death:
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.
We must taste what Christ tasted for ourselves, not push it to the side or dilute it and thus be satisfied with mere pale memory. As we begin our celebration of the Triduum, let us walk through that door, and taste what has been prepared for us — our salvation. All of it.

1 comment:

  1. Whatever they call it, it's a beautiful reflection.