Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
For each of us the season of Lent has been both an individual and a communal journey of faith. I wonder what your particular experience of Lent has been like this year? A priest once said to me that we often get the Lent we need rather than the Lent we want. Maybe, this past five weeks, there have been things that have challenged you in ways you didn’t expect, in ways you would never have wanted. Or maybe it’s all just been plain sailing. If it has, then count your blessings and pray for the rest of us.
It might seem a long time now since we accepted the ashes of repentance on our foreheads; since we set ourselves anew to turn away from sin and believe the Good News. What have been the victories? What have been the struggles? We will have each faced our battles in trying to be more prayerful and generous, and less selfish and irritated.
Hopefully, one thing will be true for us all. We will have come to know ourselves better, either through our strengths or through our weaknesses; and in this, we will have met the Lord in his love and in his mercy. The third and fourth century desert fathers and mothers knew the ups and downs of discipleship only too well. One of the monk was asked: ‘What do you do all day up there in the monastery?’ He replied: ‘We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up again.’ This is good advice for the Christian life as we die and rise in Christ, over and over again, until we share his victory in its fullness. God’s mercy is always greater than our sin. God’s loving embrace is always greater than our shame. As Pope Francis reminded us, we may get tired of asking for forgiveness, but God never tires of forgiving.
So, whether you are a Lenten champion, a runner up, or a non-starter, today, Palm Sunday, is a watershed. Today we step into the Great Week of our Salvation in Christ. We journey forward and upward, rubbing shoulders with the characters in the Gospels, with the people of the passion. We set our face and voice and mind and heart towards Jerusalem. No matter how lousy your Lent may have been, today the Lord Jesus asks you to come close to him. In a very special and intimate way, he invites you to spend the next seven days with him, moment by moment, as the tension builds towards his suffering and death and the joy explodes at his resurrection.
The Gospel we heard at the beginning of our Mass, before the Blessing of Palms, sets the scene for all that will unfold. The Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly. It must have been incredible to be part of it. The crowds were going wild, people were waving and cheering, even throwing their coats on the floor for the Lord to ride over. It was a real victory parade. But our Lord was misunderstood, part of that bigger misunderstanding that will see him crucified.
The Lord Jesus wasn’t the earthly revolutionary the people wanted, someone who would kick out the Romans. No, he came to change hearts, not just in the here and now, but forever, by announcing a kingdom that was eternal; the in-breaking of God’s reign to renew the face of the earth, to renew my heart and your heart, with the truth of the Gospel and the hope of heaven.
And so, as we will see throughout this week, there is a choice. To put it simply, we either walk this week as Christ’s disciples or we don’t. It’s a stark choice. It was then and it is now. A disciple is a leaner, a follower; an apprentice to a master, the pupil of a teacher, but in such a way that the disciple ‘lives with’ and ‘knows’ the one they follow. Holy Week is a schooling in discipleship, in what it means to stand with Christ, in what it means to stand for Christ. By example he shows what it means to choose love and forgiveness and service, even when others walk away; even when others conspire in his murder.
Everything that happened that first Holy Week was prophesied long beforehand. We heard it from the Prophet Isaiah, from one of the ‘Songs of the Suffering Servant’ which we believe foretell the passion and death of the Lord Jesus. ‘For my part,’ writes Isaiah, ‘I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.’ It’s not difficult to see outlined here the passion of Christ who ‘was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.’
Isaiah says he’s been given ‘a disciple’s tongue’ and that God gives him speech. He is awoken by God every morning to ‘listen like a disciple.’ Here too, our role, yours and mine, as disciples of the Lord Jesus, is foretold. We too have a disciple’s tongue. We too hear and listen as disciples. But ‘we cannot be tepid disciples,’ says Pope Francis, the Lord and his ‘Church needs our courage in order to give witness to the truth.’
Dear friends, come closer to Christ, day by day this Holy Week. Come closer as his disciple. Come closer personally and together, in the liturgy and in quiet moments of prayerful reflection.
Do you believe that God has given you a disciple’s tongue? How then, this week, will you speak to the Father? How will you share the journey towards the cross and resurrection with his Son?
Do you believe that God has given you a disciple’s ear? How then, this week, will you listen to the Father and the Holy Spirit? How will you hear the Lord Jesus call you to walk beside him in sorrow to Calvary and in rejoicing to the empty tomb? Lord, throughout this momentous week give us eyes to seek you, a tongue to praise you, a mind to know you, and a heart to love you. Amen