Everyone loves a good two-fer, right? We all love a good deal and appreciate value, or at least the idea, of getting more for the same or less investment.
In that case, unless you’re the rare bird that doesn’t care for added value, Holy Week is for you.
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion — the full title of the feast we observe today — includes two Gospels, in effect, and the possibility of two homilies. While for some, that prospect can bring on cold sweats, the messages we hear today contain perhaps 70% of the core story of the life of Jesus. This “Paschal Mystery” (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb [Pascha] of God) is the foundation of our salvation and the basis for our hope of salvation.
In the Gospel read at the gathering for the procession with palms, the vivid account of Jesus’ heroic entrance into the city of Jerusalem is proclaimed. The Jewish people wildly, passionately and (ultimately) hypocritically acclaim Jesus as their king, believing this meant impending liberation from Roman rule and a rise in politico-military stature. The Jews lay down their cloaks in the road to make a path on which Jesus can enter, waving palms in the air and shouting exulting praise to Jesus, though in a short time, they will forsake their praise and call for his execution.
The polar change in the response to Jesus is experienced within the span of a half hour or so in this pivotal Liturgy. Before we cast stones, though, we would do well to recall that it often takes us only half a minute to make that same change in tune.
We embark this week on our annual commemoration of the pivotal moment in human history. We will walk alongside Jesus’ way to the place of his crucifixion. We will be present at his death and, at some level, will be shouting along with the crowds, “Let his blood be upon us and our children!” How deeply we need that very thing and how shallow our sentiment, as we reject his message of Divine friendship and love.
This is the holiest week of the year, every year. It is my favorite week, despite its demands.
Our Lenten sacrifices reach their apex as we anticipate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, wherein Jesus’ own sacrifice includes his very flesh as our food and his own self-emptying service to wash us clean. Our response, appropriately, is humble quiet after we sing out the mystery of his very presence with us.
In the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, we are offered a privileged place among all who look to the cross and find there Jesus, the Lord. He is the sign lifted up in this desert for all the ailing, sin-sick and soul-sore to look upon to receive healing. His blood indeed be upon us! He is the Passover Lamb whose blood marks God’s chosen, and we are the pilgrim people setting out for our heavenly homeland.
All of Saturday, we live in the quiet of the tomb in those mysterious hours alone given the knowledge of the very moment of Jesus’ rising. To celebrate this mystery, we retrace the steps of the plan devised by God through which he would grant us pardon, freeing us from the bonds of sin. We retell the story, singing of his goodness at every turn, breaking into glorious acclamation, then calling to mind the Baptism that unites us to the Lord. We cry out in jubilant praise just before remembering the death blow dealt to death itself.
This time of Liturgical year is so very rich, so dense with meaning. I challenge you to take in the sights, the sounds, the words and the rites, and rather than appreciating them for their beauty or merely observing them, digest them. Let us each find ourselves in the story of the Paschal Mystery. Whose shoes do you fit in, as you think on the narrative? Whose voice is yours, as we read from two different Passion accounts? What trivial thing have you taken for granted that the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet — the long, extended chant at the Easter Vigil) declares as holy? Whose footsteps do you trace, as the disciples race to the tomb?
Please enjoy this most holy season. This is the week during which all the language we hear used throughout the year is exposed for all of its depth, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.