In light of everything that has been transpiring in our world, I find it hard to believe that next week is Holy Week. It is my favorite week of the year and yet, I am getting ready to celebrate it in a way no one ever stopped to imagine — without a live congregation and with adaptations necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. No Palm Sunday Procession, no Washing of the Feet, no Repository or Night Watch, no Veneration of the Cross, no Easter Fire, no Sacraments of Initiation… you and I might ask “what’s left?” And the answer is… the Paschal Mystery in all its starkness and glory! Even without their full repertoire of ceremonies, the liturgies of Holy Week direct you and me to enter into this sacred walk with Jesus in a way reminiscent of the earliest followers of the Way (see Acts 24:14)… the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.
On that first Palm Sunday, as Jesus was welcomed so readily into Jerusalem, we already get the idea that a crowd can be infectious and a breeding ground for “dis-ease.” That is why as Jesus was making his entry on one end of town, the Roman procurator and his soldiers were arriving through another gate to be in Jerusalem for the Passover feast lest there be any trouble. As the evangelist Matthew notes, “And when he entered the Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee’” (Mt 21:10-11). Yet, the question of the week will revolve on what this means to those who encounter him.
Our own experience of what the next day will bring at this particular time in our lives helps us to relate even more to Jesus’ disciples and friends as they journeyed with him to the table, to the cross, and to the tomb. As the commentary in Creighton University’s Daily Prayer This Week notes: “This is the week we call ‘Holy’ because it is a memorial of God’s saving deeds for us in Jesus. There is a solemn nature to this week. We might be tempted to be sad or conflicted this week. It is not easy to get close to the reality that we are sinners and our Lord and Savior went through this betrayal, suffering and death for us. So, sometimes, we avoid looking at this week closely, and praying with it, because we fear getting into our guilt. The invitation this week is to come closer to the reality of God’s profound love for us. Yes, we are all sinners. But, we are loved sinners. We are being invited to be grateful, not to beat our breasts. We are invited, in this spirit to feel all that we can feel this week. Yes, we will feel some discomfort — after all, we feel discomfort when anyone puts themselves through some sacrifice for us. And, the sacrifice here is the gift of his very self — so that we might always know how completely Jesus entered into the reality of our human existence — ‘even death, death on a cross’ [Phil. 2:6-9]” (Taken from the “Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer” on the Creighton University’s Online Ministries website:
http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/online.html Used with permission.)
A line in this reflection that has significance for me is, “We are invited, in this spirit to feel all that we can feel this week.” Again, the unembellished liturgies of Holy Week 2020 invite us to strip away a lot of the sentimentality often associated with these days and to see them with the new eyes of faith, hope, and love. What we celebrate at Easter is not simply new life won for us, but new life won for us at a cost! In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, St. Paul declares, “Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
This is the invitation we are being given as we are called to enter into Christ’s Passover feast. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, it is not simply calling to mind an event in their history. Rather, they hold that they are partaking once again in that Exodus journey where they, too, are called to enter into this journey of covenant and deliverance. The same is to be said of you and I as we enter into Christ’s Passover sacrifice as the Lamb of God. Next week is not just a week of commemoration for Jews or Christians, instead the People of God are bidden to become who they truly are in God’s eyes! And the place it begins is our homes, around our tables, where we are invited to read and share the sacred stories, allow them to mark who we are, and to cast out the darkness of the night!
I always wondered what the “house” church meant in the early days of Christianity and I think I am discovering anew how it was to be the building block of the early Christian communities. It is when the communities grew that they needed the larger spaces for communal worship. In an age where church attendance has been decreasing and congregations shrinking, I pray as a successor of the apostles that this might be, as I have seen written on the web, a “Re-Pentecost” moment.
A moment where from our prayer behind closed doors bursts forth a renewed desire for the Sacraments and for keeping holy the Lord’s Day. A moment of introspection where we acknowledge where we have strayed from the Lord and His Word and seek to be reconciled with Him and His Way/His Church. A moment of sending forth of disciples into the world to make known the Good News of Jesus Christ not only in proclaiming His message, but even more importantly in the way you and I live.
Yes, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter will not be the same this year, but maybe that is because you and I are being invited, in the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, to “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (5:14). For me, this is the ultimate grace in this testing time of asking where is God… where is Jesus Christ in my life… and have I placed any other gods before Him?
Each day this week, I invite you to join me in prayer and on the web as the Paschal Mystery — the living, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ — unfolds before us. May the simplicity of what we do help us to more plainly see the wondrous love Holy Week is all about and the hope it brings to our world even today.
I truly invite you in this moment to let our Crucified and Risen Savior into your hearts and into your lives. Jesus saves, brothers and sisters — that is the ultimate meaning of this week as it was of Jesus’ life. And as the American spiritual sings out,“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”
A blessed Holy Week to all! Let us keep each other in prayer.