Year B – Easter Sunday

Like Buttercups and Sunflowers

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Jn.20:1-9)

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Happy Easter!

Where does the name easter come from? No-one’s quite sure. Some say it means ‘the feast of fresh flowers.’ Others say it comes from the old Norse word eostur, which means ‘the season of new birth.’

But from wherever it came, Easter is surely the most important day of the year.

Why? It’s because it’s the day when Jesus literally rose from the dead. That’s important because it proves that God is real, and powerful. It also confirms that everything Jesus has been saying to us is true.

And most importantly, Jesus’ resurrection proves that death is not the end of the road for any of us (1Cor.15:54-55), for Easter is the sign that Jesus always brings light and life wherever He goes.

This means that, as followers of Christ, we too can have our own personal Easter whenever we find ourselves facing physical death or a darkness of some kind, like an illness, a betrayal or a failed dream.

For Christianity is the promise of new life, whatever our circumstances.


Jesus’ resurrection confounded the first Christians. They struggled to understand it and didn’t know what to do about it. But gradually they adopted a new way of living.

One of the first things they did was to study the Scriptures, looking for what the prophets might have said about Jesus’ coming. They also looked for clues about what might happen next.

As well, they began teaching others about the Good News, at first orally, and then in writing, and some of this became our New Testament.

The early Christians also adopted Jesus’ lifestyle, by living modestly and meeting regularly in each other’s homes, to break bread and support each other by sharing what they had (Mt.25:31-36; Acts 6:1-6).

And they placed crosses and other sacred images on the eastern walls of their homes, to mark their Christian faith and help them face east whenever they prayed.

Why did they face east? It’s because Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east on Palm Sunday, and they expected that Jesus would one day return from the east (Mt.24:27). They wanted to be ready for Him.

Like the sun that always rises in the east, the early Christians saw Jesus as the ‘Bright Morning Star’ who makes all things new again (Rev.22:16; Jn.8:12).

In the 4th Century, when they started building churches, they made sure they always faced east, too, wherever possible. They designed the churches and the liturgy to help carry the faithful into the arms of God (Lk.1:78-79).

It took years for the early Christians to settle into a new pattern of life after the first Easter. The Roman persecution made this difficult, however their passion for Jesus was so strong that it shaped their lives.

But what of us today? Here we are celebrating Easter, but does Jesus’ resurrection make any difference to our own lives?

Many people believe in the resurrection, but don’t understand it. Others understand it but do nothing about it. What should we be doing?

One good thing to do is to learn from the first Christians.

They studied the Scriptures to learn about Jesus. They decorated their homes with Christian images and prayed intently. They tried to live like Jesus, living modestly and in community, and often meeting in each other’s homes to break bread and support each other, sharing what they had.

And just like buttercups and sunflowers that naturally turn to face the sun each day, the earliest Christians always turned towards the Son of God in everything they did.

May we do the same.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Year B – Palm Sunday

The Donkey’s Cross

(Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Mk.14:1–15:47)

Today, Palm Sunday, marks the start of Holy Week, the most important week of the year.

Most people these days seem to associate Easter with rabbits and chocolate eggs, but these things are but childish distractions. In the Middle Ages, people always associated Jesus with the donkey.

Why? It’s because all four Gospels tell us that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He could have chosen a horse or a camel, but He picked a donkey because it says so much about who He is and the kind of kingdom He represents.

In ancient times, horses and chariots symbolised power and status, and great leaders always rode mighty warhorses into battle. Donkeys, however, represented service, suffering and humility, and leaders only rode them if they came in peace (1Kgs.1:33).

So, by choosing a donkey, Jesus is clearly saying something. And at the same time, He’s fulfilling the ancient prophecy of Zechariah, who said: ‘…rejoice, O daughter Zion! Lo, your king comes to you, humble and riding on a donkey’ (Zech.9:9).

In other words, Jesus is publicly declaring that He is the promised Messiah.

In 2006, Pope Benedict said that to understand the significance of Zechariah’s words and Jesus’ behaviour, we need to listen to the prophet’s other predictions about the Messiah, for he tells us three things about Jesus (cf. Zech.9:10).

Firstly, he says that He’ll be a king of the poor, a poor man among the poor and for the poor.

Secondly, he says that Jesus will be a king of peace.

And thirdly, he says that Jesus will be a king for the whole world, for His kingdom of peace will extend ‘from sea to sea… to the ends of the earth.’ [i]

All this is symbolised by the humble donkey.

Now, some people think that donkeys are stupid animals, and they like to make fun of them. In the Scriptures, however, donkeys are always considered noble creatures that do important work.

For example, the kings David and Solomon and all the prophets ride them, and so does Abraham (Gen.22:3). In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a donkey carries the wounded man to safety (Lk.10:34). Balaam’s donkey teaches his master a lesson (Num. 22), and another donkey carries bread and wine to Saul (1Sam.6:20).

