Bernie was waiting at 8 am on Saturday morning for Karl to pick her up in the church parking lot. She was wearing her collar, as she always did when she made prison visits. She would also be her Palm Sunday sermon to a few prisoners. When Darrin found out that his father would be accompanied by a pastor, he had asked the prison chaplain if she could to give a homily, and the chaplain had agreed as had Bernie.
Karl had asked her–no begged her–to go with him for his first visit with his son in 17 years. He wanted her opinion as to the authenticity of his newfound faith. Bernie told him that only God knows what is in someone’s heart—but he had pleaded with her to come with him. Bernie suspected that the primary reason was because he did not want to be alone with his son.
Ginny offered to stay at her house to keep Molly company and to take her for walks. Bernie had no doubt that they would be good for each other.
Karl pulled into the parking lot at 8:03. He jumped out of his five-year old Honda Accord, and came around to open Bernie’s door for her. It was about an hour and half hour drive each way to the Lancaster State Prison. They wanted to get on the road early, but didn’t expect much traffic on Saturday morning.
Having spent many hours in conversation with the Thompsons during parish dinners and other events, Bernie knew that Karl was a lover of mystery stories, and like her, had begun reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager. She had all of the Sherlock Holmes stories downloaded on her smart phone, so she figured that Karl may enjoy listening to one or two of the stories. She chose A Scandal in Bohemia, because it was a short story.
Karl had nodded his agreement, and they listened to the story in silence. Sherlock Holmes had solved the mystery and had explained his reasoning when they were still 45 minutes from the prison, which was fine with Bernie. She wanted to take some time to talk to Karl about what he expected from the visit.
The visit had gone well. Bernie did not detect any guile in Darrin’s countenance. He truly appeared to her to be a repentant soul.
After the three of them visited, Karl and Bernie were taken to a room where the prison chaplain conducted worship services and where she would give a short homily. She was surprised at the larger-than-expected turnout for the service.
When it came time for the homily, Chaplain Gonzalez welcomed Bernie to their service and invited her to begin her homily, which she had entitled “An Unlikely Cast of Characters.”
Bernie raised her arms in greeting:
“Grace and peace to you and from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Good morning everyone. I am honored to be with you today. We celebrate Palm Sunday tomorrow. Remember that celebration—that parade—through Jerusalem when people were waving their palm branches and singing hosana?
A joyous occasion, yes? It was indeed.
But as the week wore on, the festive mood disappeared, and ominous signs appeared. After Jesus broke bread with his disciples, he was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, arrested by the Temple soldiers, and was taken before Caiaphas and Pilate.
Tomorrow’s gospel lesson picks up the story with the events that occurred after Jesus was arrested and was taken to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest to appear before the religious leaders. Not having the authority to condemn him to death, the religious leaders took him to Pilate, the local governor, who referred him to Herod, who sent him back to Pilate for judgment. Pilate judged Jesus and found him guilty of treason– for claiming to be a king. He gave into the crowd’s demand that Jesus be crucified—but before he was taken to be crucified, Jesus was beaten and mocked.
Interesting things happen after he is crucified– several people are converted, four miracles occur, one person outs himself; and enforcers were assigned to guard the body be spirited away by Jesus’ followers.
So what I want to talk about today is an unlikely cast of characters as they appear in Matthew’s narrative.
The Judge. The first character we meet is Pilate, the judge. You are undoubtedly familiar with judges. The religious leaders didn’t have the authority to put Jesus to death, so they needed the Romans to do that. They reported to Pilate that Jesus called himself the “king of the Jews” who posed a political threat to the Romans, whose “king” was the emperor—Tiberius Caesar. Jesus didn’t deny the charge. Under Roman law, if you didn’t put on a defense, you were deemed guilty. Pilate went along with the crowd, found Jesus guilty, and sentenced him to be crucified.
The Mockers. You may also have come across these characters after your arrest—the mockers. You are in good company. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, the crowd mocked him: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself. Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 27: 39-40).
The Messiah. Jesus, is someone who you have come to know, either before you came to this place, or maybe in a more personal way since you have been here. Jesus—who was fully human and fully divine—asked God, his Father he was alone and separated from him. Have you felt alone and separated from God? So did Jesus. While he was on the cross, Jesus expressed his extreme anguish, when he felt the full force of taking on the sins of the world, and said ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
At that point, Jesus had been on the cross for about six hours, from approximately 9:00 am until his death at approximately 3:00 pm. Jesus wasn’t questioning the Father. He was expressing the pain of his separation from the Father. The physical pain was overwhelming, but the spiritual pain of separation from the Father was worse. Jesus experienced this separation from the Father on the cross so that we will never have to endure it. If you confess your sins and accept Jesus as your Savior, you will never be separated from God. Jesus did it all for us . . .
