Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Paradox: Holy Week

The Resurrection of Jesus by Rubens
Our global Catholic community on Ash Wednesday invited us to re-treat ourselves to those age-old exercises of prayer ("heart to heart" conversation with God), fasting (doing without, e. g., negative attitudes and behaviors that can jeopardize our relationship with God and one another) and almsgiving (generously sharing what we have). I hope these exercises in the Lenten season have re-invigorated us, deepened our faith in God.

Today, Palm Sunday, we begin Holy Week, the chief week of the Liturgical Year.  We focus upon the Paschal mystery (the dying/rising of Jesus Christ).  We contemplate the journey from this earthly life through the mystery of death into a transfigured heavenly life.

The word “paschal” derives from the Hebrew “pesach” or “passing” of the angel of death over the homes of the Hebrews in ancient Egypt centuries ago. In a larger sense, the passover refers to the exodus or liberation of the Hebrews from their oppressors.

I came across a story that highlights for me the significance of Holy Week.  A high school teacher in a Iowa farm community asked each of her students to take a potato for every person the student had refused to forgive or had treated badly.  They were to write the name of the person on the potato and put it in the plastic bag.  The teacher then told the students to carry the potatoes all day and the next.

This taught a valuable lesson about the time and energy we waste lugging around our anger and guilt.  Too often, we think of forgiveness as a gift to another person: but it is clearly a gift to ourselves, as well.  We have to throw away our anger and our guilt.

Forgiveness and reconciliation and peace are what Holy Week is all about.

On Palm Sunday, we reflect upon a paradox: the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the Gospel proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus.  In the tragedy of Good Friday there is the triumph of Easter; in and through the death of Jesus there is resurrection.

Thursday-Friday-Saturday is known as the triduum or “three days.”

Thursday, we commemorate the Lord’s Supper: there is the washing of feet (a symbol of service); and a sacrificial meal where Jesus gives himself to us in the signs of bread and wine.  The words of Jesus capture the significance: “This is my body; this is my blood.”  On Good Friday, we meditate upon his passion and death.  At the Easter vigil, we will reflect upon the passage of Jesus from this earthly life through death into a transfigured heavenly life; the resurrection of Jesus is a pledge of our own liberation.

Easter proclaims that Jesus is risen; alive among us, especially in the sacramental life.  I pray that your participation in these services will inspire you to seek ever more enthusiastically the God who became flesh in Jesus, who opened up to us a transfigured life beyond earthly life, and who by the power of the Spirit is alive among us.

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