Beginning our Holy Week
Dear Friends in Christ,
This is going to be a Holy Week and Easter unlike any other that we have experienced in our lifetimes, so let’s not waste it! While indeed there is great sadness for those who are suffering and further sadness that we cannot gather together as the family of the Church, we are still the Church: The People of God, The Body of Christ. This is still Holy Week, the holiest week of the year. We continue even in the midst of the pandemic of COVID-19, to recall Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his preaching in the temple, his gathering with the apostles for the Last Supper and the events leading to his agony and death on the cross. Most of all during this week, we prepare ourselves and our families to remember and celebrate the conquering of sin and death in Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead! In so many ways, Holy Week is a paradigm of where we find ourselves today and Easter, the perfect antidote to the coronavirus! No virus, no plague, no fear, no terror, no earthly trouble, not even death itself can conquer God’s love for us in Jesus Christ!
Every Palm Sunday, I remember and am struck by the transition that took place during those events of that Passover week two thousand years ago. The scriptures tell us that Jesus triumphantly entered into the city on an animal of burden, not his own, amid cheers of Hosanna and the waving of palms by the crowds. These details are not coincidental or insignificant. They are meaningful, significant and deliberate acts of Jesus. Go and read the passages again for yourself (Mt 21:1-11, Mk 11:1-11, Lk 19:28- 40, Jn 12:12-16). Jesus had been moving to Jerusalem and to this moment his whole life. His whole life is leading up to this moment quite literally. Jesus lived and ministered in the area of Capernaum in the Galilee with an elevation of 700 below sea level and his journey ends in Jerusalem, which is 2500 above sea level. In going to Jerusalem, he is literally reaching the height of his ministry and earthly pilgrimage. It is not insignificant that the Son of Man was to be lifted up on a cross and die on a hill (Jn 3:14). To reach Jerusalem, he traveled south but he entered the city via Jericho going to Bethany (the town of Martha, Mary and Lazarus) and Bethphage and then to the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. This entrance from the east is significant as it shows that in Jesus a new day, a new creation is dawning for the world. This entrance from the east was foretold by the prophet Zechariah and is echoed in creation itself. The King of Glory, ushering in the day of the Lord, would come from the east, humble, riding on an ass and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zech 9:9, Mt 21:5). These small details also illustrate the kingship and humility of Christ as he ascends to the great moment. Who is Jesus that he could order the taking of an animal not his own? This simple small detail reveals its significance in the instruction “and if anyone should say anything to you, reply ‘The master has need of them’” (Mt 21:3). Only the king could requisition property in such a manner. If further evidence was needed, the crowds laid down their cloaks before Jesus to give him honor and homage. The excitement and fervor of this moment was not lost on his followers. They were ready for triumph, they were ready for prosperity. They wanted it. They expected it. No doubt they believed they deserved it! Jesus’ triumphal entry was their moment of victory!
Palm Sunday I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid. St. John Paul II But the transition of this week takes place not in Jesus, hailed as king but in the crowds themselves. As we are reminded in the Letter to the Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!” (Heb 13:8). The transition is what takes place in the crowds. The crowds who proclaimed ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ were not the residents of Jerusalem. The crowds were the ones escorting Jesus along the way. They are his followers, those who believed in him! Those who witnessed his mighty works and heard his preaching. They were the ones who bore witness to Jesus when the people of Jerusalem were “shaken” just as when they heard of his birth years before (Mt 2:3). The transition that takes place during this Holy Week is not very pretty. As Jesus challenges the authorities and the people in the temple during the following days, the crowd of “faithful followers” changes. As they see Jesus confronting and demanding, they begin to shrink away, fading from sight and back into their old habits and lives. As Jesus is arrested, tortured, tried, ridiculed and executed, fewer and fewer are left. When the going got tough, when it was challenging to believe, to follow and to be faithful, the crowds shrank. When the cries rang out “Crucify him!’ they became silent. They forgot and worked to forget. They wanted someone else to be their focus. The starkness and isolation of Jesus on the cross, his blood, his suffering, his few words, his ultimate silence was not what they wanted. It was not what they thought they had bargained for. If Jesus could suffer, so could they. They did not want a suffering messiah, they wanted a king to save them from all their earthly sufferings. They wanted a Jesus, an earthly messiah who made them feel good – all the time. They did not want the heights of Calvary, they did not want their faith tested, they wanted the comfort and security of their old lives, just as did their ancestors in the desert (Ex 14:11, 16:2). As Jesus united himself to all humanity in the intimacy of death, the crowd distanced themselves from him.
As we face this Holy Week and the trials of the weeks ahead in the midst of this pandemic and the disruption of our lives, what do we want? Who do we want to be the focus of our lives? What will be the choices we make? Like St. Peter, may we confess, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). And may we confess like St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). May God give us the grace to truly live it. This Holy Week may we not distance ourselves from Jesus but join our sufferings and our whole lives to him, now and always.
Be safe and be holy!
In pace Christi,