This is the first real travel since Covid began its long and challenging visit. I arrived two days ago in the City of Brotherly love, and have been settling in to a routine of prayer and discovery here in Germantown. I’m in Saint Margaret’s House at Saint Luke’s Church in Germantown. I am here as a participant in a short-term popup Christian community. I am here with a few members of the Community of Francis and Clare, a dispersed group of men and women, spread over the United States and elsewhere, who are living life in the world in the spirit of those two great saints given us all by the beautiful town of Assisi.

A word about Saint Luke’s Parish. The parish was founded in 1811, It is a good part of a city block, featuring an imposing rectory that houses the parish office, the beautiful church, Saint Barnabas Hall, and Saint Margaret’s House. (There may be more!). I will share some images here.

All whom we have met thus far have been extraordinarily welcoming. The rector has been gracious, and introduced us to the church Monday morning and then spent time in good conversation. It is enlightening to hear him speak about the parish through Covid and beginning in present days to emerge. They have a food pantry open twice weekly. Before pandemic in summer they provided breakfast, lunch, and a take-home dinner to kids. In Saint Margaret’s House, retreats take place several times a year, with new plans and possibilities ahead. I love the fact that one of the signs as you approach the parish center campus speaks of “the urban center at Saint Luke’s.” And I am gratified and inspired by the truth that they do what I have written of and much more by finding and winning grants and by teaming up with other organizations doing good work here. They even work with a group helping to provide a path for families who want to remain in the area to successfully buy their home over a generation to provide stability for families and the community into the future.

Here in Saint Margaret’s House, I marvel with gratitude at the graceful speed at which genuine community can be born and begin to deepen. As mentioned, the other visitors here are all members of a Franciscan community recently founded. They have a common history and converging interests. In addition, the gentleman who is resident in the House has connected with the group. I have felt welcomed and included in every way. This experience moves me to thank God for the living connective tissue of the heart that bonds disciples of Jesus already, even as we meet. This ‘head-start’ may be true also of folks who share a common interest in Romanesque architecture or the novels of Marilynne Robinson, or whatever. But it certainly is felt here and now.

For me this coming-to-a-halt in terms of the everyday seems already absolutely vital in a way that I had not previously imagined. Arriving March 1, 2020 at Saint Matthew’s in Worcester MA we fell together immediately headlong into the experience of pandemic that no one of us would have imagined. The time since, all of it, has been filled and fraught with stress and challenge and striving and loss and victory; with grief’s sorrow and the repeated near-death and renewed life of hope. All of it, absolutely all of it, absolutely exhausting; emptying out and reconfiguring the very soul in a way and to a depth that no other experience has even approached.

So to sit on the front step here this evening, a steaming mug of black tea clutched in two hands and simply to witness a “Welcome” banner blowing, and at my ground-level perch to look through the plant life toward the churchyard – as little as it sounds – is the stuff of rebirth, of resuscitation, of (as must be said in this season) shared resurrection with the Christ.

To sit long in conversation, to remain long in silent prayer, to walk long in new company – these little things are the stuff of life. They are a long deep breath of the created delights that the God of Eden and of Easter has brought to be, to be noticed, and to be lived. Here is the first time in an uncountable time to rest in the present passing moment with a sense of fullness; and in realizing that, with a grateful heart.

Next week will see a return to a place that became lastingly sacred to me during the summer of 2005. I look forward with joy to that place and time. I am also immensely happy to live this week, this evening, this moment in this time and place.

At the Tomb with Mary Magdalene (Easter Homily 2013)

Easter Day 2013


Throughout the latter days of this Holy Week, the church in every corner of our world has been focused on Jesus, walking with Jesus, praying with Jesus, witnessing his suffering and his dying, standing by his grave in the silence of death.


This morning, on this 3rd day, one woman (according to John’s Gospel) has gone in the darkness of early morning to the place where Jesus was buried. Mary Magdalene has gone there alone, but as the representative of all of us who have ever known loss, of all of of us who have ever seen the life drained out of someone we love more than life itself, of all of us who have seen violence from afar or up-close and have not known how to respond. Mary went to the tomb representing all the human tears that ever have been cried.


What she saw there, as the gospel recalls, is the tomb open and the stone rolled away. Now humanity has suffered so much at the raw hands of death, and we have learned through war and cruelty and dread sickness so to respect death’s reign, that Magdalene assumed only one thing when she saw this, one final indignity: that someone had come and stolen Jesus’ lifeless body and carried him away to God knows where. And so she ran.


She did what anyone would do faced with a radically new and unexpected situation. She ran to friends, to share her news, to ask them to help her to understand. And so Peter and the other disciple (likely the author of the fourth Gospel himself) ran to see for themselves. Mary Magdalene returned to the cemetery as well. They were all running toward a radically new situation. They had no idea how radically new it was. They had no idea they were running toward the scene and center of the re-creation of hope, the revealing of true life, the re-creation of humanity and creation itself.