The Newly Converted. You may be among the newly converted. A few who had mocked Jesus before his death, became believers after witnessing the four miracles that occurred when he died. The centurion and the other soldiers standing watch who had mocked Jesus just a few hours before, were aghast at the miracles that occurred at the crucifixion– the darkening of the sky, the earthquake, the tearing of the curtain separating the Holy place from the Most Holy place in the temple, symbolizing the tearing down of the barrier between God and the people, and the opening of the tombs. They exclaimed: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54b). Also, before Jesus died, one of the criminals repented, and Jesus promised that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:39-43).
The Women. You may have a mother, sister, wife, girlfriend, daughter, aunt, or grandmother waiting for you. Maybe you have received visits from them. Perhaps that girl or woman is the only person who has remained loyal to you during your incarceration. That’s what happened to Jesus. While all of Jesus’ male followers, except for John, fled at the first sign of trouble, the women stayed with Jesus. The fact that the women were the key eyewitnesses not only to his death, but were also the first witnesses on the scene after the Resurrection was remarkable.
The Outed. Had you been harboring a secret that came out during your arrest or trial? Joseph of Arimathea, a highly respected religious leader, had been afraid to speak up against the religious leaders who condemned Jesus. But after Jesus’ death, he exposed himself. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body so that he could bury it. In doing so he identified himself as a follower of Jesus—a very dangerous position to be in at that time. It is highly unlikely that he would claim Jesus’ body for burial if he didn’t truly believe him to be God.
The Enforcers. Surely you are familiar with enforcers. The religious leaders remembered Jesus’ teaching about his Resurrection, and were afraid of what would happen if it occurred, or if the disciples stole his body to make it appear that he was resurrected. As they put it: “The last deception will be worse than the first.” To avoid this problem, the soldiers were ordered to seal the tomb and to guard it 24/7. But despite the best efforts of these guards, the tomb was opened, and the body was gone on Sunday morning, providing more proof of the Resurrection.
Bernie’s eyes roamed over the men in the room.
“Where do you see yourself in this line-up? Are you like Pilate, who ignored the truth to go along with the crowd? Is that how you got into trouble? Or are you a mocker, a loyal follower, a new convert, or blind enforcer of unbelief? Wherever you are in this line-up of unlikely characters, the truth is that mockers became converts, followers were eyewitnesses, and we still have the naysayers among us.
We even see hope in Peter’s denials and in the fear that caused the disciples to scatter, because we can identify with them. We too have failed Jesus, yet Jesus died on the cross for their sins and omissions and ours as well. We who have the benefit of all of the historical accounts of the Crucifixion and Resurrection have no excuse for unbelief.
When you are afraid, pray the prayer that Jesus prayed when he was afraid: “Father, if you are willing, take away this cup of suffering.”
Bernie bowed her head.
“Let’s pray: Gracious Father, we are so grateful for the sacrifices that Jesus made for us on that long week-end so long ago in a small neighborhood in the Middle East, that transformed the world and that continue to transform us today. As we make our way through Holy Week, keep us ever mindful of your suffering for us at Calvary. You know how we are suffering, Lord. Strengthen us to be able to withstand the pain. If it is your will, take away our suffering. Amen.
And now, may the peace that passes all human understanding guard our hearts and minds. The Lord be with you all. Amen.”
Liam, Kevin, and Andy were in the yard shooting hoops late Saturday afternoon before dinner while Brian was barbequing chicken and burgers.
Not being able to compete with the older boys, Sean meandered over to where Brian was sitting on a patio chair sipping a beer next to the propane gas grill. Keller was playing the part of the very loyal and attentive canine, but Brian knew that he was just waiting to see if he dropped a piece of chicken or a burger.
Audrey and Anna were sitting nearby on the outdoor sofa and chairs on the terrace and were deep in conversation. Audrey was earnestly talking to Anna whose brow was furrowed with concern. Brian couldn’t hear what they were talking about but he suspected that it had something to do with Abbey’s arrest.