All these animals are working for God. They’re carrying God’s messengers; they’re helping to spread God’s Word. They’re delivering help and wisdom to those who need it, and they’re carrying the bread and wine – the Body and Blood of Christ – to where they are needed.

Indeed, the donkey is the ultimate bearer of Salvation, for it carries Mary to Bethlehem at the start of Jesus’ life, and it carries Him to His end in Jerusalem.

In all this, the donkey serves as a wonderful symbol for Christian discipleship. It’s an ordinary creature doing extraordinary things for God, and all this animal has to do is co-operate. It doesn’t even need to understand what it’s doing; it only needs to be loyal and helpful.

Isn’t this an important lesson for us all?

Let’s close with a story. A poor farmer near Jerusalem had a donkey. It was too small to do much work, he couldn’t afford to keep it, and it was too small to sell. So, he decided to kill it.

His children loved that donkey, however. They begged him not to hurt it, and suggested that he tie the donkey to a tree on the way into town. Maybe someone would take it.

Well, the farmer did just that, and soon two men expressed interest. ‘It can carry almost nothing,’ the farmer warned.

‘Jesus of Nazareth needs it,’ one man replied.

The farmer couldn’t imagine what a great teacher would want with such a worthless animal, but he agreed.

The men took the animal to Jesus, who stroked the grateful donkey’s face and then rode it away. It was Palm Sunday, and riding that small, common donkey, Jesus led his followers into Jerusalem.

The donkey loved his gentle master so much that it later followed Him to Calvary. But seeing Jesus on the Cross broke its heart. The donkey turned away, but couldn’t leave. And just then the shadow of the Cross fell upon its back, and there it stayed.

Ever since, all donkeys have carried the sign of the Cross on their backs. [ii]

So, this Holy Week, forget about the Easter rabbits. It’s the donkey that has something to teach us about our lives.

[i] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for Palm Sunday, 2006.

[ii] Sue Weaver, The Donkey Companion (Storey Publishing, 2008). (Abridged).

Year B – 5th Sunday of Lent

When Life Follows Death

(Jer.31:31-34; Heb.5:7-9; Jn.12:20-33)

Years ago, a man played piano in a bar. One night, a patron asked him to sing. ‘I don’t sing,’ he replied.

The customer persisted, telling the barman, ‘I’m tired of listening to the piano. I want that man to sing!’ The barman shouted across the room, ‘Hey buddy! If you want to get paid, then sing a song!’

The piano player was reluctant. He’d never sung in public before, but he tried singing ‘Mona Lisa,’ and just then his life changed, forever. He was Nat King Cole, the jazz musician who became a famous crooner. [i]

Sometimes something in us must die before we can produce new fruit. That’s the Paschal Mystery.

Most people think there’s only one kind of death, and that it’s final. But in his book The Holy Longing, Ron Rolheiser says there are two kinds. There’s terminal death, which represents the end of life and end of all possibilities. And then there’s paschal death, which is real death because something precious dies. It ends one kind of life, but it’s followed by a new, deeper and richer experience of life.

Wheat bag image

It’s this paschal death that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel. He’s in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, talking to some Greek pilgrims. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest,’ He says.

This is the Paschal Mystery, where something dies so that something new can be born. We see it in our seasons, where spring always follows winter, and in controlled burns, where new growth always rises from the ashes. It also happens when we lose a job, a friend or a dream, and find that something new has taken its place.

This is the rhythm of life, but many people struggle to accept it.

Ron Rolheiser says that this is where we can learn from Jesus Christ, because the ultimate Paschal Mystery is His death and Resurrection, where Jesus experienced five key events: His death on Good Friday, His Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the 40 days after Easter, His Ascension and finally, Pentecost.

Together, these five events form a pattern which can help us understand what so often happens in our own lives.

Firstly, Good Friday represents the real death of something important to us, like losing our youth, our dreams or our wholeness. And Easter Sunday marks the beginning of new life.

But sometimes we’re so fixated on our old life that we don’t recognise the new one that follows. We are like the disciples who couldn’t recognise Jesus that Easter morning. ‘Don’t cling to me,’ Jesus says to Mary Magdalene. In other words, don’t cling to what I was. ‘See I am doing a new thing. Can you not see it?’ (Is.43:19).

Rolheiser says that’s why Easter is followed by 40 days. This is the time for us to grieve what we’ve lost and to adjust to the new. But we need to grieve well, and not bypass this experience with pious platitudes or allow alcohol or other distractions to smother the pain of our loss.

As Jesus says, ‘It’s better for you that I go away. Yes, you’ll be sad, but your sadness will turn to joy. But if I don’t go away, you won’t be able to receive my spirit. So, don’t cling; I must ascend’ (cf. Jn.16:7; 20:17).