When Peter and the other disciple arrived, their eyes could tell them only these things: the tomb is empty; Jesus’ body is gone; and the wrappings that had been gently placed around his wounded torso and head are still there, some of them carefully rolled up. What was there to believe? Was it only what they could see? Or was there something more?


Magdalene’s friends returned to their homes. She remained. She remained crying. She remained confused. She remained on that spot, because love would and could not allow her to go anywhere else. Love, I think, whispered in the ear of her heart that there was something more to understand, something more to know, something more still to believe. And so she remained.


For me, one of the most important questions we have before us this Easter morning, and indeed on all the mornings of our lives as the light dawns and we come back to life, is this: as she remained there at Jesus’ empty tomb, how did Mary Magdalene come to understand? How did she come to believe?

The question is so important because like us, Mary Magdalene is a human being; and like her, we have faced, and will confront many times again, situations that seem to proclaim only death, only silence, only despair, only emptiness. How can we, like Mary, come to know in those moments

that wrapped in the silence is song,

that behind the despair hope shouts,

that every emptiness will be filled,

and that beyond death is – always – yet more life?


What does the Gospel this Easter morning teach us in the very words it uses, and the story it shares? Listen to the words again:


“As she wept, she bent over into the tomb.”


What was Mary doing? She was taking a second, a deeper look. Before, she thought she knew and assumed she understood when she saw the stone rolled away and the tomb open. Now, she looks deeper, and perhaps with some more profound expectation.


“She saw two angels in white.”


There is more to every moment, to every question, than we can humanly recognize. There are advocates and helpers nearby that we do not always see and almost never recognize. But they are there.


“They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’


The seemingly most obvious questions are worth asking, and worth asking yet again whenever we feel alone and undone and overwhelmed by death. In their answer may be hidden more than we thought we knew.


“She turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.”


We need not presume that we are at first going to recognize the best of all gifts by our side, even when the Word made flesh is there and living and visible and speaking to us. First there must be conversation – some call it prayer – and perhaps misunderstanding. But it needs to be spoken, and we will be heard.


“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!'”


To be known by name and to be called by name are transformative experiences in any human life; to be known as who we are, and valued and loved as we are: this is what opens up the deepest human possibilities in us, and reveals the presence of the divine in our time and place.


“Go to my brothers and say to them . . . ‘I have seen the Lord.'”


When we come to recognize Jesus risen and alive and loving and speaking to us, to our hearts, as Magdalene did that morning, we are inevitably given a mission. Somehow, in a unique fashion for each one of us, that mission will mean: Go, and share what you have experienced, what you have come to know, what has changed your life, what you believe.


This morning we stand at the tomb with Mary. She is the first evangelist, the first to proclaim the truth of resurrection. What do we learn from her? What will we carry from this beautiful church this morning back into the corners and crevices and the darker moments of our own real lives? Maybe simply this:


  • Take a second and a deeper look. Expect to find more.


  • Look for the advocates and helpers, God-sent, who may not be immediately obvious.


  • Allow them to raise the simple questions that you told yourself were answered. Hear them again.


  • Know that God’s own risen and living answer to every situation of death is standing directly by our side, even when we cannot recognize him. He is there. Talk with him.


  • Hear Jesus call you by name; hear him recognize both your need and your goodness; allow his recognition of you to open wide your eyes and your understanding.


  • Accept the mission he gives you: to share the good news you know by heart with the world around you. This particular telling of the Gospel of Christ can only, uniquely, come from you.


And finally, in and through all this, rise with Christ! His birth, his words and works, his suffering and death, and today his rising, are all for you. For all of us. As the Creed puts it, “for us and for our salvation.”


My friends, ‘this is the day that the Lord has made! Let us be glad and rejoice in it!” For Jesus is risen from the dead, and he lives forever. Alleluia!


(c) John P. McGinty

Second Sunday of Easter: Learning to See

Grace Church Brooklyn Heights
Second Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2012

One summer Thursday afternoon, it was either in 1967 or 68, my grandmother gathered the four friends who regularly came to her house to play cards on that day every week. They were serious card players so there was never much conversation once the games began. There was always a pause during which a light snack was served: ham, and celery, tea, and whatnot. That was the first time I heard that word as child: whatnot. It covered anything else that might be there in addition to the usual.

This particular gathering was going to be anything but usual. Following their break for sustenance the game resumed and the next hand was dealt. The five earnest women around the table began in silence to look over the hand they had been dealt and to assess their strategy for the next several minutes.

