I stand in the entrance and look at the empty sanctuary, the images of Jesus and Mary are draped with purple cloth. Even now, before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week, an atmosphere of reverence has entered the church without notice, because no invitation is needed.
Although the coming week will find me in church nearly every day, I long to be there, not to miss a moment although I have attended these same services for years. The days of this week will be filled with sorrow, passion, and suffering but with equal measures of love and gratitude. This week is the reason for our faith, in God, in Christ, and the basis for our hope in ‘things unseen’.
We know there is a history-changing triumphant ending only seven days away. We will travel with Jesus, entering Jerusalem hailed as a king. But what awaits are not banquets fit for royalty, but a humble Passover dinner in which bread and wine will be consecrated and become the body and blood of our Savior.
Instead of a crown of gold and precious gems, our Lord will be crowned with thorns that pierce his skin. He will be beaten until his body is covered not with royal robes, but with the outpouring of his love for us.
At the start of the week crowds line the streets shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!”. By the end of the week, when given the opportunity to save Jesus’ life, they will call for his crucifixion. So unreliable are we, it is a miracle that God would love us in spite of ourselves.
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
From king to crucifixion these seven days are the holiest days of our liturgical calendar, filled with sorrow for the suffering that Christ endured. Yet, they are the most precious seven days. A time when we feel suffused in the significance of our Christian faith and what it means to be loved by God.
There is a moment, after the Last Supper is honored on Holy Thursday, when the altar is stripped bare, when the Holy Sacrament has been taken from its place and moved to another room, when I have the feeling of what it would be like if Christ had never come into the world. The desolation is overwhelming. I understand how darkens pervades the world without the presence of Christ and how apt the name ‘light of the world’ is for him. Later I will sit with others where the Blessed Sacrament has been placed and feel as if we are keeping Jesus company as his disciples were asked to keep vigil during his sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I stand ready to walk with my savior to the cross, though I will only be a witness to his suffering and though my love for him is a pale reflection of his love for me, still my heart aches at the thought of what he endured on my behalf, on our behalf.
But because of his sacrifice, I can come into this church and sit in the quiet and be present with him. This week is about sacrifice, about laying down one's life for another, about a father who loved his children so much that he sent his only son to die for us. Which is why this week is about love, God's love for us, and our love given back to him.
I want to sit alone in this empty church and soak in God’s love and reflect it back to him. But Jesus has called me and you and each of us to do more with this powerful gift we have received.
Christ’s death and resurrection was not the end of his mission. I believe he meant it to be the beginning of a journey in which we experience and share an active loving relationship with God with the world. When we listen to someone in need, we become the ears and heart of Christ. When we speak to a person who lives in isolation, we become the bearer of Christ’s love. When we take meals to the hungry, we share Jesus’ miracle of feeding the five thousand. When we serve in our church and our community, we carry God’s message to people who might not otherwise receive it.
During Holy Week spend quiet time with Jesus, reflect on his sacrifice with love and gratitude. And then ask how we can work with him, to grow in our relationship with him, and share the love of that relationship with others in our community.