Back in the day, two friends and I started a business. The company was a good mix of skills, dispositions, and work ethic. One of the partners, Jack, was the best project manager I ever encountered. His staff loved him and the clients always wanted to know if Jack was managing their particular project. We had one client in the mid-west that made a very large contract contingent on Jack being the manager. That was fine. Jack had a demand of his own – and it was non-negotiable. The client waivered, but Jack held firm. He was clear, convicted, and certain: no matter what, he would be attending the Summer Olympics and the World Track and field championships. That was his non-negotiable: his vacation.
I had my “non-negotiable” vacation time, too. But I have to say I was not a clear, forthright, and bold as Jack. I just made it work, quietly; without a lot of fanfare or attention. I always took vacation during to free up the whole week before Easter. I took time off to relax, visit people, take long bike rides and decompress so I would be ready to celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. I have to admit, I did not pay a lot of attention to Palm Sunday.
Today is the gateway to Holy Week – the context is set today in the holy words we proclaim. Although most everyone calls today Palm Sunday, today is properly called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Lots of people are surprised that the Palm Sunday readings is part of the entrance procession, but the Gospel is the reading of the Passion. At one point in my life I distinctly remembering that reading the Passion was jumping the gun a bit, don’t you think? I mean, won’t Good Friday arrive in its own good time? Can’t we wait to hear about the Last Supper, the betrayal, Gethsemane, the trials, Pontius Pilate, scouring, the crucifixion, and Jesus dead, laid in a tomb? What is the rush?
Some say that many people won’t be here for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, so we have to make sure that they hear the reading of the Passion before Easter. I will admit there is a danger in going from the Palm Sunday shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest;” then jumping to Christ Resurrected. The “danger” is “see, it all works out, Jesus wins” and thinking the glory of God is revealed in the Resurrection alone.
I think there is something in reading the Passion today that not only gives us the context for the week. But it points to the heart of Holy Week. And we need to sit with that for a few days before we celebrate the particulars of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us.
So here it is, at least…. a part of the heart of Holy Week:
Just over our shoulder, we celebrated Christmas when the Son of God and Son of Mary, fully divine and fully human, enters into the fullness of the human condition. And now our Lenten journey has brought us to Holy Week where so many folks focus on all that Jesus suffered for us because of our human condition, stiff-neck and unrepentant as we can be. Even though that is true, I think it misses the mark – is incomplete at best. Yes, Jesus suffered for us, but Jesus has entered into the part of humanity where darkness dwells. Where people are entombed. Where there is torture, brokenness, bondage, hopelessness, and abandonment. The place where we hear “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? … My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from the voices of the faithful, the lost, the despairing, and those who are afflicted and feels as though there is no place left for hope. The voices that may be particularly poignant during this pandemic of the coronavirus.
But it is through the betrayal, Gethsemane, the trials, Pontius Pilate, scouring, the crucifixion that Jesus enters into the darkest part of humanity. Where he is tortured, broken, held in bondage, scourged and crucified – helpless in the hands of Roman power, corrupt authorities and betrayal. There is no vestige of human experience untouched by God.
Such is the love of God for us. The glory of God displayed as a Love so vast, a desire that all be saved that runs so deep, that God holds back nothing. Nothing. Not even his only Son. Such love. Such love. It is the glory of God. It is the God who is.
Holy Week is a journey into the Glory of God, rightly understood.
It is to understand the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in a profound way. To understand that the Word of God, condescendere, stepped down in humility to pitch his tent with us. Stepped down to wash his disciples feet; knowing that Jesus will stepped down even further into the full darkness of the human condition. That all will be saved; all will be converted even the most broken part of our lives. So, when Jesus asks the Apostles on Holy Thursday, “Do you know what I have done for you?” The answer is far richer. Then to sit, watch the altar being stripped, darkness begin to fall within the church, and the grand silence settles, and we wait… and there is a lot of waiting these days.
But we also ponder – “Do you know what I have done for you? Do we really understand what He has done for us?
Holy Week, begins to today. And by Sunday morning we pray we will be closer to being able to more completely answer that question: “Do you know what I have done for you?” We need time to let it rummage around and let it find its home within us.
And this year it seems exactly the celebration we need during this pandemic as we wait and wonder.
This is a glimpse into the heart of Holy Week.