Good grieving, Rolheiser says, means not just coming to terms with what we’ve lost, but allowing it to bless us. It means letting ourselves experience the sorrow of our losses, but also the pleasure of what we still have.

This is the moment of our Ascension, he says, when we let go of the old and allow it to bless us. It marks a refusal to cling to the old.

And finally, there’s Pentecost, where we receive a new spirit that will sustain us through our new life. We all need this new spirit as life changes, including the spirit of patience, courage and gratitude for all we have.

As Christians we know new life always follows death, but change can be hard.

If you’re struggling, remember Jesus’ Paschal Mystery and His 5-step process, where death and resurrection is followed by 40 days of grieving, then a glorious Ascension, followed by the spirit-filled joy of Pentecost. [ii]

The Paschal Mystery is an extraordinary gift. Through it, Jesus wants to heal our brokenness, just as He healed the brokenness of weeping Mary Magdalene and the two depressed disciples walking to Emmaus.

Jesus always offers us new life.


[ii] Ron Rolheiser OMI. The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, Crown Publishing, N.Y., 1999

Year B – 4th Sunday of Lent

Second Chances

(2Chron.36:14-16, 19-23; Eph.2:4-10; Jn.3:14-21)

What would you do if you were offered a second chance?

In Victor Hugo’s famous story Les Misérables, Jean Valjean is caught stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving family. He’s sent to gaol and when he’s released years later, he’s totally destitute. No-one wants him. A bishop offers him food, shelter and hope, but Jean responds by stealing his silverware.

Again he is caught, but this time the bishop tells the police the silverware was a gift. Jean is stunned. Later, the bishop says to him: ‘You no longer belong to evil, but to good. It’s your soul I am buying for you… and I give it to God!’

Jean is given another chance. He accepts it and his life is transformed.

This is a great story, but what makes it stand out is the fact that our world today is so cruelly unforgiving. If someone makes a mistake, they’re more likely to receive a cold shoulder than a second chance. And yet, it’s natural for us to make mistakes.

Learning and growing can take us a lifetime.

If you need a second chance right now, it’s worth noting that that’s exactly what God is offering us. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the Heavenly Garden in Revelation, the Bible is packed full of stories about God giving people another go.

There are so many examples. Adam and Eve disobey God; Jonah escapes from God; David commits adultery and has someone murdered; Rahab is a prostitute and Peter denies Jesus three times. But God doesn’t reject any of these people. He gives them all a chance to redeem themselves, and they do.

Then there’s Moses. He murders a man, but God still asks him to lead His people. Then after receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses gets angry with his people’s golden calf worship and he smashes those tablets. He regrets it, though, and expects to be punished, but he finds himself with two new tablets instead (Deut.9-10).

And Zacchaeus, the pint-sized tax collector in Jericho, feels guilty for his greed. The people hate him, but Jesus doesn’t. Jesus invites him to a meal and offers him a fresh start.

The Woman at the Well, too, has lived a life of sin. She’s shunned by her community and filled with shame. But when she goes looking for water, she finds Jesus instead and He offers her hope. Her life is also transformed (Jn.4).

Then there’s that famous fruitless fig tree. Its owner wants to chop it down, but the vinedresser says ‘Give it another chance!’ The owner agrees, and gives it another year (Lk.13:6-9).

But perhaps the most famous second chance story of all is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son insults his father by leaving home and taking his inheritance with him. After getting into trouble, the boy returns home, but the father doesn’t punish him. Instead, he celebrates his return with a feast of love.

Year B - 4th Sunday of Lent 3

All through the Scriptures there’s this constant thread of stories about people being given another chance in life. And underpinning it all is today’s Gospel, with perhaps the most famous Biblical verse of all time: ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life,’ (Jn.3:16).

This one sentence summarises not only the Gospel, but also the whole Bible, and it explains God’s plan from the beginning of time.

It points out how much God loves us, because He gave us His only Son, and it promises that if we truly believe in Jesus, then we will live forever with him in heaven.

Now, it’s worth noting here that Jesus says ‘everyone’ – not ‘some people’ but everyone, regardless of who we are, where we come from and what we might have done. We’re all being offered a second chance at life, regardless of our circumstances (Prov.28:13; 2Pet.3:9).

All we have to do is take Jesus into our hearts and trust Him. 

Right now we are in Lent, and Lent is the perfect time for us to reflect on this message, because it’s central to Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all about second chances – and new life.

By his Cross and resurrection, Jesus shows us that it’s always possible to break free from our past, to begin a new life in the light of God’s grace. 

This is the paschal mystery, and the heart of our Christian story.

There’s new life waiting for us all.