The week we call Holy (Great Week for Eastern Christians) begins for me with proclaiming those contrasting Gospel readings during the Liturgy of Palm or Passion Sunday. Before we enter the Church in a Procession waving Palm branches, we listen to the Gospel narrative and are invited to identify with the jubilant crowds welcoming the Master into Jerusalem.
Once inside the sanctuary, the Liturgy of the Word begins. Before long, some of those same people shouted "Let Him be Crucified!" as the Passion Gospel is proclaimed. As I grow older the connection between the two gospel accounts, my participation in that rejection of God's love and the frailties of life have become clearer to me.
Holy Week invites us all to let go of self love and embrace the Lord anew through saying Yes to the invitation to continuing conversion. How desperately we all need to hear the Good news that we can begin again! We can choose to enter more fully into the celebrations of Holy Week. When we do, we change. Or, we can approach them as empty ritual and miss the marvelous moment of grace.
Holy times presuppose a people who hunger to be made holy.
The question is not whether we will mark time but how we will do so? For the Christian time is not meant to be a tyrant ruling over us with impunity. Rather, it is a teacher, inviting and instructing us to choose to enter more fully into our relationship with the Lord and in Him to make progress on the Path of Life.
Only by grace can I make progress in the path that leads to eternal life passes trough time. It winds through the real stuff of our daily lives. What those contrasting Gospel accounts reveal draws me into this week called Holy and it's numerous times of prayer and reflection. It draws me to an honest admission of my weakness, an acknowledgement and confession of my sin, and an ever deepening appreciation of the "Amazing Grace" given in Jesus Christ.
The Passion narrative is filled with biblical characters with whom we can all identify. Many a great Saint in the Christian tradition has advised the faithful to enter into the characters in these inspired accounts. Identify with them. Place yourself in the narrative. Let the Holy Spirit use the encounter to deepen your experience of who Jesus is, and who you are called to become in Him.
Each year, in the parish in which I serve, we are invited to reflectively prepare ourselves for the Holy Week services by doing just that. My friend and pastor will regularly ask us, "who were you on Calvary?" This has been a hard lent. I have come to believe that is part of the plan for such liturgical seasons. Not because God is somehow "mean", quite to the contrary, because he is Love and He wants us to live in Love. As the Apostle of Love affirms in his first letter, "God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them." (John 4:16)
I know that this Holy Week is a personal invitation to me, to be made new again, to progress on the path that leads to life. I desperately need it. The only question is, will I respond fully? I suggest to my readers, it is the same invitation to you. Say "YES" and let grace do the rest.
In the 1977 film "Jesus of Nazareth" Franco Zefferrelli ended the original version with words spoken by a character not found in the biblical accounts' named Zerah. The name literally means "Brilliance". He enters the empty crypt and seeing the burial cloth lying on the empty slab because Jesus has been raised says, "Now it begins; now it all begins." It is these words which come to my mind every year as we begin the High Holy Days of the Christian faith during this "Holy Week" or "Great Week".
The Liturgy of Palm or Passion Sunday, with its re-presentation of the triumphal entry of the Master into Jerusalem leading into the first Passion Narrative sets the Liturgical framework for a week which is filled with invitations of grace.
However, it is up to each of us to choose to receive them or not. That is part of the mystery of human freedom. To be "Holy" is to be set aside for God. Entering fully into the Liturgical celebrations of this week can actually change us - that is what it means to be converted. "Now it begins; now it all begins".