The last number of weeks of Lent has been preparing us for the final drama of Holy Week. Beginning on Palm Sunday we become caught up in the story of our salvation, Jesus’ life and ministry have been pointing towards Jerusalem. The City of David is the focal point for the great events which reveal God’ love for his people, here he establishes a new covenant in his son’s blood. Out of love for all men and women of every tribe and generation Jesus lays down his life in obedience to the will of the Father.
This total self giving love reveals the heart of God’s mercy and compassion, Jesus wishes to draw us into his loving relations with the Father. All week in the readings from John’s Gospel Jesus has been trying to explain to those who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see the true nature of his mission, as the one who has been sent to save all people from sin and death.
Jesus wants to introduce into the very life of God, eternal love itself. What Jesus is revealing about the true nature of God is scandalously new and shocking. For the followers of traditional religion, those who are settled in their faith, comfortable in their rituals and celebrations this is an unsettling reality which challenges their very conception of God. How can a mere man talk of having not only a personal knowledge and intimate relationship with the God of Israel who lives in majesty, splendour and glory? If we take Jesus’ message and his identity as God’s only begotten Son seriously then all our conceptions and ideas about God have to be radically transformed and changed.
We have to challenge ourselves in relation to our faith in God and how it shapes our lives and attitudes. When all is said and done, there is one basic truth which shapes and determines our faith, namely, who we believe God to be, will be revealed in the way we live out our lives. In our daily preoccupations what do we witness to, what do we reveal to others by our words and actions?
In many of the gospels one of the central themes is Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem. The city represents not only the presence of God in the Temple but highlights the tragic reality that Jerusalem is the place where many of the prophets were killed. Like many of our own stories we have examples of fidelity and infidelity in terms of our relationship with God. Already as events unfold we begin to understand how we are being drawn into a drama concerning the presence of God and the reality of sin and death. There is tension in the air as two opposing forces collide involving the powers of light and darkness, life and death. This is a cosmic battle between the power of evil which has enslaved the world including our lives and the power of God’s love which has come to set us free in order to serve God and one another. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is a journey of discipleship which we too must make, but thankfully not on our own or without the support of a shepherd and guide who has walked the way before us.
In Mozart’s Requiem we hear the acclaim “Remember, O merciful Jesus that I am the cause of your journey”. Jesus’ sole motivation was to be obedient to the will of his Father. He was sent into the world to reveal God’s love for sinful humanity. Though we had wondered far from God’ friendship Jesus came to show us the way back to the Father. For those who open their hearts, minds and bodies to the person and message of Christ, God will gather them in his arms and embrace all those who desire to follow him and guide them over the waters of sin and death into the promised land of eternal life. Our true homeland is in the life of God and the acknowledgement of Jesus by the crowds highlights the true hunger and thirst at the heart of our lives. We all desire to welcome God into depths of our being, to be awakened to the presence of God who dwells in our hearts and souls, because only then can we be truly free and alive. We need to experience Holy Week by recognising and celebrating God’s presence.
Andrew of Crete sums up the desired attitude we should try to express as we celebrate Palm Sunday and begin the journey of Holy Week. ‘It is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ—“for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”—so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.’
“In the unfolding of the Passion in Mark, Jesus is for the most part, acted upon. The deceit of Judas and denial of Peter, the fear and manipulations of the priests, the bloodthirstiness of the mob, the calculations of Pilate, the scorn of the soldiers are what we see and hear and smell, as all these swirl around Jesus. It is our worst fear—not being in control—and yet our most universal human experience. It is embraced by God in Christ, and thus it is transformed”.