Today we begin a week that remembers how Jesus died, how he left this world. For many centuries, the Catholic Church has called the Paschal Mystery.
No one escapes the Paschal Mystery. We passed over from God and began who we are as human beings, and each of us will return and passover once again to God from whom we came.
I believe that most of us are oblivious about our origin and about our final destination. Jesus came to earth with a mission — to be God in a most human form, to share the way to live as human beings, to enjoy its simplicity and its joys, and to encourage us to pass on the mission until it was our turn to cross back from where we came– The meaning of the word, “paschal,” passover.
I believe it is important to see and to understand and to comprehend “the big picture.” “Forewarned is forearmed.” Then we will not be surprised or shocked.
Our present pandemic shocks us and unsettles us. We are shaken to the core — how we might be infected and possibly die. Our lives were going just fine. We were just getting ahead. We had just received a promotion. We were looking forward to a prom, to a graduation, to a new future. Ninety percent of our life is on hold. Is our passover coming? We never stop to think that each day is another day closer to our passover.
If we build our lives and futures on commerce, on employment, money, and things, we do not learn what to do, how to adjust, or what else may be a better foundation for our lives.
WE can appreciate how we are disoriented, how we are depressed, why we are bored, impatient where we are stuck.
This is the week when we remember how Jesus’ life came to an abrupt end. In the Gospels, Jesus said several times that he could see the way that it would end, but his closest friends chose to ignore his premonitions and refused to listen. The story of St. Matthew’s account of some of the things that happened remind us that every passover is different, how it will be experienced by family and friends will be different. Do you have any premonition of what or when each of our passovers will happen? It is certainly alarming, upsetting, and frightening to think too much about as this pandemic continues to morph and spread.
Perhaps, this pandemic forces us to apply Jesus’s paschal mystery to our own lives, perhaps to focus less on Jesus’ walk to death two thousand years ago and rather on our walk to death at this particular time. While our passover is always coming, every day of every year until it comes.
Are we afraid to think, afraid to feel, to come to terms with our own personal walk to the crucifixion. “O God, I do not want to think about any of that. I just want to go merrily along. I prefer to live in the unreality of life rather than think of a final destination.” Is that what we are saying to ourselves?
If you really want to spend HOly Week as a rehearsal for our final destination, I suggest that each of us read this story that Matthew tells (Chapters 26 and 27) again this week and listen to some of the things that Jesus says which show how human and divine Jesus was:
“My appointed time draws near.” All of us have an appointed time – to celebrate our passover.
“Woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” It is not so much by what we do that we betray; rather more by what we don’t do.
“Take and Eat; drink his blood.” The Jewish people believed that the blood of animals sacrificed as part of Temple worship redeemed them and reconciled them to God. The early Christians understood the symbol of blood being poured out.
What Jesus asks us to do is to drink his life, his spirit, his spirituality, his dedication to walk close to God His Father, in step with his Father – 14 stations, remember those. It took hours for Jesus to reach his final destination. He is not talking about physical blood.
How many times have we heard the cock crow? How often have we experienced sorrow even to death? We want the cup to pass just as much as Jesus did. Are we the betrayer or is Judas?
Jesus was never the victim and tells us today, “ Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than 12 legions of angels?”
The Evangelist will often explain what happened to Jesus as fulfilling the Scriptures which said that it must come to pass in this way.
The early Christians studied the Old Testament and found many examples of good and righteous people, especially the prophets who died because of what they said and did. Their stories were interwoven and were used to describe Jesus’ death as well.
There are many individuals, with many different character traits that weave in and out of the passion story. Perhaps, we can identify with their standing on the sidelines, wanting a different outcome, hiding behind others, playing at or twisting the truth. Would we choose Jesus or Barabbas? There were two convicted thieves crucified on either side of Jesus: Where would we find ourselves?
As Jesus was hanging on the cross, many onlookers were taunting Jesus and insulting him because of the claims that he made: “Save yourself, if you are the Son of God.”
They still did not know that only God the Father saves Jesus and God would remind us that he will do that for Jesus and for us. Remember, it is God who brings us to the final destination.
There is a moment at the end of the story where Jesus cries out as fi abandoned, and it was at that moment that he “gave up his Spirit.”
It is interesting to note that it was a Roman centurion and his fellow soldiers who may not have known who Jesus was, that after witnessing everything that day proclaim: “Truly this was the Son of God.”
Jesus is the model of how to give up the Spirit. It takes place right at the moment when we place our lives at the intersection of crying “Hosanna,” an Aramaic word that means “Save us, Lord,” and seeing the Son of God coming to save us: the final destination.
We should be very perplexed today because there is no HOllywood ending this morning, neither for Jesus nor for us.
And the story of the Passion and the pandemic is less upsetting if we know that we need The Hosanna, the God who can save us.
We need to ask God to save us, to strengthen us, to prepare us for what is coming which will last long after Holy Week and Easter.
All of this puts our faith to a real test. All of this invites us to come face to face with Jesus and admit that we are scared. But it also calls to an extraordinary hope and trust and prayers for a simple but frightening realization that God knows more than we do and that we need to put our spirit in his spirit.
Thus our Holy Week begins!
Here is God’s sorrow, a prayer for us this week. His Hope! (Matt 23:37)
How often have I longed to gather you as my children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused. So be it! Your house will be left to you desolate… until you say: “Blessings upon him who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
All that God wants is for us to be close. God gathers us under his wings today. Let us stay there.