Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
What a Lent this has turned into. When we began this sacred season on Ash Wednesday, none of us would have predicted such a rapid global upheaval. The new norm includes social distancing, confining isolation, evolving information, daily frustration, and nightly confusion. Stories of heroism complement the reality of grieving. And yet how can anyone grieve when the need to maintain distance for one’s health takes precedence?
The streets are eerily quiet. The hospital reports say it is a war zone. And another scene is replayed in tens of thousands of households where a young mother or father with small children is working from home and has just lost it because they can’t find a way to be a productive employee, a loving parent, a good spouse, while confined to a small apartment. All they want is a little mental sanity.
Where is God? Why doesn’t God do something about this situation? The psalmist words today; “My God my God, why have you abandoned me?”
We add to that the financial problem. Homeowners and shop owners, small business people and people who live from paycheck to paycheck who have no money coming in. A slight hope, out there beyond arms reach is a promise from the Federal Government with a placard stating “stimulus package” being tossed around. The prayer from their mouth is, ” Oh God, how are we going to get through this month?”
A woman lies in isolation in her home having tested positive for Covid-19. Her husband lies in a different bed several miles away in the hospital and she can’t be there as he struggles for his last few breaths. In fact there is no one there to hold his hand. And for those who have died, either from the virus or another cause, their loved ones can’t be together to grieve. People are kept apart from each other even in times of painful loss. We can’t even come into our churches to pray and grieve. And the most we can do to show our support is to “drive by” while maintaining our social distancing.
My God my God, why have you abandoned me? These words of Jesus, as he hangs on the cross haunt us this day. It’s all a little too close to home.
Maybe today, Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, is a time to move the perspective from an event that happened two thousand years ago to who we are today. Literally, the whole world is affected. We are hurting, confused, frightened, haunted, and wishing we could just wake up from this nightmare. Like the two Gospels given to us on this day, first the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the second the proclamation of the Passion, this Lenten season has shifted our mood and our direction. We have gone from personal expectations of Lent to the unpredictability and a deeper crying out to God because of human suffering.
Was it any different than the nightmare of the Apostles who just in a matter of hours lost the one in whom they had put all their hopes and expectations? Was it any different than the regret of Peter whose mental tape played his last words of denial over and over in his mind? Was it any different from the emptiness Mary felt when after birthing and raising this special little child, and she now holds his crucified, lifeless body? Was it any different from the fear of the disciples locked in the upper room wondering if they were going to be next? None of this made any sense to anyone living subjectively in the midst of the situation. And the uncertainty of what might be coming next plays with the mind and the emotions.
One thing the Gospel accounts insists on is you cannot read the Gospel stories like a newspaper. And in fact, every time you read the Gospels wearing the lenses of the resurrection, suddenly the stories begin to sound differently. Christians are supposed to be people who can not only see and live in the Kingdom, but they can share and proclaim it as well. How do we get there? I think the answer is practice. To be proficient at any trade, talent, or sport requires practice. So too is practicing the art of interpretation in light of the resurrection. The more a person practices this art, the greater their skill and prayerful reward.
Only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul writes to the Christian community in Corinth reflecting on how interconnected we are for all of us make up the body of Christ. Specifically, (1 Cor 12:26) “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.” Christ never abandoned the church. If anything, Christ lives in and through its members. Theresa of Avila’s teaching was quite the similar invitation.
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people. God alone suffices.”
Today as we listen to the Passion of Jesus proclaimed, we live, and pray this truth. The liturgical readings and our lived communal experience have aligned asking us, do you see Christ Crucified today? This is not a mere historical occurrence. This is a reality which we live with and are being asked to internalize. Instead of pleading to God to change this situation, can we begin to see how the suffering of Christ is a reality in the suffering of humanity? Indeed, Christ chooses to suffer with us in our afflictions.
Two thousand years ago the whole world was affected by the death of Jesus. That event changed the face of humanity. Today, in the contemporary event of human suffering, we sit, ponder, and prayerfully meditate with the Passion of Christ from both the historical and contemporary dimensions. As Jesus did not abandon us even in his suffering, so too are we assured of his presence in this challenging time. And we pray from the core of our being, not as defeated people, but people who know that God is faithful to the splendor of the resurrection.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.