Today’s palm branch procession, and reading of the passion of Jesus signals our move into Holy Week. It is helpful to see these days before Easter as a week of retreat. While we continue our family and work routines, our focus is guided beyond. In these days let us look together to Jesus.
We remember the last days of his life: suffering unjustly and death as a criminal. We recall these events that gave us new life.
When we think of something that happened a long time ago – especially when it happened before we were born, it is easy to slip into nostalgia about the past. In this mode we remember what has happened, knowing that it has already happened. It is over. While this mode of memory can help us to learn from the mistakes and methods of the past, this is not the kind of remembering the church calls us to in Holy Week.
In his Palm Sunday homily last year Pope Benedict reminds us that “following Christ demands as a first step the reawakening of the nostalgia for being authentically human and thus the reawakening for God”. This is not a simple recalling of a mast event, but a present re-membering (that is, giving living body to) the past reality that is really a present event and a living experience today.
Perhaps it is helpful to consider an example. From history many of us have learned of the Battle of Waterloo. We know that this event happened. We have no doubt since our knowledge has come to us from many independent sources. There is no doubt that for the families of the (almost) fifty thousand soldiers that died, this event was unforgettable. Now, for the descendants of these families, to have an uncle who died in the fighting has become a badge of family honour.
But the death of Jesus is not such an ‘historical’ memory for the disciple. The difference is that whereas Napoleon and his soldiers are now dead, Jesus is alive. The blood on the battlefields of Belgium is no longer visible. But the suffering of Jesus continues. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are not simply moments of history. These events are the present reality of the life of the twenty-first century disciple.
Jesus is alive and present. Napoleon is dead and gone. The community of Jesus is alive and thriving today, not because of our successful pastoral plans, but because Jesus is alive.
I invite you to immerse yourself fully in the events of Holy Week. You have begun by being at this Palm Sunday commemoration of the Passion of Jesus today. You might continue this evening Sunday 6-7pm) with the opportunity for the Sacrament of Penance when several visiting priests will be present
If you are apprehensive about this sacrament, or have not been for many years, do not be afraid – just come. Tell the priest that you are not sure what to say and he will guide you.
Tomorrow (Monday) evening join with the bishop and priests of the diocese who gather to celebrate the Mass of Chrism. From Thursday we enter the Triduum with the events of Holy Thursday evening and Good Friday leading us to the great celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at the Easter Vigil (Saturday evening) and the Masses of Easter Sunday.
As we walk this journey together we do so not as passive spectators or students of history. Instead we journey this path as struggling Christians sharing (in our own lives) in the suffering and death of Jesus.
We know the promise too, that those who walk this path, and who live this life confident in the personal presence and activity of God, will share in the glory of the resurrection.