We Will Come Through This

04-05-2020Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

Certainly this year Palm Sunday 2020, which is the portal to all of Holy Week and the Great Easter Celebration, has taken on a strange way. We are not able to gather in our holy church and hear the proclamation of Our Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. We are not able to listen with our hearts to the stirring words of the Passion and Death of Jesus as proclaimed at the time of the Gospel Passion Narrative. At best we can listen with devotion and participate with our hearts as the Great Services of Holy Week take place on the Catholic Channel. This year we join with millions of others throughout the world in a very different way. We shall be using TV as the substitute for our local parish church. Passion Sunday introduces us to the Great Week—Holy Week. Nonetheless, we are followers of Jesus Christ and his Way and this coming week we will with fidelity and devotion remember the great story of the reality of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Media, even the advanced media of today, is not a substitute for physical presence and contact. We know that, as much as we Skype or Facetime our family and friends, we still yearn to see them face to face and to hug them closely.

The great dramatic and noisy procession of the entry of Jerusalem contrasts with the arrival of Jesus on a mere donkey. Jesus arrives as a humble and simple man, although the people make a loud and joyous moment of his entrance. At our main Mass, we would gather for the blessing of palm and to proclaim Jesus as our king. This ceremony started after approximately four centuries of Christianity and is meant to prepare us for the great hymn of the Exultet to be sung at the Easter Vigil. This is a hymn of praise of our Redeemer. We start with joy in Holy Week and we end with joy on Easter Sunday.

The words that we usually sing at the beginning of this Mass of "glory, laud and honor" are to prepare us for listening attentively to the long Gospel which will narrate the passion, death, and burial of Jesus. Our first two readings, one from the prophet Isaiah and one from Paul's letter to the Philippians, assist us in retaining perspective as we ponder death and its relationship to life and also the Crucifixion and its relationship to the Resurrection. Note that these first two readings are the same every year. Each year we read a different Gospel story, from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. John's poetic and elegant passion narrative is always read at the service of Good Friday.

We read from the Gospel of Matthew this year. We learn all about the Lord's Supper on Thursday evening to his burial before sunset on the following Friday. Matthew's account is very reflective of his whole Gospel. His aim is to speak to all of the very early church followers and teach them the story and meaning of Jesus. He incorporates the Hebrew Scriptures one time in the narration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and five times in the narration of the Passion. His Gospel is meant for those very early believers who were most often Jews.

Our reading from Isaiah is actually the third of five suffering servant songs found in the book of Isaiah. This reading is selected and used because it helps us prepare for the proclamation of the Passion. This passage offers us the image of a just and dignified person who honorably bears the humiliation that he does not deserve. This image helps us to understand the Passion story.

Paul's passage, our second reading, is a liturgical hymn that illustrates the full circle from the Word's union with the Father in heaven, to the Incarnation, to his glorification. Paul reminds us that, for our sake, he who was one with God did not cling to that exalted unity of being. Jesus took on the whole of human life and existence. He is Christ and Lord.

Remember that according to Matthew's Gospel, the only words of Jesus from the cross are those of deep anguish. These words tell us that he understood abandonment and loss of life.

Bear in mind that we live on the other side of the story — the Resurrection side. We know the whole and entire story. We are blessed because we are able to understand the Passion and Crucifixion in the brilliant light of the Resurrection. We know that the Passion story ends not in death, but life. As people of the Resurrection, our faith tells us that death opens to life.

We journey through this very different Holy Week with our attention focused by means of the electronic media to the ceremonies of our salvation. Because of our faith we know that we will come through this to the other side. The followers and the apostles of Jesus did not know what would happen when he was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are blessed to know the Risen Jesus is always with us and will bring us back into his own wonderful light.