On this coming, Sunday churches throughout the world will be commemorating Palm Sunday, the day which commemorates Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, being hailed as a king and as “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
As people spread their cloaks on the ground before him and waved branches in salutation, already the backroom plotting to sway the people’s views and arrange for his arrest were underway. Thus began the final week of Jesus’ life on earth and thus begins our Holy Week of devotion as we remember the suffering and death of Jesus and prepare for the joy of Easter and its resurrection message.
During this week, on Maundy Thursday, we will remember the Last Supper, on which is based the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus, we are told, broke bread and shared wine with his followers, and as they ate and drank he declared “this is my body” and “this is my blood, given for you.” Then he instructed them “do this in remembrance of me.”
Different churches celebrate and repeat these actions in different ways, but whenever it is done the common thread is that we proclaim Jesus’ real presence in and among us as we pray and share it.
At the same meal, St. John tells us that Jesus took a bowl of water and towel, then kneeling like a servant at each of his disciples’ feet he washed them. Again these actions were accompanied with words of great depth: “…you also ought to wash one another’s feet… I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It was immediately after this that Jesus retired to the Garden of Gethsemane where in the middle of the night, led by a betrayer, soldiers arrested him and so began his ordeal of trial, torture and execution.
The next day, Good Friday, we will commemorate the death of Jesus on a wooden cross, mocked and jeered at in the ultimate of humiliation and indignity. We will remember his words from the cross: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit…”
His death and the placement of his body in a sealed tomb will be the final image on the minds of Christians as we end our solemn week of remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, praying for the world for whom he died, and giving thanks for the extraordinary love which is revealed in the way in which he faced that final week.
We are left with huge questions to ponder, and puzzlement over Jesus’ attitude throughout this week.
Why did he apparently go so willingly into his captors’ hands?
Why did he so freely accept his impending death?
Why did he react by speaking about things like sacrifice and love and servanthood at a time when there was so much selfishness and hate and arrogance around him?
What did he mean when he said “this is my body… this is my blood” when he shared bread and wine?
What relevance or meaning does the remembering of these ancient events have for us, for the world?
When we are weighed down by our own suffering, puzzled and questioning as to reasons and actions, it is always helpful to reflect on the passion of Christ and his attitude to suffering.
Drawing on the strength on which he drew, accepting the realities he accepted and yielding life to the One who gives life — this is the week when we meditate on the pattern Jesus gave us, and renew our commitment knowing that this week is not by any means the end of the story.
Next week is Easter week… the empty tomb… resurrection… new life… transformation… but let’s not jump ahead too quickly! Let’s remain with the suffering Christ for this week, the one who walks with us in whatever our suffering is, who has known and experienced it all.