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Thursday, May 8, 2014

TBT - Mystagogy from the early 1990s

I wrote this for the parish bulletin on the 2nd Sunday of Easter at St. Jerome's in Phoenix, no later than 1992 or 1993. It's slightly edited to remove some proper names. Don't miss the little (rare!) clip of Timmie Rogers linked below, probably from Ed Sullivan or Jackie Gleason. Took me forever to find it.

I remember so vividly from my childhood a black comedian named Timmie Rogers whose humor would make my father howl. He had a regular “schtick” in the course of which he would sing a little song that had the words, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die, oh yeah.” This witticism from Rogers whose name I don’t even remember now strikes me as a particularly deep theological insight.
"Still Doubting," John Granville Gregory

         Of all the oppressors that confound our sense of justice, death is the most relentless, the one that makes the least sense. The young and healthy can romanticize about the “good death” of one who has lived a “long and useful life,” but I suspect that for most of the elderly death is an unacceptable alternative to life. That doesn’t even begin to discuss the problem we have with death overtaking the young, the unborn, the innocent, the healthy, mothers, children, families, nations, and even whole races.

         In church talk at this time of year, we want to hear about being “rescued from death.” We hear this in homilies, read it in literature, and sing it in songs. Sometimes I think that what we mean by that phrase is that we expect to be rescued before death, that is, saved from the experience of losing life completely. Life is the thing that we cling to most tenaciously. Some psycholo­gists testify that the instinct to preserve one’s own life is the strongest in­stinct in the animal kingdom.

         Thomas encounters a Jesus today who was killed and is now alive. He was not “rescued from death” by the Father. Death had him with both hands, had begun to devour him, when God reached into this tomb and pulled him out. God transformed his death into something else: into resurrection life. Jesus wants Thomas and all of us to be very clear about it, asking Thomas to touch the wounds that he has so that he might believe that he is the same Jesus, once dead, now alive.

         We, however, frail in life and suspicious of God, want to rush to resurrection, bypassing death like a dark and ominous alley. We want “cheap grace,” with all the gain, and none of the pain. We speak of death romantically, as a mys­tical doorway through which we might pass to a new and better life. The truth is the death is death. It is the wrenching separation from all that is familiar and intimate to us, separation from our consciousness. And God will not “save us” from that experience. God shows up to “save us” from death three days late, like God did with Jesus, and like Jesus did with Lazarus.

         There is a lot of dying go­ing on. We’ve lost some friends and family to the big Death this year. And there is the other death of losing good friends as jobs, homes, and relationships shift and change. We can’t explain it. Death is death. Life is terminal. In the most cosmic sense, death is unfair. Generally, so is life.

         Today, Jesus invites us to touch his wounds and believe. Jesus, the victim of brutal regime well-practiced in the grisly business of capital punish­ment, is not dead, but alive. To go to heaven, I guess, we have to die. Real death. Real wounds. We can take home with us the comfort of neophytes’ smiles, a vision of white first communion dresses, and maybe the memory of a song. Scared, gathered in darkness, surrounded by the of imagined security of our locked doors, we hear again the voice of one who we thought was gone forever: “Peace be with you,” are his first words to us.


         Those who believe the man, let’s touch those real wounds and forget our imagined ones. Someone get busy and get the fellow something to eat.