Vol. 6, No. 29
Daughters of Mary Instruction/Palm Sunday
4 April 2017
Lynn D. Clapper
Spiritual Gift of the Week
We ask for the grace to bear witness to the suffering and death of Mary’s son, Jesus and to ponder all we see and hear in the depths of our hearts.
Spiritual Instruction of the Week
“Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. Seized and condemned he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny? For he was cut off from the land of the living, struck for the sins of his people. He was given a grave among the wicked, a burial place with evildoers, though he had done no wrong, nor was deceit found in his mouth…My servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear”
(Isaiah 53: 7-9, 11).
When I was growing up, I dreaded the coming of Holy Week. My mother, who converted to Catholicism the year I entered kindergarten, insisted that her five children attend every service St. Ignatius offered on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. While many of my friends and classmates left town for Easter weekend vacations at the beach, we were ‘forced’ to sign up for 15 minutes of adoration on Good Friday morning. Mother’s only concession to the ordeal of those two days was to allow me to wear a new spring outfit to Adoration, as long as it was not white.
Three O’clock Good Friday Church, as we called it, was especially painful. The service seemed endlessly long, and the congregation was subjected to the choir singing mournful chants, continual ‘Let us kneels’ and ‘Let us stands’ during the intercessions in which we prayed for everyone in the universe, and a parade up to the altar to kiss Jesus’ feet. I implored Mother to let me skip even one of the services, but she brooked no discussion. Holy Week belongs to God, she said, not to me.
On Palm Sunday, the holiest week in the Church year begins. The cornerstone of our Christian faith, it is a week full of paradoxes. On Sunday, Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, a city that swells to a population nearing three million at the time of Passover, the annual celebration commemorating the Exodus of the ancient Hebrews from Egypt. The streets are lined with well-wishers, many who are new followers of Jesus of Nazareth since they learned of the astonishing miracle he worked several months ago, when he raised his friend Lazarus from the grave. The crowds hail him with hosannas, and greet him as the Son of David. Yet, four days later, on Thursday evening, one of Jesus’ closest followers will betray him and hand him over for arrest by Roman guard. In just one day more, many in this same crowd will scream for Jesus to be crucified on a cross. On Friday afternoon, just before sundown, a rich man from Arimathea will lay the bloody, battered, and broken body of Jesus Christ in his own tomb and roll a stone across its entrance. Jesus of Nazareth will be dead.
There is much more to this story, and it is Matthew who provides the terrible details. Matthew’s story opens with the tale of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples, who plotted with the chief priests to have Jesus illegally arrested under cover of night. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ disciples, indignant hours earlier at supper when Jesus predicted his own betrayal, deserted Jesus when the arresting guards took him to the home of the high priest Caiaphas. Matthew reports that Jesus then withstood an illegal trial in the wee hours of the morning before a kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin. Matthew recounts the lies, the insults, and the trumped-up charges Jesus’ accusers hurled at him as they slapped his cheek and spit in his face. Matthew describes a nearly silent Jesus, who stood alone and resolute before the members of the Sanhedrin who were determined that Jesus should die. It is an ugly story.
Mother’s insistence that I be present at all Holy Week services continued into my college years. Though I was older, I was certainly not wiser, and I vowed that when I grew up, I would not attend the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services ever again. Surprisingly, the opportunity to embrace my future Holy Week lifestyle arrived in my junior year when I was unable to come home for Easter because of a looming term paper deadline. Finally, I thought, Mother will not be here to insist that I attend Holy Thursday Mass. I do not have to go to Adoration. I can miss Three O’clock Good Friday Church. Not intending to disrespect Easter entirely, and wanting to be a good Catholic role model to my Methodist boyfriend, I bought a new dress, and Bob and I attended Saturday evening Easter Mass. Mother even packed and mailed my beautifully decorated childhood Easter basket, so that I would have it on Sunday morning. But, in the basket she had tucked a note. Have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter, she had said. But, it was what she did not write that stayed with me. Holy Week belongs to God.
As Christians, we know well the horror of Jesus’ passion and death. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John recorded every detail of the unbelievable events of that Thursday and Friday so that we can feel for ourselves the hate-filled frenzy of the Jews who demanded that Jesus of Nazareth die on a cross. It is a terrible story of dark manipulation that caused the rise and fall of many in Israel. But, if we tear our eyes away from the characters who so often command our attention in this story, Judas and Peter, Caiaphas and Pilate, Herod and Barabbas, we might see something more. In the midst of the crowds, the hosannas, the betrayals, the lies and the insults, a man who is God stands alone. Jesus Christ is the Messiah who offers new life to the people he has chosen to follow him, even as the ones who should have known him best are determined to watch him die.
The Easter of my junior year in college was not the same for me. The time I should have spent in Holy Thursday Mass, or Friday morning Adoration, or Three O’clock Good Friday Church, was time heavy on my hands. I missed hearing the story of a savior who turned the other cheek, and who carried a cross, however slowly and painfully, up that hill so that passersby could mock him and soldiers could draw straws for his cloak. I missed hearing the words of the crowd and the Roman centurion who cried out “Truly, this was the Son of God.” I missed my mother’s voice, quiet and sure, stilling my complaints with her reminder that Holy Week belongs to God, not to me.
As Bob and I married and our children grew old enough, Three O’clock Good Friday Church became the lynchpin of our Holy Week. Once, our son Nicholas even came to Church directly from his high school baseball game still in his clay-stained uniform and cleats. But, my hope is that our children will pass on to their families the same lesson Mother was trying to teach me. It is the lesson that the gospel writers hoped to teach all peoples everywhere. As we relive the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth, we come face to face with a savior. Jesus Christ told us everything we have ever done, and in the story of his passion and his death, he tells us the only true thing we can ever know. Jesus of Nazareth is our God. Holy Week belongs to him.