Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” certainly gives a visional, vivid portrayal of the tortures that Jesus endured for our sake. It is extremely important to understand why Jesus suffered and died. He did so because of my, our sins. He paid the price.
We live in a culture where we always want to shift the blame – it just can’t be me. Some Christians have attempted to do this throughout the ages. They blamed the Jews, the Romans but never pointed the fingers at themselves, yet it was all of our sins that crucified our Lord, which is why he is my, our Savior and Redeemer. But if we delude ourselves into thinking that we don’t sin, then there is no need for a Savior or Redeemer. I hope that Gibson watches his movie during Holy Week and understands that there is a loving and merciful Lord waiting for his own repentance.
The liturgical movement of Holy Week gives us an opportunity to journey with Jesus through the last days of his life. Beginning with Palm Sunday, we go from the “Hosannas,” the cheers to the jeers, “Crucify him.”
I remember one sensitive little girl asking her mother during the reading of the Passion, “Mommy, why are they hurting Jesus?” The gentle mother responded, “Because they don’t understand him.”
I believe the world is still trying to understand Jesus, but no one will understand him until one assumes the personal responsibility for his death. We share in the waving of palms willing to accept Jesus in his glory but often following the crowd, turn away from him during the time of his persecution. Palm Sunday is a good way to begin our Holy Week journey, but it is important to continue and embrace the Triduum.
I must admit that I am dismayed at the sight of half-filled churches during the Triduum – the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. I guess it’s like our Lord said in the garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not stay awake and pray with me but for an hour?”
Holy Thursday takes us to the upper room where Jesus gives to his disciples the great mysteries of the Eucharist: the priesthood and the commandment to love one another. I remember a Holy Thursday celebration in Rome at St. John Lateran with the soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II. In humble servitude, the pope washed the feet of 12 elderly men of Rome. At the end of the washing, he kissed their feet. The image of the pope kissing the feet of those he serves continues to be an inspiration and a reminder to me of my service.
At the end of the liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is processed through the church and placed in a special tabernacle of reposition where adoration by the faithful continues. A tradition carried on by some is the visitation of churches and prayers offered before the altars of repose.
My sister, Penny, and a number of her friends visit a number of the churches praying for various intentions on Holy Thursday night. The altars are stripped and there is an emptiness felt immediately as the real presence is removed. Good Friday has three parts: the Liturgy of the Word and reading of the Passion, the veneration of the Cross and a Communion service. The Eucharist has already been consecrated the night before at the Holy Thursday liturgy. This is the only time in the entire year when Mass is not celebrated. The suffering and death of the Lord is emphasized. I personally love the stark hymn: “Were you there when they crucified My Lord?” It’s a haunting expression drawing attention to his crucifixion.
We are a people who should be living in profound gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. Saturday brings us to the Easter Vigil when all seems lost. Jesus fulfills his promise and is resurrected from the dead. The three symbols of light, word and water remind us how our Lord draws us into his life. Christ is the Light that dispels the darkness. He is Word which has come into the world and he is the Water which has washed away our sins.
Even during difficult times which the church is experiencing, we witness those accepting baptism into the church and others being received into full communion. The Holy Spirit is calling our brothers and sisters into the church instituted by Christ leading us to salvation. The Gloria is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent, signifying the joy of the church sharing in the resurrection of the Lord. Easter Sunday brings out the best in dress. Christ’s promise of life is fulfilled and now we are called to live life to the fullest.
There are those who probably haven’t been to church for a while. They come on Easter for various reasons. Hopefully some discover that there is a life yet to come and it begins with the love of God through his Son. The world can’t handle the resurrection. It poses consequences which would force drastic changes. It’s easier to create Easter as a celebration for children when the Easter Bunny distributes colored eggs and candy. We can put the Easter Bunny aside for a year but we can’t put Christ aside. Once we experience his suffering, death and resurrection we need to share his life with others.
Have a Blessed Easter!