Today, and throughout this Holy Week, we have in our Liturgy a stark reminder that the hope that we have in the Resurrection was purchased at a great price. Our world today would prefer to ignore the cross. And with good reason. Because the cross is embarrassing. Until Christianity, no religion worth its salt would base itself on a God who suffered an ignoble death that was reserved for the most obstinate of criminals. And even now, you know, we’d rather not dwell on that kind of pain, would we? We live in an age where there is a pill for every minor affliction and a treatment for every discomfort. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing, but then we can often take it farther and find ways to mask any pain, physical or psychological, that comes our way, and this is not healthy.
The Cross is an in-your-face reminder that pain is part and parcel of our life of salvation. Jesus did not come to take away our pain, he came to redeem it. Not only that, he came to take it on himself. Far from being embarrassed by our sin and pain, Jesus took it to the cross, redeeming our brokenness, and leaving us an everlasting promise that there is no pain too great for our God to bear and there is no way we can ever fall so far that our God can’t reach us. We may think our pain and our sin is embarrassing, but Jesus left none of that behind on the way to the cross. He took our every hurt, our every pain, our every sin, our every shame, our every resentment, our every emptiness, and left them all there at the foot of the cross.
And so today’s Liturgy brings us to the place to which we have been journeying this Lent, namely the cross. I think the Psalmist today captures the feeling of our hearts as we arrive here: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
And haven’t we all asked that question at least once in our lives? As we sing those words, they can quite frankly bring back painful memories, whether they be memories of past hurts, or reflections of current ones. Maybe it’s the time when you were sexually abused and felt abandoned because you were convinced no one would believe you. Maybe it’s the time you received a frightening diagnosis and you felt abandoned because you couldn’t enter into daily life with the same carefree attitude you previously had. Maybe it’s the occasion of the death of a loved one and you felt abandoned because everyone on the planet seemed joyful, except you. Maybe it’s the time you were laid off from your job and you felt abandoned because it seemed that no one valued your skills and talents.
We’d rather not be here at the cross, would we? But this week reminds us that without the cross, there is no resurrection. Not for Jesus, and so also, not for us. Jesus certainly had his moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when the knowledge of his impending death filled him with dread; and so it will be for us, countless times when we are called on to take up the cross. But as we enter this Holy Week, we are reminded gently that the cross, while significant, is not the end of the story. Yes, we have to suffer our own Good Fridays; but we confidently remember that we also get an Easter Sunday. And that is what gives us all the confidence to take up our cross and journey on.
These are not ordinary days – they are not for business as usual. I invite you all to enter into these Holy Days with passion, with prayerfulness and in faith. Gather with us on Holy Thursday at 7:30pm to celebrate the giving of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and the call to service that comes from our baptism. On Good Friday at 3:00 in the afternoon, we will have the opportunity once again to reflect on the Passion, to venerate the cross that won our salvation, and to receive the Eucharist, which is our strength. Finally, at 8:00 on Holy Saturday night, we will gather here in a darkened church to keep vigil for the resurrection we have been promised. We will hear stories of our salvation, we will celebrate our baptism as we welcome new members to our family, seeing them fully initiated into the life of the Church, rejoicing with them in the victory of Christ over sin and death. No Catholic should ever miss the celebrations of these Holy Days, for these days truly sustain our daily living and give us the grace to take up our little crosses day by day.