Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

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Homily – Easter Sunday – 20 April 2014 – The Face of the Risen Christ


Did you ever wonder what the face of the risen Jesus looked like?  Painters in the western world have created images in our brains mostly showing the risen Christ as a European male with a fair complexion even though he was a Mediterranean Jew. Icon writers, on the other hand, strip the face of Jesus of any natural, human appearances. The eyes of the stylized Christ plunge their gaze deep into the eyes of the viewer who sees herself being seen. [1]

Composers, too, can create an image of Christ for us. On Good Friday I listened to Le Pasión Según San Marco by the Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov. Although he was raised in a Catholic neighborhood, the Christianity surrounding Golijov had many faces. The Church was in solidarity with people who were poor as much as it was connected to dictators.

Le Pasión Según San Marco [the Passion According to St. Mark] reflects the composer’s background. His music moves back and forth between different worlds and does not reflect any one culture. Combining the music of South America, Cuba, Western and Jewish traditions, he produced an unusual view of the passion. He, too, did not depict Jesus as a light skinned European but a person of color. [2]

On this Easter Sunday morning what do we think the risen Christ looked liked? If you had been there whom would you have seen? Was it a bodily resurrection or a more spiritual one? Did the disciples imagine something or was it real? Was the rising of Jesus the Christ a metaphor for the communal resurrection of all people, rising up from the grips of death?

Scripture scholar Elaine Pagels summarizes the diverse interpretations of what happened that first Easter morning. [3] In Luke’s gospel Jesus appears to the disciples and he looked no different than he did before. He eats with them and invites them to touch him. Mark’s gospel suggests that Jesus appeared in another form, not his earthly body. So which was it? In today’s gospel from John, Mary of Magdala thought the man she saw was a gardener until he called her by name. She then realized it was Jesus but then he warned her not to touch him.

None of these stories gives us a clue about what the face of the risen Jesus really looked like. Maybe it does not matter. Maybe what counts is what that event means for us today. All that painters, icon writers and composers can do for us is show us the face of Christ through their lens like the composer Golijov did. So what do we see in the face of Christ?

On Holy Thursday Betsy Rowe-Manning and Angela Warner gave a homily in this church that reminded us that the eucharist is about relationships. How we connect with one another and how we help one another with difficulties in life is no different from how you and I embrace the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus. The liturgy here rehearses us for living out there. Are we busy replacing malice and wickedness with the bread and wine of truth and sincerity? How do we do so?

Easter is a springtime festival. It lasts for forty days. Spring cleaning is something we all do around our homes this time of year. “Spiritual” spring cleaning clears out the clutter in our minds, bodies and spirits, to make space for whatever will help us develop ourselves and others to full potential.

In the face of Christ do we see those people who are hungry or homeless? In the body of Christ do we see people who are abused or deprived of opportunities to succeed? Do we see in that face people who are stigmatized because of sexual orientation, race, nationality or religion? Do we see in the eyes of Christ reflections of ourselves struggling with life’s challenges whatever they are?

The dying and rising of Christ is something we experience in our lives and the lives of others. New life comes as the old life dies off. As 7-year old Anaya Zullo said to me some time ago, when I asked the children how to get to heaven, “you have to die first.”

The Easter Sunday story is not just about the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is also about our capacity to deal with suffering and even death that is, to learn how to rise up, bounce back, from pain and grief. We have to help each other. No one of us can manage the challenges life brings us without some help. So what does the face of the risen Christ look like? Just take a look around.


1 Zibawi, Mahmoud. The Icon: Its Meaning and History. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993) page 37

2 Eisert, Christian and Bomba, “Introduction” Andreas. Osvaldo Golijov, Le Pasión Según San Marco (Worcester,MA: Ytalinnia Music Publishing, 2002)

3 Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels (NY: Random House, 1979) page 6


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Homily – Easter Vigil – 19 April 2014 – Easter: A Fantastical Story!


Does anyone believe in fantastical stories? Here’s one for you. Noah lived to be 900 years old. He was 600 when he and his three100-year-old sons built a boat in one day. Then they loaded thousands of animals on it, all of which lived within five miles of the boat. Could it be that the God of the universes was so upset with creation that the only way to get it right was to destroy everything and everyone and start all over again? [1]

Andrew Greeley wrote that Catholics come to church because they love to hear the stories. And that we did this evening and there were plenty of them. What do they teach us? How much can we believe to be true? Are they divinely inspired writings?

A new study released just this past week suggests that although many Americans are deeply engaged with the bible close to 20% are skeptical of it. Sixty-four percent between the ages of 18-39, the Millennials, do not consider it as sacred literature. Thirty-five percent claim the good book is not very helpful in learning how to live a meaningful life. [2]

There are good reasons to clarify what is written in the bible. John Shelby Spong writes that all the stories about Moses, for example, including the presumed crossing of the Red Sea, which we heard about tonight, and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, were not written until some 300 years after the death of Moses! Everything we know about him in the bible passed through 15 generations of oral tradition before it was written. [3] Did God really drown the Egyptians?

It gets more complicated when the bible is used by some to justify their behavior today. The Israelites escaped bondage but then they placed their own children in slavery. Does that justify human trafficking today?  Methodist pastor, Adam Hamilton cites the “propensity [in the bible] toward patriarchal norms that devalue women.” [4]

Does that patriarchy justify abuse of women today? Some biblical texts seem to prohibit same sex marriage. Does the bible justify homophobic behavior today? Hamilton continues, “some scriptures are clearly shaped by the cultural norms, the theological and social presuppositions of their authors. They do not seem to reflect the heart of God revealed in Jesus Christ.” Christians who practice radical hospitality do not praise God for the misfortunes or the destructions of people no matter who they are.

