Jesus’ entry into the ancient city of Jerusalem, the event that inaugurates what we have come to call Holy Week, takes on particular significance for many people in this time of threatening uncertainty and the anxiety, even anguish, to which it gives rise. The procession, celebrated with palms and jubilation, barely masks a mood of foreboding. This is not a usual celebration, but only a passage. And not just any passage, but one that prefigures a glory hard-won.
This entry takes Jesus’ mission journey to another level, into another dimension, if you will. Into something that is difficult for us to imagine, even if we dare to try. On one level, we know the destination. The Resurrection, His return in glory to sit at the right hand of the Father. Wonderful. It’s what we all want. Yet, we are seized by the horrors that he suffered along the way: Gethsemane, Golgotha.
It is in moments such as these that we realize that the Gospel is full of Truth that is not only Jesus’ reality but ours as well. So where are we going? In fact, yes, we have some idea of the ultimate destination, the epilogue to the story. But what of suffering or the threat of suffering? The question raises countless existential concerns about the deeper meaning of life, and death, the true meaning of faith and of hope and of love, and of the reality that lies beyond the carefully packaged explanations that are contained in catechisms or in the platitudes that we hear in most preaching.
Jesus’ journey from the desert to the cross is one that is filled with desolation as well as consolation. So is ours. The problem is that we can’t relate to his griefs and his joys. They all seem so foreign. Despite the dread, we have never needed more than now to understand and find comfort in his counsel, to “pray always and not to lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) The key is to stay connected, not to run in fear that God might fail us or make some unreasonable request, or take us to some awful place and abandon us. Rather, to stay connected, to keep in touch, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37)
COVID-19 slowly but surely raises weighty questions about life: Who am I, who is my neighbour? What is the purpose of my life, of my work, what will happen to us? Why is this even happening, why am I reacting the way I am? How should I behave, how should I take care of those that I love, how should I relate to those that I do not know or love? When will this end and things get back to normal? How can I use this time to rethink and reimagine normality? These and many other questions are for us to answer first in the silence of our heart under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Talking about these things with others is often helpful.
In the end though, it’s all about staying connected to the basic elements of our humanity and call to holiness, where the deepest joy is revealed. Connected to the creator and sustainer of life, our triune God. That’s why it helps to “pray always,” not just with praise, gratitude and scripted words, as beautiful as these may be, but also with the uncharted feelings that spring from a yearning heart and with the unvarnished thoughts that populate the troubled mind. Finally, it’s useful to recall that Jesus invites us to “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” (Mt11:28) and to be like “the birds of the air; (that) neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns…(or) the lilies of the field…(that) neither toil nor spin.” (Mt 6: 26-28) To understand the deeper meaning of those verses, it may help to savour the words of Thomas Merton:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Palm Sunday Reflection 2020