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  • Father George

Palm/Passion Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

What a great reversal we have this Sunday! Just a few minutes ago we were singing All Glory Laud and Honor, waving palms, and singing Halle Halle. What happened? Within a few short minutes we are in the very heart of Jesus’ Passion. We move from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday within a twinkling. From Hosanna to Crucify Him! And Jesus himself goes through a rather powerful transformation. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is a man of dynamic, vibrant action; he preaches, he heals, he exorcises demons, and he teaches. Yet, during His Passion in Mark, he falls silent, saying very little, and accepts the actions of others upon Him. He is resigned, resilient, and willing to embrace His fate: that He will suffer and die for the redemptive life of the world.

And we have very little problem seeing Jesus’ teaching, healing, and proclaiming as anything other than a part of our understanding of who Jesus is. But His Passion … that is a part, the central part of Jesus’ ministry, actually, that we struggle with. Perhaps, there is an opportunity for us in this holy week before Easter to permit ourselves time to discover how we might enter into Christ’s suffering; how we align ourselves with a Jesus who not only lived for us but was willing to endure everything and die for us, too. How might we learn to walk more clearly the way of the Cross with Jesus?

I became mindful this week of my last trip to the Holy Land. Yes, I know I talk about the Holy Land a lot, but bear with me. On my last day I had some time to burn, waiting for the cab that in the wee hours of the next morning would take me to Tel Aviv and home to my family. I was ready. But I had a day. So, I decided to walk the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, now recognized as the Stations of the Cross. In the Old City of Jerusalem there are many markers for the 14 stations, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which tradition has held marks the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. I found myself in the Church of the Flagellation, not far from the Beautiful Gate and the Al Aqsa mosque. A simple, small little chapel, with backless wooden benches, it caused me to come into contact with Jesus’ Passion in a way that I never remember experiencing before. Up close. Yet, I wanted to discover how I could enter into Jesus’ suffering in a real way, not from the outside looking in. And it was then, I think, I realized that we modern people might most distinctly live into the way of the Cross when we connect with the suffering in the world; when anyone in the world suffers, there our Lord Jesus Christ is, suffering, too.

So, Holy Week is an opportunity. It is a chance for us to explore, pray on, and experience the suffering reality of Jesus. Who is suffering in the world? Everyone, right? Some more than others. Where there is violence and conflict, war, women and children suffer disproportionately. Women and girls, in places of violence, suffer from sexual violence, physical violence, poverty and depravation in a much more dramatic way than men do. Yet, who was it that followed Jesus to the cross? Who was it that followed Joseph of Arimathea as he laid the body of Jesus in the tomb? It was the women: Mary, Mary Magdalene and company. How can we all align ourselves with those suffering from violence around the world? In our own communities? March in Hartford….

Where are the dying? The lost? The homeless? Where are the brokenhearted in our own family? Do we see our Lord and Savior, the suffering One, in their suffering? Could we? What would it change? Would we understand that we can, perhaps, connect most clearly with Jesus, if we are willing to stand with those who suffer. We can abandon Jesus, deny Jesus, betray Jesus, but I think we do that most when we look away from the suffering of our world and refuse to meet them where they are and pray with them, hold them, love them, and, if we can, offer the reality of Jesus’ presence, which may help them move into a different spiritual place where they will be able to receive God’s love.

I might suggest, in this Holy Week upcoming, that we spend some time in the Passion of Jesus. What is the nature of suffering and how may we enter more fully into Jesus’ Cross by being with those who are suffering now. Our prayers this week should be to a Jesus who knows suffering, understands pain, and, even when our pain is not lifted – Jesus’ wasn’t before His death – we understand that Jesus is with us.

I heard a British writer and evangelist say this week that our prayers to God in Christ do not always lift us or others out of a suffering place which can make our prayers seem futile. But, he said, and I really like this part, that Jesus parachutes into the midst of our suffering, and stays there with us. Allow ourselves the luxury this week or moving into Christ’s passion and try to attend a service this week – Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday – and look more closely into the sacrificial moment of Jesus. Only then might we truly embrace the full miracle of the Resurrection.

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