Lent – Cycle B

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle B

23 March 2024

Reflecting on Phil. 2: 6-11

You probably didn’t realize it, but in the Philippians reading this weekend we heard perhaps the oldest hymn in Christendom. Certainly the earliest Christians sang the psalms every day, and probably even a musical version of the crossing of the sea on holy days in the Temple. But Paul’s recitation of the hymn of kenosis―the self-emptying―of Christ on the cross suggests he knew that this beloved hymn was being sung by the Church at Philippi, which was the earliest Christian community in Europe.

Perhaps it was the On Eagle’s Wings of the first century―a well-known hymn that everyone could probably sing by heart with a little help. But why did Paul choose to include it in his letter? I wonder if its beautiful prelude is a key: though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.

Paul, that super-educated Jew, that Pharisee who studied with the greatest rabbi of his day, that tri-lingual missionary par excellence, eventually admits in this letter that all of that perfect pedigree is just “worthless refuse.”  The only thing that matters is that he gain Christ, and be found in him.

Let this mind be also in you, he writes. Don’t compete with each other. Don’t think that whatever status you hold in the world means anything in the kingdom of God. Christ, who was God, chose to take the form of a slave. So it must be with you.

Our western culture is crazy for fancy letters behind our names. Somehow that means we have accomplished something. But at our deaths we only need three letters: F.I.H.

Found in Him.

In what ways are you making sure you are found in him?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

16 March 2024

Reflecting on Jeremiah 31:31-34

There are two commandments. The first is the exterior commandment, imposed by exasperated parents: don’t hit your brother. That law lasts as long as it takes mom or dad to leave the room, and then all manner of hitting resumes.

The interior law comes later, hopefully, and it forms inside our own hearts: Don’t hit my brother. It hurts his feelings, and makes me feel terrible. The reward for observing both those laws comes later still: warm, honest, loving relationships among siblings, long after their parents have gone to God, with Easter tables filled with loving aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.

There are other exterior laws which are broken every day, sometimes with a terrible cost. Drive the speed limit. Don’t drink and drive. But it’s only when we internalize those laws, and truly reckon what our lives would be like if we killed someone because we violated those laws, that the likelihood of us ever breaking our interior rule to observe safe driving is very, very small.

The exterior commandment is to not bear false witness against your neighbor. But the interior commandment, which forms in our hearts over time, is to not pass on any kind of gossip at all, true or not. That’s the hard one, but, since gossip kills, we learn to treat gossip like a gun, and we train ourselves internally to never arm ourselves with such a deadly weapon.

Jeremiah knew that the Law Moses brought down from the mountain was only effective if it was written in our hearts. And how do we know it’s written there? If we know that God has forgiven us. If you still feel judged, who’s doing the judging?

Have you ever confessed to breaking one of your interior rules?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

9 March 2024

Reflecting on Chronicle 36:14-16, 19-23

What an ironic moment in history, when King Cyrus the Persian overtook the mighty Babylonians. Do you remember that scary story about the banquet that King Belshazzar hosted? He had all the sacred vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem brought in so he, and his wives, and consorts, and concubines, and consorts could drink wine in them. What a travesty!

But then, Suddenly… the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace. Everyone was struck with terror. Finally, someone called for Daniel, the famous Jewish man who had been brought to Babylon in his youth. He knew immediately what the writing meant:

You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. King Belshazzar died that very night, the invading Persians routed the Babylonians from the land, and King Cyrus took power (Daniel 5).

The Jews, held in captivity for fifty years, must have rejoiced to see their enemies vanquished. But listen! King Cyrus said the most astonishing thing. He admitted that God had given everything to him, and even charged him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem! And then, this most astonishing sentence: Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him” (2 Chronicles 36:23).

And thus began the great journey home, and the long task of rebuilding the Temple and their homes. All because the one they thought was their enemy turned out to be a greater friend than many of their own prophets and kings. Isn’t that sometimes the way? This Lent, ask for the grace to see the gifts your “enemies” might be giving you.

What is God saying to you through your “enemies”?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

3 March 2024

Reflecting on John 2: 13-25

I always get a chill when I read the last lines of today’s gospel: Jesus knew human nature well.

Oh, dear. What do you know about us, Jesus? Since you were absolutely human, did you share in the nature of our deep human need to protect those we love?

When you wept over Jerusalem, you cried that you longed to gather her children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but they were not willing to be gathered (Mt. 23:27).

And when the soldiers of the high priest came to arrest you in the Mount of Mount of Olives, you asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And you answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go” (John 18:8).

