St Matthew tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the city was in tumult, quaking indeed, with people asking, ‘Who is this?’ As Christian believers, we need to keep asking this same question so as to deepen our own faith, and help those who in different ways still ask about Jesus Christ: who is this? The answer is given to us in full measure in Holy Week and Easter and it is shattering in its power. Jerusalem quaked when Jesus entered it, the earth would quake as Jesus died, and there was a strong earthquake as the angel descended onto the empty tomb. The impact of Christ’s life, death and resurrection has reached down the ages to us here today and is continuing to spread to all peoples and all generations. It is an impact without precedent.
The good news of salvation must not be tamed. Jesus Christ has a sovereign authority not known before on earth, he reigns with the kind of power that is a unique love. He makes a difference to everyone and to everything. The bible’s last book, Revelation, keeps before us the sight of a new heaven and a new earth. There is a holy city too, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
Holy Week is the most solemn week in the Church’s year where we enter the drama of our salvation. It’s where we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and express our deepest gratitude to him. All that Jesus did for us, was done out of love and the only true response we can make is to love in return. Without a deep love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. And we cannot say we fully love him until we appreciate what he suffered for us. Let’s, therefore, walk with Jesus this week. We began today by accompanying him on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, we join him at the Last Supper where he washed his disciples’ feet and asked us to remember him in the breaking of bread. On Good Friday, we follow him in the way of the cross and stand in silence with his mother Mary and his beloved disciple John. All the while we keep reminding ourselves that Jesus did all of this for love of you and me.
Having listened to the Passion narrative we need not retrace in detail the events it described. Suffice it to say that long before that final day of his life, Jesus was no stranger to hardship, privation, and suffering. “Being in the form of God,” as St Paul says, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are. Often, he suffered the same hardship familiar to poor people everywhere, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He knew the feelings of hunger and thirst, and sometimes, after a long day among crowds of listeners, he would spend the night in the hills, praying for them. And yet, this man who showed such compassion for others, met with such bitter rejection, in particular from the Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this refusal of his message must have grieved him. King Lear knew “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child;” and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.
So terrible was the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced his death, that in the garden his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Another bitter pill was the knowledge that one of his own circle of twelve would betray him, that most of the others would leave him, and that even the loyal St Peter would repeatedly swear he had never met him. But most terrible of all was his feeling of being abandoned by God, his inner spirit shrouded in a darkness that reflected the murky darkness that enveloped Calvary as the end drew near. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet, it was this kind of death — epitomized by his crucifixion — that merited him exaltation and eventually the name above all other names. It’s this kind of death our sacred authors expect us to imitate.
For some strange reason, the line preceding today’s second reading is omitted. “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” In other words, to follow Jesus is to empty oneself, to humble oneself and become obedient, just like Jesus did. Our first reading from Isaiah contains a wonderful definition of a true follower of God. “Morning after morning,” the prophet announces, “the LORD opens my ear that I may hear.” Every morning, the true disciple of God hits the floor listening for what God wants him or her to do on that specific day. We best do this by listening to the voices and needs of others.
This year, as we listen to the Passion narrative, we should not only thank Jesus for dying for us but also thank him for showing us how to die for others.
Sunday, April 9, 2017