Monday, April 28, 2014


Duccio -- Road to Emmaus
The Gospel for this Sunday recounts one of the best known and most intriguing of Christ’s Resurrection appearances – the Road to Emmaus. It has inspired hundreds of artists, including great masters such as Titian, Caravaggio, Velasquez and Rembrandt. This popularity among painters made it a perfect subject for the world’s most famous art forgery – a ‘Disciples at Emmaus’ ostensibly by the celebrated Vermeer, but in reality by the unknown van Meegeren. What makes the episode so intriguing is its ordinariness. Last week’s Gospel of John related Christ’s appearance in an upper room behind locked doors. There is mysteriousness about this that provides the context for Thomas’s understandable doubts. Luke’s account of the Emmaus appearance is quite different. To begin with, these ‘disciples’ were not among the twelve, and though their sadness and puzzlement about the death of Jesus is palpable, the journey they are on seems to be for some practical purpose of everyday life. Most striking of all is this. Unlike the disciples in the upper room, they do not recognize Jesus straight away, but walk with him along the road for quite some time, assuming he is just another traveler. Their moment of recognition comes when they suddenly recognize the characteristic way in which he performs the familiar act of breaking a loaf of bread for supper.

Velasquez Supper at Emmaus

The appearance of Christ to these unnamed disciples resonates well with the vast majority Christians.  Ordinary people, who are neither saints nor mystics, may think and wonder about Jesus certainly, but most of the time they are just getting on with the business of life. The Road to Emmaus alerts us to the possibility that the presence of Christ in the world can be experienced in ordinary life too -- suddenly, and surprisingly, as He is revealed in the people and events of everyday. Often this will be in unexpected places, or even, as Mother Theresa memorably said, in ‘his most distressing disguise’.

Modigliani -- The Servant

These little ‘epiphanies’ invite us to repeat the same ‘question and answer’ that we find in today’s reading from Acts -- “What should we do?”. Peter’s answer to his hearers was “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven”. For those who were baptized long ago, often in infancy, this cannot be the immediate response. Nevertheless, as the practice of renewing baptismal vows implies, we need to acknowledge again and again the truth of which the Epistle reminds us  -- that we have been saved from futile ways of life by the ‘death of Jesus’, and not by any ‘silver or gold’, even if this is what much of our time is spent trying to secure. Grasping this deep truth requires spiritual renewal. The Disciples at Emmaus provide a compelling model of how that can happen. With such renewal we are enabled once more to make our own voices the voice of today’s Psalmist “O LORD, I am your servant. You have loosed my bonds.”

Monday, April 21, 2014


The Apostles going forth to preach -- Limbourg brothers

This story from Acts starts with an extract of the speech that Peter made in the market place shortly after the disciples’ explosive experience on the Day of Pentecost. His speech is widely regarded as the earliest and definitive statement of the Christian ‘kerygma’ -- the essential Gospel, or Good News of redemption in Christ. This extract leaves out the context – that people had dismissed the disciples’ enthusiasm as drunkenness, a charge which Peter is anxious to rebut – in order to highlight the point Peter is most anxious to make – that Jesus stood in King David’s line, but brought the Messiahship of God to a fulfillment far surpassing even David’s greatness. Since, as most in his audience would have known, Jesus had recently been crucified as a criminal, this is quite a claim, and powerful evidence of the dramatic difference that the Resurrection had made to both the theology and the psychology of the disciples.

St Peter -- Durer

The Epistle may or may not have been written by Peter himself, but it conveys the same vibrant message to a fledgling church, this time in the form of a song of praise rather than a sermon. In these few beautiful sentences we witness a transition from theology to liturgy – and indeed, thanks to the 19th century English cathedral composer S S Wesley, this text has become one of the most widely sung choral anthems for Easter.

