As followers of Christ, this is the most important week of the year. Beginning with the pageantry and processions of Palm Sunday and ending with the stark quiet of Holy Saturday, the Church gives us an opportunity, through a wide array of liturgical celebrations, to retrace the path that Christ himself traveled in his final days. All of our Lenten projects and penances have prepared us for this moment: for now we embark on a journey in which we encounter the power and presence of Christ’s unconditional love. As this week unfolds, we do well to reflect daily on the last events of Christ’s life, for it is by this reflection that we open ourselves to the graces of the season.
Palm Sunday The feast of the Passover is near. Jerusalem is bursting with all those who have come from far and wide to celebrate the remembrance of their Exodus from Egypt and to look forward to the coming of the Messiah. Amid the bustling of preparation, some wonder if the Teacher will come for the Passover. He does not disappoint. The crowds spot Jesus while he is still a way off, riding on a colt (as Isaiah prophesied – Is 62:11), and they give him a royal welcome: They spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut braches from the trees and strewed them on the road (Mt 21:8). And all the while they cried: Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord (Mt 21:9). As he enters Jerusalem, Jesus is acclaimed as the Son of David, the king who is to restore the prosperous kingdom that David enjoyed 1000 years earlier. But not all share in this joyful proclamation, and they try to silence the crowd. Jesus responds: I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out! The King has entered the holy city. But Jesus is not the sort of king that the people expect: he does not liberate them from the hated Roman occupation. This king comes to conquer sin and death with the weapons of service, obedience and love, love unto death.
Holy Monday-Wednesday: After his royal entry, Jesus spends much of the next three days teaching and preaching in the Temple, and he enters the Temple with a splash. Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in buying and selling there. He overturned tables, seats and even fashioned a whip to aid in this cleansing. My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves. It was a direct attack against the Sadducees, the priestly class, who had a monopoly on all liturgical transactions and dealings. For the Sadducees this effrontery was the final straw. The chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to put him to death, yet they feared him. The crowds are spellbound by his teaching and Jesus continues to teach them at length, to confound the traps of the Pharisees (the theologians), and even prophesy about his death and resurrection. But on Wednesday, the chief priests get a break: Judas Iscariot, who was disillusioned with Christ, conspires with them to betray his teacher. The scene is set for the end of the week.
Holy Thursday-Saturday: Knowing that the hour of betrayal is near and as part of the Passover ceremonies, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples. By washing the feet of the apostles, he reveals that his authority and his mission are rooted in the loving obedience of service. Further, in the institution of the Eucharist, he shows the depths of his love: for he never abandons his followers but is always present to us in this Sacrament. It is with this same love that Jesus allows himself to go through his Passion and Death. Amid the betrayal of Judas and the denials of Peter, amid the brutal scourging and the mockery, amid the pain and suffering of humiliating crucifixion, we see the horrors of sin and the love that Christ has for us in offering His life so that he can then offer us forgiveness and mercy. His mission is clear: to make all things new whatever the cost. By entering into the events of this Holy Week our lives are transformed: for those who perseveringly trod shoulder–to-shoulder with Christ through the joys and sorrows, the love and agony of this Holy Week find themselves transformed with him by the power of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.