The journey of Lent is well advanced and is holy week approaches, there may be a sense that, ‘we have been here before’.
We have in our minds a clear picture of the events: the triumphant entry into Jerusalem; the Last Supper; the agony in the Garden; the scourging at the pillar; the crowning with thorns; the wailing women; the piercing of the nails; the cross on which the tortured body is placed.
There is a dangerous familiarity about Holy Week. We can rather comfortably view it as a past action that has little connection with our lives today. However, the first lesson that Holy Week and Easter teach us is that the past is present.
Holy week is never over. Because of the ongoing worship of political, economic, ethnic, racial and religious idols, the nailing of humans to their crosses of poverty, hunger, discrimination and oppression continues today. Idols, inevitably, capture the human heart and promote a culture of death.
By confronting the powers of this time and the political and religious idols worshipped, Jesus was placed on the cross, abandoned by those who knew him and apparently abandoned by the God in whom he had placed his trust. A violent end was inevitable in a world of violence.
Yet there is no violence in Jesus. By speaking the language of vulnerability, he absorbs violence in his own very person and breaks its cycle. Jesus reveals the true God who does not retaliate or seek revenge.
There is no language of blame as forgiveness is sought for perpetrators whom Jesus claims are ignorant of their terrible deeds. ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’.
Jesus violent death would be forgotten were it not for the Easter event. Here familiarity ends as we are faced with the mind-boggling events of Easter Sunday.
The disciples of Jesus are the primary witnesses to the resurrection. The transformation of seismic proportions happens to them, because of something that happened to Jesus.
The focus is, not themselves, but Jesus. The earliest recorded Christian creed refers to for actions that affected Jesus himself: he died; was buried; was raised from the dead and appeared to the disciples.
On the Hill of Calvary, the same disciples had, in despair and full of fear, abandoned their master. After the resurrection, they are, at first, shocked and then, bewildered as they discover within and among themselves the certainty that the crucified one is alive. Their bewilderment gradually turns to overwhelming joy.
They proclaim not a dead corpse but a living presence. Fear gives way to encourage, to a readiness to give their lives and go to the ends of the world to share astonishing news.
The implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus are astounding and profoundly affect us. The risen Christ wishes to weave his way into the fabric of our lives: calling us to integrity and wholeness in personal, family, community, social, economic and political lives and in how we care for our fragile and threatened planet. There is a radical transformation too, in our understanding of death. Because Jesus has been one of us, what happened to him in his death happens to those who follow his way. His destiny beyond death becomes our destiny and our hope.
He has passed through the door of death and left it ajar. Death becomes a door through which we too pass, a stage on the way to the fullness of life, to an everlasting life with God. The first letter of John joyfully proclaims, ‘we shall come to be like him for we shall see him as he really is’.
The Christian gospel is the Easter gospel. The Pope has a particular responsibility for preserving and handing on that Easter good news. On Easter Sunday morning from his balcony in St Peter’s square he will proclaim to the world, ‘Christ is risen Alleluia’. If, for whatever reason, he were to do nothing more than this for the rest of the year, he would have fulfilled his essential task.