Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Holy Week

Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper
Palm Sunday begins the chief week of the Liturgical Year. We focus in particular upon the Paschal mystery, the journey of Jesus from this earthly life through the mystery of death into a transformative heavenly life.

The word “paschal” derives from the Hebrew “pesach” or “passing” of the angel of death over the homes of Hebrews in ancient Egypt. In a larger sense, Passover refers to their exodus or liberation from their oppressors. Jewish communities re-experience this liberation in the annual Seder service which begins March 31 this year.

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 this paradox, even in the tragedy of Good Friday there is the triumph of Easter: Jesus crucified, risen and alive.

The word of God from Isaiah is about a “servant” who suffers for us. Paul’s letter to the Philippians quotes an early Christian hymn about God who became one of us, obedient even to death on the cross. And because of this, God greatly exalted him. And the Gospel according to Mark proclaims the passion and death of Jesus.

This coming Thursday, we commemorate the Lord’s Supper: the washing of feet (a symbol of service); and a meal in which Jesus gives himself to us in the signs of bread and wine (a symbol of our oneness with God and each other).

On Good Friday we meditate upon the passion and death of Jesus.

At the Easter vigil Saturday evening, we reflect upon the passage of Jesus from this earthly life through death into a transformative heavenly life. The resurrection of Jesus is a pledge of our own future, from death and nothingness into a glorious heavenly life. The vigil includes fire/candlelight as a symbol of Jesus as the light who illuminates the darkness. It also includes the proclamation of the story of our salvation in Scriptures; the renewal of our baptismal promises; and the Eucharist.

Easter proclaims that Jesus is risen; alive among us. I urge all of you to participate in these services as much as you can.

Let me conclude with reference to a ship that ran aground in 1875. Among the 157 passengers who perished were five German Franciscan nuns who stayed below deck because there wasn’t enough room on deck. They were immortalized in “The Wreck of the Deutschland” by Jesuit Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, making a parallel to the sufferings of Jesus for the sake of the many. The poem reads in part:
As the water rose around them, the nuns clasped hands and were heard saying, “O Christus, O Christus, komm schnell” or “O Christ, O Christ, come quickly!” Hopkins concludes with this line referring to Christ: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us …”

The word “easter” is a nautical term. It means steering toward the east, into the light. Jesus Christ is the light. Yes, "let Christ easter in us" so that he may empower us to reflect his virtues in our daily lives, e.g., compassion, peacemaking, fairness, truth, courage and forgiveness.

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