And, in Matthew’s account of this same event, when the men stepped forward, seized you and arrested you, one of your companions (and we know from John’s gospel that it was Peter) “reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.”

 “Put your sword back in its place,” you said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26: 51,52). 

And it’s Luke, of course, who gives us the rest of the story, which shows your compassion for ALL people, even though arresting you and taking you to your terrible death: “Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him” (22:51). 

Ah! That’s the human nature we long for, Jesus. The nature that forgives, and heals, and puts our swords away. Gather us, Jesus. We are willing.

How are you working to heal gun violence in our country?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

Second Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

25 February 2024

Reflecting on Genesis 22:1-2,9a, 10-13, 15-18

Okay, let’s take that Genesis reading and stare it down. It’s awful. And it’s not about what we thought at all. Whew.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. If any person attempted to “sacrifice” their son because God demanded it, we would quickly remove the child and get the parent psychiatric help.

This is precisely what God is doing in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. The entire story is meant for the ears of the neighbors, those terrifying Canaanites who killed their firstborn sons in huge numbers in order to prove to the gods of rain and harvest that they were seriously devoted to them.

See how the Canaanites behave? It shall never be this way with you, says the God of Abraham.  It’s God’s way of removing the children from the scary parents.

When Abraham allowed Sarah to cast Hagar out into the wilderness (along with his firstborn son Ishmael, a thirteen-year-old) he did so because God assured him they would survive.

Years later it was Isaac’s turn to be endangered, as he himself had become thirteen (the threshold of adulthood).

The same God who proved trustworthy earlier was demanding Abraham sacrifice his second son as a sign of devotion to him. Would the God who was faithful then be faithful now?

This isn’t about a sociopathic god requiring the blood of children. It’s about life’s most important question: can God be trusted in our lives and in our deaths?

We’ve all stood at the grave. Like Ishmael and Isaac, we’ve stood at the threshold of death. Can God be trusted to bring life from death? That’s the big question in this Lent’s gospels. Take heart, and wait.

Can God be trusted with your life?

Kathy McGovern ©2024

First Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

18 February 2024

Reflecting on Genesis 9:8-15

Sometimes it seems like God is shouting, “I’m here! I am with you! Our covenant still stands!”

It’s easy to see God in Colorado, but sometimes even natives like me nearly drive off the road for the shocking beauty of those mountains, blanketed in white. It can take your breath away.

The biggest shock I ever got while driving was two summers ago. Coming home, driving southwest, listening to the radio, I somehow sensed a presence outside my driver-side window. I turned my head and BAM, right outside my window, just parallel to  my car, was the brightest, biggest, closest rainbow I’ve ever seen.

I gasped, and gaped, and then laughed out loud. The song I was listening to was “Drawn to You,” by Sarah Hart. Do you know it? It’s so beautiful. I had just listened to the refrain:

Drawn to you, Lord we  are drawn to you. To the beauty of your presence in this place.*

Ha! The beauty of God’s presence was practically in my CAR, following along with me until I turned to the west and it fell out of sight. Nature mediates grace, doesn’t it? The natural world is God’s delivery system for grace. And rainbows are, in my experience, the MOST beloved God-winks of all.

The next time you notice a rainbow pin on someone, take a minute to ask them about it. I’ll bet they have a touching story about how a rainbow, appearing in the sky at the perfect moment, let them know that their deceased loved one was with God.

Our all-knowing God set rainbows in the sky for us to gasp, and gape, and to know that we are held by a loving God.

Tell someone your own rainbow story today.

Kathy McGovern ©2024

©Sarah Hart 2009 published by OCP

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle B

27 March 2021

Reflecting on Mark 14: 1-15:47

Suffering. The experience of it often supersedes the relief we feel when it is over. Somehow we participate in the stern forty days of Lent, with its ashes and palms, with more fervor than in the glorious fifty days of Easter, suffused as they are with baptismal gowns, First Communion clothes, and Confirmation robes.

We’re not alone. The Passion Narrative was, most probably, the earliest part of each of the four gospels to be written. Was it closer to the hearts of the evangelists than even the Resurrection Accounts? Tradition believes that St. Peter was the eyewitness behind Mark’s gospel (I Peter 5:13). It’s touching to think that Peter wanted to make sure Mark wrote down how Peter denied Jesus. He didn’t want later historians to give him a pass.

I do know this for sure: Mark the Evangelist knows how the story ends while he’s writing his Passion. You bet he does. Only Mark has a young man follow Jesus after the arrest, and when they seize his cloak, he runs away naked (14:51).

