We approach Holy Week - that special and solemn moment which defines and dramatizes what it means to be Christian. It marks the great festival celebration of the central mysteries of our faith. We tend to look upon this week as a re-enactment of the final events in the human life and journey of Jesus Christ. We move from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper, the betrayal the agony in the garden, the trial, the way of the cross, the crucifixion, to His burial and resurrection.
But our Holy Week is so much more. Christian communities across the world gather to proclaim their faith in the saving mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. They listen to the Word and celebrate ancient rituals in order to be renewed in their commitment to live and die as faithful disciples of Jesus. They pass slowly through the solemn days of this Holy Week praying to be cleansed, healed and transformed by the spirit of the Risen Christ.
We used to call the first day of Holy Week "Palm Sunday"; now it is better named Passion Sunday. The very first Reading, immediately preceding the Entrance Procession recalls the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowds, and His close followers, all felt that something extraordinary was about to happen. His miracles and His message had a tremendous impact on so many. Now, here in the center of power, He was acclaimed as king and Messiah.
Then, quite suddenly, the mood of the Liturgy shifts to the Passion. The "power people" did not acclaim Him. They had mistrusted Him for a long time, and realized that the time had come to get rid of Him. Conveniently Judas, one of His own, was willing to set up His capture, in the safety and solitude of the Garden of Olives.
So, on Thursday night, the trap is sprung. He is arrested and put through a rigged trial, then handed over to the Romans for the death of crucifixion.
Friday morning, the residents of Jerusalem woke to the word of His arrest and condemnation. Many of them who had welcomed Him on Sunday with the palm branches of victory and cries of "Hosanna" now gather to see Him paraded before them by Pilate, bloodied, bruised and naked, apparently a total failure.
It was so easy then to reject Him, to disown Him, to cry out: "Crucify Him!" For so many, who wanted merely to ride on the wave of His popularity, the tide was turned. The triumph of the preceding Sunday had vanished, and they wanted no part of Him. And so, in a way, they condemned themselves to a death far worse than what awaited Him.
Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum present each of us with the opportunity to re-examine our faith commitment to Jesus, and the Church. This holy time allows us to ask ourselves some pretty important questions:
- Do we see our association with Jesus and the Catholic Church as triumph or failure?
- Do we embrace the Gospel totally?
- Are we willing to share in the "apparent defeat" of Jesus represented by His Cross, by the inevitable pain and suffering of our lives, so that we can share in the total victory of His resurrection?
- Does our faith and trust persist even in the darkest moments?
Jesus certainly understands our natural aversion to losing, to defeat of any sort. He begs us always to look beyond the surface of things, to see with the eyes of faith, and in that vision to see all that we do in the light of His Easter victory.
There will always be moments of loss, of pain, of apparent death. But He invites us to be strong and courageous, assuring us that in the power of Easter and resurrection, there is no failure, only victory.
There is an added meaning to our celebration of Passion Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. Each year the Church invites us to bring the heart-aches of our lives, our own personal broken dreams and moments of sorrow and pain to the Risen Christ. We relive the final days of the Savior in order to reinforce our conviction that resurrection always follows death, that victory always crowns our failures.
As we walk with Jesus through the incidents of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we recoil again at the ugliness and horror of his rejection, betrayal, condemnation, passion and crucifixion. We study His courage, His struggle to bend His will to the Father's. We understand His agonizing sense of abandonment. We feel His hurt at the treachery of His friends, and ultimately His trusting embrace of the Cross - and the shameful death it promised - knowing that the love and power of His Father would sustain Him and carry Him through to the triumph of Resurrection and New Life.
We all need the experience of Passion Sunday, Holy Week, The Triduum and Easter to renew our faith and our hope, to reassure us that the love and power of our Father will not allow evil, sin and death to destroy us. We must not give in to despair; we cannot give up. The Risen Christ is our hope, and the guarantee of our ultimate victory.
In many ways, the world is waiting and watching. The Christian way of life, from the first Easter Sunday until today, continues to offer renewed vision and hope to the human family. Those who do not share this faith know what it claims and what it promises. They hear the Gospel of peace, of social justice, of reconciliation, of compassion. They know that these values could and should dramatically change the quality of human life all over the globe. But then they look around - and see so much hate and poverty and crime and suffering.... and they wonder....
We can make the power of the Resurrection real. But we can only do this if we draw near to Jesus in a special way during this sacred time. We have to make time for prayer, for Liturgy, for the sacramental encounters that will allow these timeless mysteries to touch us, heal us, and renew us. These are days when the entire Community is called to be present - when we should make every effort to put other things aside to share in the Liturgical celebrations of these events.
The experience of our Holy Week should be profound for each of us individually and for our community. We want, especially during these sacred days, to pour ourselves out, to be humble, obedient servants of God, so that we, like Jesus, will exalted, lifted up, and deserve the name "faithful Christian."
It is Christ our Savior who enables us to do this. So we join Him in mind and spirit on Passion Sunday, enter Jerusalem with Him, proclaiming Jesus Christ Is Lord!
We will come to be with Him on Holy Thursday, learn again the meaning of Christian service through His washing of His disciples feet, recognize Him in the breaking of the Bread, and proclaim: Jesus Christ Is Lord!
We will come to be with Him on Good Friday, watch with Him in the Garden, share His pain and shame on Calvary, watch Him die - and proclaim: Jesus Christ Is Lord!
And we will come to be with Him at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday, see again the mystery of the Resurrection with the eyes of faith, and rise ourselves with Him to new holiness of life and love as we proclaim Jesus Christ Is Lord!