And so it begins. We who have been keeping Lent these forty days are coming to Lent’s fulfillment. We know it’s been a most interesting and, well, different Lent. I mean, that’s about the best we can say of it, right? I keep thinking back to Ash Wednesday with the throngs of crowds who came in and out of the church all day for our Masses and prayer services. I, for one, didn’t have an inkling of the fact that, less than three weeks after that, our whole world would have gone crazy. And now we’re sheltered in place, keeping our social distance, really fasting in a whole new way. We’re fasting from social interaction, we are fasting from sacraments, we are fasting from in-person worship and prayer, we’re fasting from touch and embrace and so much more.
In these days, though, I know I have had occasion to reflect on the things that really matter. I’ve been sustained by the presence of God in my life, giving me strength to confront challenges I never thought I could handle, or would have to. I’ve prayed with people over the phone for the first time I can remember. I’ve found new ways to tell family, friends, and parishioners how much I love them.
Over the course of this week, we will gather – virtually, of course – several times to mark the events that have won our salvation. On Thursday, we will gather at 7pm to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: that night when he gave us the Eucharist and the priesthood so that he would be among us until the end of time. On Friday, we will gather at 3pm to revisit our Lord’s Passion, to adore from our homes the Cross which was the altar on which he sacrificed his life for ours. And on Saturday, we will bless our Easter food at 11am and then come together, virtually, at 8pm to recount the stories of our salvation and welcome the Resurrection, rejoicing with all of the Church on that most holy night. No Catholic should ever miss these incredible liturgies: they are in fact the reason we are a Church and they highlight our mission in the world. If you struggle to find the meaning in life, these celebrations will help you on the way.
I want to encourage you to enter into these celebrations in your homes. On Thursday, perhaps have bread and wine on a table near the place you’re watching Mass. Share it after Mass not as Eucharist, of course, but as a remembrance of what Jesus set forth for our salvation. On Friday, have a cross nearby that you can reverence during the Adoration of the Holy Cross part of the liturgy. On Saturday, light a candle as we will at the beginning of Mass to recall that Christ is the light that burns through the darkness. I encourage you to take the journey through Holy Week in a special way, with fervent prayer for a cure for this virus that we might be together again. Let us keep that as our special intention during our Holy Week journey together.
Today’s Passion reading recalls what Jesus came to do in our world. Just a few days before our reading took place, Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he entered to the adulation of throngs. Cloaks were thrown down in the street, the people waved palms and chanted “Hosanna.” It seemed like Jesus’ message had finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who had long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.
Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer. Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice, and he healed people from the inside out. He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day. He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins. It wasn’t a message that was particularly welcome; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.
And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death. Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker. Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas. As for this one, well, crucify him.
Who are we going to blame for this? Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord? Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert? Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire? Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear? Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours? Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus? Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong? Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms? Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?
And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those. It was me. Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross. It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God. And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life. And you.
He gave himself for us.