In normal times we gather as a community in Church every Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. At present this is not possible, but I will aim to provide a weekly reflection throughout this period of social distancing and self isolation. The reflection will normally be based on the Mass readings for that Sunday. To help keep us united as a community, each Sunday we can:
- look at the readings for that particular Sunday
- read the reflection,
- spend some time in quiet reflection about what this means to us at this particular point in our lives
- share our thoughts and keep in touch with other parishioners by phone or social media.
Palm Sunday: 5th April 2020
Would you like to listen to this week’s reflection? Fr David’s spoken reflection is available here.
Today is a strange sort of day. Not only here in the Wirral but all through the Catholic world. From Cape Cod to Cape Horn, from Paris to Mozambique, we Catholics are weaving our way through a strange liturgy. We set off waving palm branches, singing “Hosanna!’ Fifteen minutes later we are crushed with sadness, laid low in desolation. The king has been betrayed with a kiss, lashed with whips, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross till he breathes his last. What can this all mean?
The meaning lies in its very name. We call today both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. Not sadness this Sunday, joy next Sunday. Passion/Palm Sunday weds triumph to tragedy, hosannas to curses, joy to sorrow, life to death. Does this sound like nonsense?
It certainly shouldn’t. After all, our life too, is a living/dying. Not swinging like a pendulum from one to the other; not manic in the morning and depressive in the evening. The two are wed together. In your dying is your living; in your dying is your rising. Remember the paradoxical promise of Christ: It is in losing your life that you find it; it is in dying that you come alive. You must die in two ways. Die to sin and die to self in order to live for others.
The readings for Palm Sunday present a significant challenge to us especially since we are unable to gather today to celebrate the Eucharist. Unlike many liturgies, Holy Week engages the whole community in bodily movement. Today we usually process with palms. On Holy Thursday we wash the feet of some parishioners, move silently and reverently to kiss the cross on Good Friday, and walk with candles from an Easter Fire at the Easter Vigil. These actions remind us that we live Holy Week as a community and we carry Christ’s cross together. This year that is made more difficult. However let me offer a brief reflection on the Passion according to St. Matthew.
Matthew’s Passion has some distinctive features that are worth noting. Scripture scholars believe that Matthew and Luke adapted their material from Mark, whose Gospel is generally believed to have been the first to be written. Almost 80 percent of Matthew’s Passion account is identical in vocabulary and content to Mark’s. Matthew, however, adds several details not found in Mark’s Gospel. For example, Matthew includes the death of Judas, Pilate’s washing his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death, Pilate’s wife’s dream. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, divine guidance is often revealed in dreams – Joseph’s dream to take the child and his mother to Egypt and the magi’s dream to flee Bethlehem are two examples. Matthew alone recounts the earthquake at Jesus’ death, when tombs are opened and many of the saints are raised, a vivid symbol that death is conquered at the very moment of its apparent victory.
So what might all this say to us?
The cross on which Jesus hung did not disappear following the resurrection. The shadow of the cross continues to fall over human history; indeed it falls over the lives of each one of us. Newsprint and internet spells it out for us each day, TV flashes before our eyes: war in the middle east; extreme poverty in Africa; children in wealthy countries growing up below the poverty line; drugs and alcohol destroying minds and bodies; all our ills from stroke through cancer to the CoronaVirus; and hovering over each one of us, the spectre of death.
So what? On broad lines, two responses. For some suffering and death is simply fact. We are born as and when chance would have it.
For others, things are more complex: God enters the picture. A God who is a question or an answer, a problem or a solution. If the cross reveals anything, it declares the central Christian paradox: From death springs life. I may not be able to explain why bad things happen to good people, but as a Christian I must believe that there is no human torment that cannot be touched to the cross of Christ. That in the midst of suffering, God draws close to me. At the heart of Christian faith is the belief that in the coming of Christ God’s compassion became ever more intimate, sharing the pain of the world in the flesh. In Christ, God’s compassion is poured out into the world.
The Passion gives us a glimpse into the heart of God, which burned with care. We can describe God’s care for the world as “pathos”. As a term, pathos signifies a kind of suffering feeling; it is the root of the word “a-pathetic”, meaning without feeling, as well as its opposite, “sym-pathetic”, meaning with feeling for others in their suffering and pain. In the great texts of both the Old and New Testament, our God is a God of pathos. A God who feels intensely: loves, cares, gets angry over injustice, urges, prods, forgives, gets disappointed, gets frustrated, weeps, suffers, pours out mercy, consoles, wipes away tears.
A special pathos accompanies us this Holy Week as the world battles against the CoronaVirus. Many people are living in fear and isolation. Too many people have already lost their lives and we know that many more are going to die in the coming weeks and months. In the last week we have witnessed the lasting grief of the families and friends of loved ones. With Christ on the cross this year are those many doctors and nurses who gave their lives trying to save others, as well as those young as well as old whose lives were simply snatched away by this deadly virus.
However, may we never forget that passion was not the last word in the life of Christ . And so too for us, however many difficulties and sufferings we endure, they are not the last word in our life. Jesus died not into nothingness, into annihilation, but into the embrace of the living God. God encompassed him with a love that ultimately transformed him into new life. We may find it hard to imagine this now, but the heart of our faith breaks out in the exclamation, “Christ is risen, Alleluia”.
- How do I understand Jesus’ death on the cross?
- Do you find it hard to trust God when you are afraid?
- What do I want to ask of God in this coming week?
Fr David Roberts