Holy Week and our attitude to suffering and the Cross
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, that most sacred week in the liturgical year when we celebrate our salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ironically, the various liturgies during the week confront us with instances of both greatness and wickedness in the human condition.
For example, in the disloyalty of the people who betrayed Jesus and in the fickleness of the crowds who demanded that he be crucified, we recognise some of the worst traits in our human nature. In stark contrast, in the person of Jesus we witness humanity at its best. By his suffering and death Jesus emptied himself of his own life so that we would have eternal life.
That is why Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as human beings are; and being as all human beings are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.”
Jesus is the perfect example of what it means to be human. He is like us in all things except sin. Therefore, he is a true reflection of the truth, beauty and love that is found within the Godhead. His self-emptying, manifesting his total selflessness, teaches us much about what God is prepared to do in order to restore the integrity of His relationship with us which has been so badly damaged by our selfishness and sin.
This drama of Christ Jesus’ self-emptying unfolds in the liturgical readings of Spy Wednesday, Holy Thursday and especially Good Friday – all of which are prefigured by the long gospel reading on Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, then, as we listen to the gospel being proclaimed, we are challenged to ask ourselves about our attitudes towards Jesus. Do we easily abandon him and his teaching by yielding to temptation? Or do we imitate him by putting the commandments of God and the needs of other people ahead of our own needs?
Thankfully, the story of Jesus did not end with his death on Good Friday. Instead, it began a new and everlasting dimension on Easter Sunday. Saint Paul reminded the Philippians; “But God raised [Jesus] high and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Holy Week should always, however, be part of our spiritual lives. As Christians, we cannot justifiably confine our reflection on the suffering and death of Jesus to one week of the year. Rather, we recall his suffering and death whenever we are confronted by suffering in our own lives. It is by uniting our sufferings with those of Jesus that we make atonement for our own sins and the sins of others. In this way, we inform our attitudes to suffering and the Cross in our everyday lives.
Recommended reading: Philippians 2:6-11