Holy Week begins with the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. This year is probably the most unusual celebration for most of us since we will be participating at a distance, watching on our televisions, iPhones, computers or similar devices. Yet we are still participating.
As we watch, we remember. We remember the events. We remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the acclaims of “Hosanna to the Son of David.” We remember the preparations for the meal. We remember the Lord’s supper where he says, lifting the bread: “Take and eat; this is my body.” We remember the betrayal. We remember the prayer in the garden, the arrest, the denial, and trial. We remember his passion and death on the cross.
Memory is so important to us as we bring the events of the past into the present. What we remember now is love. Throughout the narrative the love of God is present. Jesus’ love for the Father seen as his faithfulness is unwavering. The garden scene brings this to the fore. Jesus is there with Peter, James and John. The weight of the cross, not yet on his shoulders, weighs heavy on his spirit as he says: “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”
He then makes his prayer: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Returning to his friends, he finds them asleep. He then returns to prayer: “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” Jesus commits himself in loving trust to the Father.
Perhaps the simple words of Jesus to the disciples as they enter the garden would be helpful for us today. “Sit here while I go there and pray.” We sit, wherever we are, and remember. We ponder and reflect on Jesus’ willingness to empty himself in love. The love he has for the Father is also reflected in the love he has for all humanity. For the passion is the turning point for human history.
Man once alienated from God due to sin is now reconciled through the faithfulness of one man, Jesus Christ. He stands in for all of us. The forces of evil have risen against him throughout the ministry. They are now back in various ways seeking to turn Jesus from his Father. He remains faithful. Condemnation is replaced by forgiveness. Mercy triumphs over judgment. And life will triumph over death.
With all the layoffs, furloughs, travel and movement restrictions, the stay-at-home orders and so forth, many of us feel frustrated and in a sense trapped as we wait for this crisis to pass. The celebration of the paschal mystery reminds us that God can bring good even out of the most desperate of situations. Next Sunday we celebrate the victory of Christ and the life he won for us.
As we ponder his passion, we are reminded that he knows the depth of human suffering. He knows what is it like to be restricted, to be alone, to be isolated, to suffer, to experience pain, and even death. He walks with us on this journey. He will walk us through it to the end. His reliance on the Father enabled him to embrace the cross and see it through to the resurrection.
He gives us the courage to face the difficulties, whether the ones we share in common or are facing alone, to remain steadfast in faith and to ultimately share in his triumph.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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