Today we begin the celebration of Holy Week, a very special time when we reflect on the events that lead us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, to his resurrection; events which changed the course of history forever. Because of these events we can now go to heaven when we die. It’s that simple.
We begin with a short account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, hailed by the people as a great prophet. They threw down palm branches in front of him and shouted ‘Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Yet within a few days everything changed. He was betrayed for money, illegally tried, then tortured and killed. Today we read the full account of his passion. It is the main focus of our mass.
Even though it is a sad event that we remember, it is also a day of celebration, because what we remember is the wonderful event that made it possible for us to experience the eternal life after this one. That is so important, because if we couldn’t hope for a better life after this one, it would be very hard to keep going a lot of the time. In one of his letters to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul wrote, ‘If our faith in Christ has been for this life only, then of all people we are the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:9). If we think that this life is what it’s all about, we have completely missed the point. The truth is that we are preparing for something wonderful that is waiting for us, should we choose it.
Everyone suffers, as you know; there are no exceptions. Probably one of the most difficult things for any of us to experience when we are suffering, is the sense that we have been abandoned by everyone. But even if everyone else seems to abandon us, at least we can always turn to God. But where do we turn when God disappears too? There is no where left to go. This is the worst kind of suffering. God never abandons us, but we may feel that He has.
Just before Jesus’ death on the cross, he cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ What does this mean? It is the beginning of Psalm 22 which is a Psalm that ends in victory, but it can also be understood in a different way. It seems to point out that even Jesus felt completely abandoned by the Father. He felt totally alone.
Why would God the Father hide himself from Jesus at the time when Jesus most needed to know He was there? Perhaps it was so that Jesus could experience this worst kind of suffering, the suffering of believing that you have been abandoned even by God. By experiencing this, Jesus is brought to the furthest extreme of suffering, as it were. After this there is nothing that he has not experienced and this means that he can understand us in every kind of suffering we go through, even the feeling of being abandoned by God, because he has been there. We can no longer say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ because now he does.
Even though we may feel we have been abandoned by God at times, in fact we have not. But sometimes God allows us to go through this for reasons only known to God. It seems to be part of what forms us, even though it is very difficult and we shrink away from it.
I also want to mention Our Lady. She was also at the foot of the cross. Years before she had been told by the angel Gabriel that Jesus would be great and would reign forever as king. He would be called Son of the Most-High God. What had happened to all these promises now, as she watched Jesus come to the end of his life before her eyes? Although Mary must have suffered terribly with all she had to witness, she didn’t give up hope. She believed that what God had said would come true and she hoped and believed without understanding. God invites us to do the same; to hope even when we don’t understand.
Psalm 22, begins with the cry of abandonment, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ but it ends with the following words:
The Lord reigns, the ruler of nations.
Before him all the prosperous of the earth will bow down,
Before him will bow all who go down to the dust.
And my soul will live for him, my children will serve him;
People will proclaim the Lord to generations still to come,
His righteousness to a people yet unborn.
These things the Lord has done. (Ps 22:28-31)