Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on April 12 and 13 on Passion Sunday Cycle A at the 6:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses
Recently I was greeting people in the narthex one Friday night after Stations of the Cross when a woman approached me who seemed so very happy, much happier than the average Catholic who is relieved that Stations are over and the weekend can now begin. You could say she was almost joyful. She said that she had never been to Stations of the Cross before, but she had heard about them and wanted to experience them to see what they were all about. I thanked her for coming and asked her how she liked them. “Very nice,” she said. “The Passion of our Lord came alive for me and I was touched by how it was applied to my life.” Then she asked if she could keep the booklet that she still held in her hands. I thought the booklet would be a reminder of how she was touched and moved by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, so I let her keep it. Besides I am absolutely certain that in this situation Pope Francis would want her to have it.
I mention this story, not just to confess to Father that I have given away some of the Church’s property, but also because it illustrates some important points for us to consider and reflect upon as we come to the end of our journey of Lent and begin Holy Week. So very often we go through the motions of our faith without considering the reality and truth of it, but it needs to come alive for us and touch us, just as it did for that woman at Stations of the Cross the other night.
Today’s gospel reading[s] according to Matthew [has / have] a number of elements in it that make it a great story. It has a hero chosen by the people to be their king, who in the [reading just prior to the Passion narrative / first Gospel reading today] is honored with shouts of praise and the waving of palm branches as he enters the city of Jerusalem to a showdown with the bad guys who oppose him. It is full of human emotion and drama: love, devotion, betrayal, denial, and abandonment; the additional drama of a court trial, the excitement of a natural disaster, and a miracle as the dead rise from their graves. It ends with Jesus dying an unjust death on the Cross at the hands of the Romans, a death orchestrated by the scribes and elders who opposed Him. It is witnessed by the people of Jerusalem who have turned on him, as most of his followers abandon him. It is a good story; one that has been a blockbuster movie many times, one of them called The Greatest Story Ever Told.
But for Christians, the story of Christ’s Passion is so much more than just the greatest story ever told; it is the reality of our faith and the truth of all that we believe. During Holy Week the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord must come alive for us, just as it did for the woman at the Stations the other night. We should be touched by the reality of what Christ did for us, increase in faith, become more certain of our hope, and grow in our love for Him. Holy Week is important, not just because it is holy, but because we encounter Christ in a very real way.
Today on Passion Sunday, we reflect on the ultimate example of doing God’s will, Jesus giving of himself on the Cross. As the second reading says, “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Throughout Holy Week we will reflect deeper into the mysteries of Christ. Holy Thursday we reflect on the gift of the Eucharist, encountering Christ through his Body and Blood, and the Washing of Feet, Jesus teaching us the importance of service to God and to others. Good Friday we reflect again on Christ’s Passion and Death, especially the gift of the Cross, the Father giving of his Son and Jesus giving of Himself to us with complete love, mercy, and forgiveness. On Easter, the greatest of all feasts, we celebrate the mystery of the empty tomb, the joy of the Resurrection, and the gift of eternal life. It is truly a holy week!
When we think about something being holy, we think it is sacred or religious, and Holy Week is certainly a time that is sacred and religious. But the Greek words for holy imply two additional ideas: to be set apart and to be committed, just as the holy altar is set apart and committed for Mass and the Holy Eucharist. Holy Week is the time to set ourselves apart and to grow in our commitment to God and our faith as we reflect on everything that Jesus has done for us and the great love and grace that God pours out on each one of us each and every day.
My friend and fellow classmate Deacon Gery went on the diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Bishop Zubik last year, proclaiming the gospel at Bethlehem, Cana, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and all the other holy sites. Gery also helped to carry a cross as pilgrims walked the actual Stations of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus died on the Cross. Gery said that at each of the holy sites you could see, hear, smell, and touch things that made it easy to imagine that you were actually present at the events as they were happening, that you were really there with Jesus.
For Christians the story of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection is not simply a series of events that happened more than two thousand years ago, but is very much a present reality happening in each of our lives right now, and Jesus is indeed here with us. We each live lives of joy and praise, and lives of pain and suffering. We each have crosses to bear. So often we are like the disciples, followers of Jesus, and then by our actions we betray, deny, and abandon Him. So often we are like the crowds, declaring Jesus our King, and then by our words we mock Him and shout, “Let him be crucified!” This Holy Week reflect on all the ways the Passion of Jesus is being applied your own life, just as the woman at Stations did the other night. Recognize how you are encountering Christ and realize that he is with you, just as Deacon Gery did while he was in Jerusalem.
Today we begin Holy Week, the end of our Lenten journey, the greatest week in the Church year, a week in which we remember the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is our time to be holy, to set ourselves apart and become steadfast in our faith and our relationship with Jesus so that we may declare with certainty, “Truly this IS the Son of God!” But we are not celebrating a mere story or an event that occurred two thousand years ago, but a reality that we live and experience with Jesus each and every day. For Christians the tomb is not empty because it is filled with the infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness of God and the blessed promise of eternal life.
As Deacon Gery proclaimed the Resurrection story of Jesus appearing to the men on their way to Emmaus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he was so moved and touched by the gospel that he was overcome with emotion and wept as he proclaimed the words. Each one of us can be moved and touched in similar ways this Holy Week if we would enter into the mysteries of Christ, experience the reality of the Gospel, and recognize all that Christ has done for us. Holy Week is our time to truly believe, to weep, but to weep tears of joy.
Holy Week is ultimately a time to rejoice and be glad!