Just then Lillian, one of the regulars, without uttering a sound collapsed forward, her head hitting the table and her cards gently released from her hands. The other women rose, surrounded her, spoke her name, and sought to rouse her. There was no response. My grandmother got on the phone, cleared off the party-line, and died that era’s version of 911: 0.

Within minutes the fire department had arrived, come in, assessed the situation and determined that Lillian was dead. There and then, in the middle of the usual Thursday afternoon cardgame at McGinty’s, her earthly life had suddenly come to an end. Her body was prepared and covered on a gurney, and removed from the house.

Warning: this is where the story gets weird and Irish, like something from James Joyce or Flannery O’Connor. But I know this part is true, because I had been alerted at our house on the next street by sirens and lights and all that excitement. I arrived at my grandparents’ house as the ladies resumed their places at table, now with one open seat, picked up their cards, hesitated and paused. And Nana said, “Would one of you mind playing Lillian’s hand? That way we won’t have to deal again.”


For me this story, which I have never been able to forget, provides an invitation to a vital reflection about seeing truly, recognizing what is really there – and what isn’t. According to the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel, the apostle Thomas was on the road when Jesus came through locked doors to visit the ones he loved and bring living gifts of peace and forgiveness on the evening of Easter Sunday. When Thomas arrived back, let in carefully through those same doors, he was unable to recognize, to sense, to see the gifts of mercy and peace which the risen Jesus had left in his wake. Thomas saw only the absence he had seen when he went out: the absence of Jesus, their friend and teacher and center. If there was a new look in the eyes of his compatriots, a new vigor in their voices as they told him what had occurred in his absence, it was all lost on Thomas. He couldn’t see what was there in front of him. For him, it just wasn’t there.

Scripture calls Thomas, the Twin, among the apostles. Over the centuries, folks have speculated where his twin might have been, about why that person – male or female – doesn’t register at all on the rolls of those who moved through the land with Jesus, or at least interacted with him during his ministry. The most helpful response to that question that I have ever heard – and you may have heard this as well – is that if I want to find Thomas’ twin, I need to find a mirror. You and I are the twins of Thomas. Many times over our lifetimes. We are his twins in that we see only what we see, and the ‘more’ that often gleams around us in God’s world is lost on us. I fail to see the Christ alive in the ex-convict, struggling to rebuild a life with difficulty, who comes to see me. I fail to see the hope that burns in the eyes of the homeless man who is determined to find a way to a place of his own, somehow. I fail to see the love that unites a family in financial struggle, or to see the faith that knits them even more closely together as they move through uncertain times. I fail to see the fullness of what a community like this at Grace means not only to those who gather here in prayer, but what it means in real terms to children in Honduras, homeowners in upstate New York and New Orleans, to hungry families in Park Slope, or to hundreds of members of 12-step groups who have met here over the decades.

A week later – today – Thomas was present. For him this was anything but a ‘low’ Sunday. This was a Sunday of personal revelation in the midst of the beloved community, a Sunday of seeing, clearly, what (who) was there already: the Christ, alive and life-giving. Just as importantly, Thomas was able to see what was not there. Where the hands and feet of Jesus had been whole, there now were holes. Where his side had been intact, there was the track of the spear that had entered there. Even risen from the dead, even transformed into the new and lasting life that we cannot begin to comprehend, Jesus’ wounds remained, and remain to this moment. So Thomas saw emptiness and scars where there had been fullness and wholeness. This recognition of what was not there, what was gone, was as important in bringing him to know in whose presence he stood as anything he saw present and recognized again.

That moment moved Thomas into that sub-group of humanity who are able to say together into the world the first words of the first letter of John as a statement not of faith, but of lived experience: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it . . . .”

And we, Thomas’ twins, we can have that same experience in faith, in our own lifetimes. We can begin to see in a new way, to recognize both what is really here, and what really is not – and the importance of each. We can begin, in this season of life and light, to begin to see anew in our lives what my grandmother called ‘whatnot’ as she served a little snack to her guests each week. Whatnot could be an extra meat, something sweet, something unexpected, an old favorite, or something never tasted before. But whatnot, seemingly incidental, could become the most important part of the afternoon together. The day Lillian died at that dining room table, everything changed. Yes, someone could play the hand she left behind, but beyond that was her absence, a new configuration of that group of friends, and the looming reality that they eventually would gather no more. My grandmother and her friends were forcibly invited that summer afternoon to appreciate what and who they saw around them, and who they no longer saw. They were invited to see in new fashion their own need and desire and dream for resurrection life. They were invited as Thomas was on this Sunday, and as we are today, to see Jesus still present and living among us, and empowering us to become a new humanity, belonging to one another, caring for one another, really seeing one another and the wounds we all carry.

John P. McGinty