And yes the story about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one that brings us to church this weekend. The oral recollections regarding why he died, how he rose, to whom he appeared, what he said, where he went later that day, were not formally written down until between the years 68-70 CE. Maybe, metaphorically speaking, it was not the resurrection of one man. Scripture scholar Hal Taussig describes the resurrection as a communal one, as “God’s great peace-and-reconciliation covenant with our violence scarred humanity.”  [5]

What meanings then may be found in the biblical texts on this holy night — when our use of ancient symbols expresses our deepest beliefs and yearnings? Everything we do here in church is a rehearsal for living out there. Let’s consider transitions and relationships. For example, we traipse from the darkness of the night guided by the radiance of Christ’s light. We trudge through parched deserts to wash in baptismal waters. We anoint Olyvia, Tracey and Peter into our priesthood. [6] We move together,  freed from want, liberated in the Spirit, to the banquet of thanksgiving.

What we heard tonight in the texts reminds us of our relationships with God and with each other, our struggles and joys. Beginning with the establishment of a Jewish people the narratives chronicle the teachings and wisdom of prophets and scribes. Jesus, a Mediterranean Jew shapes that history. He attempted to restore order to a fractured humanity. Mysteriously, he survived execution and rose up again to give each one of us hope. We now know that we, too, can rise up from the clutches of suffering and death.

Isn’t Easter a fantastical story!


1 Paraphrased from Bill Maher’s Attack on the Noah’s Ark Story. March 14, 2014


3 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. NY (Harper 2011) p. 23

4 Hamilton, Adam. Making Sense of the Bible: Recovering the Power of Scripture Today. (NY: Harper, 2014) 272

5 Taussig, Hal. A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. (NY: Houghon, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2103) xiv

6 Olyvia and Tracy celebrated all of the sacraments of Christian Initiation at this Vigil. The parish welcomed Peter into full communion.


Homily – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – 13 April 2014 – Of Happiness and Suffering

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – 13 April 2014 – Of Happiness and Suffering

Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11 and Matthew 26:14-27:66

What makes you happy? What makes you sad? The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks recently wrote an article called “What Suffering Does.”  [1] While reading this I wondered what role suffering plays for each of us particularly and as members of this Christian community as we embark on this holy week. His premise is that although we Americans love to pursue what it takes to be happy, most people “feel formed through suffering.” He continued, “suffering gives people a more accurate sense of their own limitations, what they can control and what they cannot control.”

Many of us have been there. No matter how blessed or fortunate we may be there is nothing like death, sickness, unemployment, verbal or physical abuse that can remind us that suffering is part of the everyday human experience. It is a rude awakening for anyone who thinks he or she is immune from it.

Was Jesus ever a happy man? Did he ever know the love of another human being? Did he ever laugh or dance or sing? Probably he did, but the bible does not spell it out. We do read that Jesus died on the cross to redeem us from our sinfulness. Maybe he could not bring himself to be joyful because of all the suffering in the world. The Letter from Paul today said he emptied himself, he humbled himself, he was obedient to the point of an ugly death on a cross. Is that all he was called to do — suffer?

As Christians we believe that we are the mystical body of Christ. This is not a new teaching. You and I are invited to share in the very life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Baptism is the response to that call. Like other faith traditions we carry the hope for a restored creation where all people, animals and the planet itself can be at peace with each other.

We are not spectators in this mission. What we do here during this liturgy or any liturgy rehearses us for what we do with our lives the rest of the week. This is what is meant by active, conscious participation in the Mass. It is not only singing and praying together or enacting a liturgical ministry. It is active conscious participation in the life of Christ everyday, all day.

Have you ever heard that we must accept and offer up our sufferings? This bidding has made life miserable for many people around the world especially for some women. Barbara Reid wrote “the notion of a life sacrificed for others can be a terrorizing interpretation of the cross for persons who are in oppressive situations.” [2]

This is not entirely what it means to identify with the cross. The cross in our midst is a symbol of all the suffering in the world. In our transformed place of worship we will place the crucifix in the floor next to the altar table so we can touch it and embrace it as our own. The cross is not something to be gazed upon from a distance. The introduction to today’s liturgy reminded us that we are “partakers of the Cross.”

Our identification with the cross is similar to taking communion. We understand the body and blood of Christ to be our body and our blood that sustains us and others. This is one way for the narratives, songs and prayers of this holy week to come alive in our everyday world. We participate in the divine work of the Triune God. Not everything is done for us by others.

Like Jesus we are called to empty ourselves of whatever can get in the way of our transformations. We don’t look to suffer any more than Jesus did. However, we believe that in the face of pain and suffering we too can rise up. Our hardships coupled with the awareness of the pain and suffering all around us are opportunities to develop new strengths, new possibilities for ourselves and others.

David Brooks concluded that the right response to pain is not pleasure but holiness. He did not mean holiness in a religious sense but rather the perception of life as a moral drama, “placing the hard experiences [of life] in a moral context, trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.”

Some time ago a crucifix was found in the chapel of St. Francis Xavier in northeastern Spain. It dates to the thirteenth century. Stripped, bloody and nailed to the cross, Jesus is shown with a slight smile on his face. Maybe just before he died he had a moment of peace. This holy week then is not just all about Jesus and what he experienced. It is also about us and our search for justice and peace in our fragile lives.

If you are visiting us or come to church only once in awhile know that there is always a place for you at our table.


1 Brooks, David. “What Suffering Does” in The New York Times, 04/7/14.

2 Reid, Barbara. “Telling the Terror of the Crucifixion” in C21 Resources (Boston College, Fall 2008) 16