Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week Journal 2011: Palm Sunday

Tender Love and Walking in the Way of Suffering

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. (Collect for Palm Sunday)

This prayer sums up the exquisite and complex character of Holy Week: God’s tender love for the human race and the suffering that love must endure so that we may share in Christ’s resurrection and be restored to our true identity and purpose.

To the casual observer, Holy Week can seem like climbing a mountain: beginning at a the base on Palm Sunday and making a laborious “assault on the peak” on Good Friday before coming down again to celebrate at Easter. The tendency in our secular society (and a Christianity deeply compromised by secular concepts) is to see our Christian life as just such labor. But this is to miss the point: the suffering is Christ’s, the resurrection is Christ’s, and we are the recipients. We are not making the assault on sin and death: God in Christ is the one who—once and for all—overcame the enemy and scaled the heights so that we might share in the Victory. This is the Mystery of Salvation, the Paschal (from Pascha, meaning Easter) gift.

Each Palm Sunday inaugurates a new immersion in the truth of the Paschal Mystery, not a new run at climbing Mount Calvary our selves. The rest of our life is a response to the Mystery of Christ’s self-offering and resurrection, becoming more like him by living “the example of his great humility,” as the Collect puts it, in the power of the Holy Spirit given us in baptism.

The liturgies of Holy Week proclaim the essence of the Christian Faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Into this mystery new Christians are baptized, and baptized Christians are renewed. The tender love of God in Christ is manifested, and we are invited to take up our own cross and follow him, knowing that the mountain has already been conquered, the wall between us and God broken down, the chasm separating us and our brothers and sisters overcome. Now, it is time to renew our walk with Christ, so that we do not re-build the walls, dig new chasms, or forget his gifts.

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