The Irony of Discipleship – Pastor’s Reflection (March 20, 2016)
The Palm Sunday Liturgy challenges me at my roots. I find myself carrying my palm, enjoying the beauty of the procession, and catching the mood of the happy crowds welcoming Jesus on the approach to Jerusalem. Yet, every year that crowd turns on Jesus, and He ends up alone on Good Friday. I ask myself if I would have stuck with Him once the glamor was gone. Holy Week confronts me the paradox of recognition and understanding. At some level I get Jesus and at a deeper level I do not, and this is why each year I must walk through Holy Week once more. Here is the nature of Faith as a gift we spend a lifetime growing into.
By their content and their very intensity, the Holy Week Liturgies continue the revelatory work of the Cross. The events of the Passion and the Resurrection lay bare the love of God. By this has the cross been transformed for us. What served as an instrument of execution has become the primary icon of our identity as Christians. We kiss the Cross, we guild and bejewel it, we crown our buildings with it, we wear it with pride. By this sign we believe that the Maker of the World knows and accepts us.
But He knows and accepts us as sinners, and the Cross reveals profoundly the sin of humanity. Jesus is stretched upon its beams by the arrogance of empire, the cowardice of leadership, the defensiveness of religious people, and the violence of everyone. The death of Jesus exposes these things in a specific time and place and it indicts definite institutional actors. But all of these together represent the shadow side of us, thrown into high relief and thrust into God’s face. In the Crucifixion occur the perfect worship of Christ and the anti-worship of humanity.
Christ Crucified takes up the priestly stance assigned to Israel in the covenant with Moses. As the perfect Jew, holding God’s good things in covenant, He returns to God that which belongs to Him, namely the humanity He had received as gift, not right. The perfection of Christ’s humanity asserts itself in bringing the worship of gratitude and vulnerability into the most terrible of circumstances. Here, Christ stands on the ground sanctified by Abraham, who on Mt. Moriah offered God his son Isaac, recognizing the he had received him as gift, not possession. God responds to Abraham by providing a ram so that the Patriarch could make his response to Him, and redeem his son. The radical love of the Passion appears in Christ’s offering of His own humanity and in the Father’s acceptance of the offer without reprieve. The Father and the Son embrace each other across the human cruelty vainly interposed between them.
The love of Father and Son shows us the transformative power with which God responds to true human worship. The victory of this power becomes apparent to us at Easter, and we experience it at each Mass, as God continues to transform our offerings.
But their love also delineates clearly the nature of anti-worship, which is to exercise possessory power over God’s gifts as confided to me, or to another. We know the futile freedom of trying to own our bodies and the isolation that rewards the quest for self-sufficiency. Do we also perceive the empty dominion we establish through the exploitation of another, even in the most genteel fashion? Do we realize the violence we do when we seek control over a group of God’s souls?
What Abraham and Jesus never forget is that all life belongs to God, and their holiness lies in recognizing this without fear, and with love. Embracing our non-possession of ourselves will found a solid spiritual life, will keep us in the way of moral conversion, and it will give us an open, candid presence to our companions.
You and I are being formed by each Holy Week, and by every Eucharist in between, to live our lives in God’s presence in the way Christ shows, with the strength He gives. Honesty will show us progress to this point, but also a vast horizon of growth. The washing of the feet, the shared Eucharistic elements, and Christ’s crucified body will together challenge our arrogance and our presumption, rebuke our calculations and manipulations, and frustrate our complacency. All of this is a plan not for shame, but for freedom. The Holy Spirit has come to breathe this surprising liberty into hearts open to receiving it. He has come so that, “We might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose for us again.” (Eucharistic Prayer IV)
At Easter, Christians testify that they are becoming like Christ in fits and starts. They struggle to give their lives away, believing that when they succeed in this they find their lives all over again and better than ever.
Blessings on your Holy Week.