The Incredulity of St Thomas -- Caravaggio
The Gospel passage for this Sunday has also stimulated great art – Caravaggio’s famous painting of ‘doubting’ Thomas examining the wound in Jesus’ side. Its slightly chilling realism is a powerful reminder of how, taken past a certain point, doubt can shut us off from wonder. Thomas insists that he must see the bodily evidence with his own eyes. The post-Resurrection appearances of a bodily Jesus, however, proved to be a special gift to a very few disciples. The strange fact of the Resurrection, and the significance of its redeeming power – in short, the ‘mystery of faith’ that Christians proclaim Sunday by Sunday – is waiting to be experienced in the Body of Christ that is given to us sacramentally, and available to all who will receive it in penitence, trust and adoration.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Lent and Holy Week culminate in the 'Triduum Sacrum', the three holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The intensity of the Triduum offers those who observe it the best possible spiritual preparation for Easter Day. The readings for each of the days are the same every year, and  traditional liturgies reflect the events that figure in those readings -- the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and Christ's Sabbath rest in the tomb.

The word 'Maundy' is a corruption of  the Latin 'mandatum novum', the 'new commandment' that Jesus gives his disciples to 'love one another'. The tradition of foot washing that takes place on this day is a symbolic expression of obedience to that command, and a reflection of what happened in the Upper Room. But the main focus is on the gift of the Eucharist, which is why Maundy Thursday has a celebratory character that the other days of Holy Week lack. READ MORE

Good Friday is the only day of the year in which the Church does not permit celebrations of the Eucharist lest this should detract from the supreme sacrifice that took place on the Cross. Instead, after the story of the Crucifixion according to John is read, people are invited to express  their veneration of the Cross in the physical action of kneeling before it, and to participate once more in the Last Supper by receiving communion from the elements consecrated on Maundy Thursday. READ MORE

Although nowadays Holy Saturday is often used for children's Easter egg hunts, it ought really to be a day of quiet reflection and prayerful waiting, ending in the Great Vigil of Easter, possibly the most ancient of all Christian festivals. See also READ MORE

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


    Palm Sunday -- Octavio Ocampo

    LITURGY of the PALMS


    Though still commonly called Palm Sunday, in modern liturgical practice the Sunday before Easter Day is referred to as ‘The Sunday of the Passion’. This is because it is the first liturgical observance in the season of Holy Week and Easter when a Gospel narrative of the sufferings (passion) of Jesus is read.  The older title is not lost, however. This Sunday is unique in the Lectionary because it prescribes two Gospels, and the first of these -- for the Liturgy of the Palms – tells the story of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover. Riding on a donkey, and greeted with enthusiasm by a crowd waving palm branches, it is traditionally described as his ‘triumphal entry’.

    It is only once modern worshippers have re-enacted this scene, and taken part in their own procession, that they listen to the Passion narrative – usually read or sung in a dramatic form by a number of different voices. Though this second Gospel, whether in the full or the abbreviated form, is much longer, the first is crucial in establishing the shape of our journey to Easter. On Palm Sunday we begin with triumph, but it is short lived – and hollow. The Bible readings for days that follow in Holy Week reflect the rising tension, and contention, that surrounds Jesus. It culminates, finally, in his betrayal, trial and death.

    Jesus Christ -- Octavio Ocampo
    It is vitally important to see that in this intervening period, his enemies not merely gain the upper hand; in the world’s terms they are also victorious. What better outcome for those who see Jesus as a radical traitor to their faith, and a threat to their political security, than that he should be killed in the brutal way reserved for the worst of criminals? And what greater evidence of his missionary failure, than that his most loyal disciples abandon him in fear and wretchedness, and even deny that they ever knew him?

    It is only when we grasp the depth of the degradation, pain and failure, to which Jesus is subjected, together with the strength of his unwavering obedience to God, that we can understand both the shallowness of his ‘triumphal’ entry on Palm Sunday, and the significance of his Resurrection on Easter Day. By this mighty act God shows where true victory is to be found. It remains, of course, for us to find the grace to long for it.

    Octavio Ocampo (b. 1943) is one of Mexico's most prolific painters.