Getting Ready to Pray
Holy Week begins with Sunday’s liturgy, celebrating our salvation. We prepare by taking little “holy Moments” to experience our need for salvation. We are freed, not only from eternal separation from God, but our being separated from ourselves, our better selves and by that from the experiences of being united with others.
There are various daily invitations to faithfulness, to the crosses of our humanity and to those of others. We can pray with these. We can reflect as well upon our acts of grateful fidelity to our families and friends and our world in direct imitation of the whole life of Jesus
We have several couplets in our liturgy of Palm Sunday. There are two “parades” described in the two Gospels for this Palm Sunday’s liturgy. One parade leads into Jerusalem with Jesus’ being welcomed and proclaimed. We could view him as doing a foolish thing as he enters the city of his arrest, suffering, and death. This leads to the other picture where Jesus leaves Jerusalem, days later, in disgrace and abandonment. The Liturgy of Palms and the Liturgy of the Passion bespeak the duality of our human response to God throughout history. Sometimes we welcome him in, and other times we push him away.
There is in the First Reading for the Eucharistic liturgy, a submissive prophetic figure who is given to speak, but suffers for what he knows. In the Gospel, we do not hear Jesus rebelling or turning back. The words he speaks are of his personal truth and not a defensive refuting. Jesus’ words are of handing over; his teachings, his body in the Eucharist, his spirit on the cross. Judas hands him over as well, but refuses to take in that spirit.
Isaiah speaks of innocence. Jesus lives his way of doing “no harm,” while walking through the shame and guilt which surround him. Here is the major contrast, then: the gentleness of Jesus colliding with the human resistance to purity and truth.
The root meaning of the word “innocence” is not “guiltless,” but “no harm.” This is a prism through which we can watch Jesus while listening to the long narrative of the Passion. He lived and died doing no harm and more positively, doing the infinitely good thing.
How much ink, paint, marble, and glass have been used in the attempt to express a theme, a mood, or a presentation of what this all means. We keep the memory alive each time we gather for the Eucharist. We intensify the meaning during this Holy Week, beginning with Sunday’s liturgy. Each conversation Jesus has, each action of his, each event of denial or injury, speaks the same reality. The apostles, the Jewish leaders, the soldiers all failed to understand who he was to them. They never knew during these events the importance of what he was doing on their behalf. The apostles slept while he prayed his obedient surrender. They fled while he remained faithful.
Ah, but here is the comfort for us in it all: for all the art and words, we too do not fully comprehend the embrace. We can catch fleeting emotions and ideas about what Jesus’ death means, but we have heard it all so often that the embrace can seem more like a handshake or simple nod. There is still some sleep within us as we consider being loved so dearly. There is always the possibility and reality of our denials of his invitations to follow him. What do we do then? With what do we pray during these holy days of our eternal Passover?
One of the prayerful ways to receive Jesus’ passion and death these Holy Week days is to consider how we might be at the bedside of a very sick or dying friend. We might want to fetch some water, plump up the pillow, straighten the bed clothes. Eventually the best and only thing we do is to sit there, watching with our memories. These may bring us some hope.
Thank you, foolish Lover of us all.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality
with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave.”