I loved it when early commentaries suggested that it was Mark, writing himself in as a terrified, hidden disciple. But I love this theory even more: we see that young man again, and this time he isn’t terrified at all. He’s powerful, and robed in white, and sitting on the rolled-away stone of the Empty Tomb. “Go tell Peter what you saw,” he says (Mk. 16:7).

That’s the Good News, shouted through the ages, and, in Mark, announced by one who was, just days ago, running for his life. He’s running in a different direction now, that angel. He’s running towards you, towards me.

Run, boy. Run.

Are you sure you know how the Story ends?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Fifth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

20 March 2021

Reflecting on Psalm 51

Create in me a clean heart, and renew Your Spirit within me. Imagine waking up on the Fifth Sunday of Lent with the open, wide-eyed wonder of your childhood self. With just a bit of guidance, you could see God’s work everywhere, and the rivers of joy coming from God’s Spirit would animate your life once again.

I think of young King David, shockingly breaking the ninth commandment by coveting the wife of poor Uriah the Hittite. He wanted the beautiful Bathsheba—whose father, grandfather and husband he knew—and what the King wants the King gets.

Just like some modern-day kings in the Middle East, he summoned her to his bed and she was obliged to go. She soon turned up pregnant, of course, and hence the bungled cover-up commenced. Nobody needs to know, thought David. He tried all kinds of ways to keep his sin undiscovered, but in the end the only thing that worked was an obvious ruse to get Uriah killed on the front lines.

Bathsheba was then free to marry King David, but, to their despair, their child did not live. And it’s smack in the middle of that despair—and the strong rebuke by his prophet Nathan— that, tradition says, King David composed Psalm 51, the Miserere,  that we sing today: Create in me a clean heart, oh God. Renew Your Spirit within me.

It’s the job description of sin to find endless ways to bring misery, and it did. The sword never left the House of David (2 Samuel 12:10) from that day until the day the Prince of Peace was born in the City of David.

That’s the backstory on today’s psalm.

How is God creating a clean heart in you this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

13 March 2021

Reflecting on John 3:14-21

Do you remember the exhilaration of getting your first pair of Keds, say, when you were five? I could absolutely jump higher and run faster than ANYBODY, just watch me! watch me! watch me! My parents, ever indulgent, oohed and aahed at the ecstasies of all of their kids. And, in those early years, I thought their love and admiration for me was directly tied to how blindingly fast I was, and how shockingly high I could jump.

It wasn’t until my baby brother aged into the new Keds experience, and they clapped and praised his athletic genius too, that it hit me. Oh. Our parents don’t love us for what we accomplish. They egg us on into believing we are super-human in all our endeavors because they know that makes us happy. They love us because they love us, not because we are great at anything we do, because, well, we really aren’t.

What a grace it is to read John 3:17: For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved. What a get-out-of-jail passage that is. God didn’t love us unto death because of anything, anything, that we did. The word “grace” means “undeserved kindness.” It’s like when the judge orders a stay of execution for the (guilty) guy on death row. We are saved because of the undeserved kindness of God.

Now we are free to run as fast as we can to the finish line, life on high in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). And, in our joy, we jump as high as we can to feed, and clothe, and bring justice to God’s earth.

What good works that you perform make you the most conscious of the undeserved kindness of God?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

6 March 2021

Reflecting on Exodus 20:1-17

I hope that you had the great grace of being made to memorize the Ten Commandments as a child. But in case your brain has had to delete them to make room for the thousands of other things you’ve needed to stuff in there through the years, take the list out of today’s first reading and see how long it takes to commit each one to memory again.

It was easier when we were kids. Our brains were more supple, of course, but, more than that, it was easy to confidently recite commandments we were certainly never going to break. I think of those commandments a lot these days, during tax time. It turns out that a lot of us are willing to break the seventh commandment because, well, we can.

Thou shalt not steal seems like such an obvious command. No society can prosper when there is no deterrence from stealing from each other. Certainly we can all point to government waste, and entitlements we deem immoral. Funding those in our taxes is a bitter pill. In other cases, though, hiding assets is meant to benefit the wealthier member of a divorcing couple, to the detriment of the children of that union.

These past two tax seasons have been particularly appalling as poor, single mothers realize that their “smart, savvy” ex has stolen their stimulus check from them. During the pandemic, the most obvious sin against the seventh commandment has been the number of fraudulent unemployment claims filed—sevenfold the number of authentic claims! Do we not realize that this is theft?

We need a “come to Jesus” moment. Thou shalt not steal is not a suggestion. It’s an honest-to-God commandment.

Which commandment am I struggling with this Lent?

Kathy McGovern ©2021

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