The 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team is credited with having achieved one of the greatest upsets in sports history, what is now called “The Miracle on Ice.” To this day I remember that game. It is the most exciting sporting event that I have ever watched. A small, unassuming group of amateurs took on a mighty Russian team loaded with professionals and defeated them on the way to winning a gold medal. In 2005 the members of that team gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this great victory. The starting goalie, Jim Craig, in reflecting on the experience stated the following: “We didn’t win because we were the most talented. We didn’t win because we were the strongest or the most powerful. We won because we loved each other. We gave all that we had. Each one poured out all of himself for the other, and together we achieved what we could never have achieved on our own.”
Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus, because he loved us, poured out all of himself for us and in doing so was able to achieve for us what we could never have achieved on our own. We celebrate the greatest victory of all time, the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. The power of his love triumphed over the hatred of those who put him to death. Even the closest friends of Jesus did not see this upset in the making. We hear in the gospels that his friends had come to his tomb in the dark, assured of defeat. They had witnessed his death with their own eyes. They hardly came to celebrate a victory. No, they came to anoint and attend to the corpse of a friend, whom they had loved and, as it turns out, the one who had loved them more than they ever could ever have imagined. And they were about to discover the power of such a love.
They approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. They entered the tomb and did not find the body of Jesus, and still victory did not dawn on them. Why would it? The world tells us death always wins in the end. Yet, there is a sacred space inside each of us that says to us that we are created for something more.
That sacred space was found inside the empty tomb, and every year as we celebrate Easter, it rekindles the embers of faith, hope and love that lie within each of us. That sacred space sparked a slow burning fire of belief that says: The tomb was empty because even death could not hold him. And for us, believers that we are, the empty tomb is all about the power of God to overcome defeat and death. None of us can go through life undefeated. We are all flesh and blood. We all experience losses. We lose jobs. We lose money. We lose our health, our youth, our family and friends. Ultimately, we will lose our earthly lives. Each one of us is sure to experience the inevitability of feeling like we just can’t win. There is the temptation to give in to bitterness or despair. But then there is the power of love. God so loved each one of us that he became flesh and blood, and then poured it out willingly for all of us, underdogs that we are, to break the power of sin and death forever. Now that’s a major upset.
Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is risen. He is here in this community, right now. He speaks to us in this Eucharist saying: This is my body and blood given up for you. It is shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven and death can be overcome. To us who are underdogs, God says: You Win. Not because of anything you did or did not do. You Win. Not because you are the strongest, the smartest, the most talented or even the most charitable. You win because I have loved you with an everlasting love. Today we sing out Alleluia because, to quote John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Al Michaels, the ABC commentator who covered the game between the United States and Russia, shouted out as time expired, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Today we proclaim that we do indeed believe in miracles. Today we proclaim Alleluia, for we are an Easter people, a people of the resurrection, the greatest miracle of all. We go forth from here today as an Easter people, seeking ways to share Christ’s life and love with all those who come into our lives. – Fr. Paul
Earlier this year, a new English translation was published, of an ancient Latin work. It’s called ‘The Pilgrimage of Egeria,’ and scholars’ best guess is that it was written towards the end of the 4th century. It’s a journal, really, written by a Spanish nun, in which she records and reports the events of every day, on a three-year pilgrimage that she took to the Holy Land. On the way there, she passed through North Africa, and visited the churches and monasteries of Egypt and Sinai. On the way home, she visited Asia Minor and Constantinople, and all of the ancient churches founded by St. Paul.
So basically, Egeria and her companions made a ‘grand circuit,’ around the Mediterranean Sea. And they did it largely on foot. In around the year 380. It’s an ancient treasure for liturgists like me, insofar as it offers some of the earliest detailed accounts of the liturgies and rituals that we are about to enact, across this coming, ‘Holy Week.’
The Pilgrimage of Egeria. It’s a good way to frame it, I think. Not only a pilgrimage by foot, across space, but a pilgrimage in time, across memories.
Once she has arrived in Jerusalem, Egeria describes something very-much-like our Stations of the Cross, except her stations are the actual places where Christ stopped on his journey to the cross. To this day, it’s called ‘The Via Dolorosa’ - The Way of Sorrows.
Only about fifty years earlier, the Emperor, Constantine, had lifted the persecutions of Christians, with what’s known as his ‘Edict of Milan.’ This resulted in a great burst of enthusiasm, among the devout, for visiting ‘the holy places’ of Christ’s birth and childhood, ministry and death.
Egeria is an enthusiastic and perceptive reporter, with a flair for describing dramatic details. Some of the early Fathers of the Church thought she was too emotional - one of the centuries-old tactics of patriarchy.
For example, in her description of the liturgy of Good Friday, Egeria reports that from noon until 3:00, the whole assembly gathers where the cross once stood, and she says, “At each reading and at every prayer, it is astonishing how much emotion and groaning there is from all the people; there is no one, young or old, who, on this day, does not sob more than can be imagined for the whole three hours, because the Lord suffered all this…for us.”
In the earlier, 1970 translation that I have, the translator, in his introduction, make this trenchant observation: “Pilgrimage emerged very early in Christian practice, as a means for the faithful to walk with Christ, and remember his words, and honor his deeds. Pilgrimage deepens our reverence for the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. The pilgrim bears witness to the Christian conviction, that, in Christ, God once walked the earth.”
Sisters and brothers, let us enter this Holy Week like reverent pilgrims, keeping ‘the stations’ of all that Christ did for us, and bearing witness to our ancient faith that, through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, God once walked the earth. And let us remember with reverence that on the night before he died, Christ gave us a new commandment - “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because, by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. - Fr. Brian