Procession to Passion
After almost 20 years of priesthood, and nearly a half-century of life I have seen Holy Week come and go as both participant and as presider dozens of times; and yet, each time we gather on Palm Sunday and prepare for the pilgrimage that is Holy Week as a church community I am undone by the way the story of Jesus' Passion ceases to be a story and somehow becomes an experience that we as the Body of Christ experience in the here and now. The Passion is no longer "then" so much as it is "now" and even "always." As well, familiarity with a story we recount annually, over and over again does not foster a sense of "here we go again." I resist the horror of crucifixion now as much as my childhood self was scandalized and frightened by the thought of anyone nailing anyone else to a tree. I continue to discover a sad understanding of how a crowd terrified of the Romans and nervous about losing control of their institutions reacts when someone apparently threatens their status quo. I renew my sorrow when Jesus' body is broken, shattered by pain and yet he begs that his Father in heaven should forgive his destroyers...because they don't know what they are doing.
All of that is roiling around in me as a priest, as a person and as a member of a community when we embark together on the journey of Holy Week. As we experience the Passion according to Luke today, we also heard it in Church yesterday...and we will live it out over the next seven days. It is a hard journey to take. It is one, though, that we must undertake on a regular basis, if we are to remain Christ's Body and maintain Christ's teachings in this world.
For human beings, the memory of pain is perhaps the hardest of all to hold onto. Trauma can put deep wounds in our souls, and the scars can continue to trouble us...but to keep those moments before us, and to allow them to open up connections between us and the suffering of the world? Not easy. Our bodies and hearts don't like pain, and like it less when it is revisited. Our minds and memories work to cloud suffering, to move us on toward a place of safety and comfort wherein we don't have to worry, fret or writhe over what was so hard for us to go through.
So each year, as the Body, we intentionally go back to that most horrific of moments: the death of Jesus. We revisit the grief and loss. We remember the pain. We recall the both the great betrayal as well as the little desertions that left Jesus alone before those who condemned him and isolated before the whole world as he underwent torture and death...
...yes, we return to that moment. Why? Because without us being completely aware of what he went through, how he died; we cannot truly and fully understand his resurrection. Every step Jesus takes on his way of sorrows is one more that carries us all forward toward new life in his rising from the dead.
Deliverance is a beautiful thing, but it only means something to us when we understand what it is that we are being delivered from in the first place. In Christ, in his death on the cross, we remember and witness that death no longer has dominion over us. We remember that God has overturned even the most abject suffering and loss in order to establish a hope, and a new life that will welcome all of us into the light and grace of the love of God for all time.
Our task, while in this world, is to remember and bear witness; and in that memory made present, understanding is reborn, as real to us as is the risen Christ....