“Hey Dad, what’s the name of that golf course that you’re always talking about that you really want to play?” Sean asked.
“Dallas National Golf Club. It’s near Dallas, Texas. Why?”
“Just wondering. . . why haven’t you played it before? Is it too far away?”
“That’s not really the issue, Sean. If I ever got a tee time on that course, I would drop everything and hop the next flight. It’s really hard to get on that course. It’s a very private club, and it doesn’t have reciprocal rights with other golf clubs.”
“Recip . . . what?”
“Reciprocal. It means that they don’t let members of other clubs play their course. You have to personally know a member, who has to invite you to play, and the member has to play with you. I don’t know anyone who belongs to that golf club.”
“Okay.” Sean scampered off to join Audrey and Anna on the terrace, who didn’t seem too happy about the interruption. But it was almost impossible to get mad at Sean. Audrey, in particular, was captivated by his curly light brown hair and winning smile. She often called him a little leprechaun. Sean won over young and old alike.
When Anna heard Sean’s plan, she told him tell the boys to meet her in her room in five minutes.
The four O’Connell children and the Martin twins were sitting cross-legged in a circle on the rug in Anna’s room. Keller was in the middle of the circle—a spot he usually claimed for himself.
Anna was a senator in her high school, and knew how to run committee meetings. “Liam, you can take notes. An emergency meeting of the OCKC—the O’Connell Kids Club has been called for the purpose of discussing a special birthday gift for dad.
We have two visitors, who might be able to help us with our current project. They have both been sworn to secrecy.
Keller is our honorary member who is known for his secret-keeping abilities, right boy?” Anna tousled his fur and appealed to him. Keller barked his assent on cue, which sent the kids into gales of laughter.
She went on. “Sean has suggested that we arrange for Dad to play a round of golf at Dallas National Golf Club. Dallas National is to American golfers what St. Andrews is to United Kingdom golfers. Dad has actually played St. Andrews and other Scottish courses, and he’s been talking about wanting to play Dallas National for years. He has always said that he would drop everything for an opportunity to play the course.
So, we are going to try to get him a tee time for his birthday in May. Sean has saved $50 to help pay for the round, but it is our understanding that money is not the issue.
“How about asking dad’s friend, Alan Castle, who played there last year and bought dad a shirt in their pro shop?” asked Kevin.
“Okay, that will be your assignment. Call Mr. Castle to see if his connection can get Dad on the course,” said Anna.
“Other ideas?” she asked.
“We can check with our mom’s publicist,” Audrey offered. “She knows a lot of people. She might be able to contact someone who belongs to the club.”
“Great!” Anna exclaimed. “Thank you!”
“I can talk to Tommy,” Liam said. His dad plays Los Angeles Country Club and may know someone from Dallas National.”
“Check. I’ll work the political angle. I’ll call our senators or representative to see if they know anyone who can get him on.
Just then they heard the dinner bell ring.
“Okay now—mum’s the word. Don’t breathe a word of this to Mom or Dad!” Anna cautioned.
The dinner conversation was lively with six children around the table, and was punctuated by much laughter.
Liz was relieved to see the Martin kids laughing. They had been through so much, and their mom was having a tough time at home without alcohol. Her publicist had arranged for a detox nurse to visit her three times a week to monitor her progress and to keep her on track.
Liz had asked how the spelling of Abbey’s name came about, since the usual spelling of the nickname for Abigail was A-B-B-Y. Audrey explained that her grandmother was a huge Beatles fan, and that their album, Abbey Road, was released at the end of September, 1969 just before her mother was born. She named her daughter Abigail, after her favorite aunt, but called her Abbey with an “e” from the start.
The conversation turned to joke telling. The children decided to have an impromptu competition for the funniest story or best joke. The prize they negotiated with Liz and Brian was that the winner would get to watch an extra hour of television during the week.
Sean led off with one of his knock-knock jokes.
“Who’s there?” they responded in unison.
“Says who?” they asked.
“Says me, that’s who!” Sean responded, giggling.
They all groaned.
“I’ve got a great labor-saving device,” Liam said.
“What is it?” asked Liz.
“Tomorrow,” Liam deadpanned.
And so the dinner went.
The winning joke was one that Mr. Morris had told Kevin a few days before, when he came to homeschool him: “A guy left his job because of illness and fatigue.”
“What was his illness?” asked Audrey.
Kevin waited a beat, and said, “His boss got sick and tired of him.”