We all have had the moment on high, waving our palms and singing “Hosanna!”, vowing that our faith will henceforth never be shaken. It might have been the moment a desperate prayer was answered. Or a spiritual high at the end of a retreat. Maybe when we were baptised or charged up by experiences when we returned to Church. And then as we re-engaged our worldly life, the challenging realities takes us down. We find that despite this, suffering did not go away, and we go down and down.
We are now at Holy Week; the services will be long, full of rituals, and intense. It has been a long Lenten preparation and I can’t wait for this week to go quickly by, after all I have a bottle of wine waiting after the Easter Vigil to break my alcoholic fast. It would be a mistake to want to rush this week. In fact, we would want this week to go torturously slow for us to immerse into the events, allowing them to speak and for us to listen. For in them somewhere, we will find a hold to cope with our many ups and downs in life.
On Holy Thursday, the night before he died, we meditate it as the Institution of the Eucharist, our mass. As we are being vaccinated, churches are looking at reopening the doors but wondering if we will all come in? After all, this pandemic has caused us to go down and down. Where is God? We have all been away from the routine of Sunday mass. Being online has its conveniences, and other routines have taken over.
I read “Why go to Church?” by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe. On the night before he died, faced with fear and the immense suffering ahead, surrounded by disciples about to bolt and be scattered, together paralysed by the uncertainty of the next day, what did Jesus do? “This is my Body, this is my Blood”. “Take, eat and drink of it”. Jesus gives us his body, his physical, bodily presence to accompany us in our sufferings. The True Presence. This is more than a virtual presence which we cannot be completely part of watching it on screen. In the face of the ups and downs in life, we are given this bodily gift to continue our daily life with. To receive, we must come and be physically present.
Unlike the disciples then, now we have the benefit of hindsight, the death and resurrection are historical events. We know what follows death but still it does not make challenges and suffering any easier. In every new, occurring situation, faith becomes fear, trust melts yet again into doubt. Where are you my God, will you come once again for me? And for some, suffering is prolonged throughout life. But as he did at the Last Supper, in the face of crisis, he offers himself bodily to us. Given for us. We must reach out, physically, to take and eat.
“Yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” (Second Reading)
Life is the pilgrimage to death, death the door that opens into eternal life where suffering is no more. Along the pilgrimage of life, the ups and downs are inescapable. Dwelling in the events of holy week, we will see sense in the humble acceptance of the ups and downs that come our way. For one day surely, we will reach that stairway to heaven.
Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday