Ever since we set out on our spiritual journey on pre-Lent Septuagesima Sunday, step by step we have approached Holy Week. While a measure of weariness might distress us as we slog along the paths of penance and discipline, of self-denial and self-examination, our hearts rise because we draw nearer to the goal of victory and Easter glory. Let us enter this last time of trial and transformation, the four days remaining in Passiontide and the last three, their own set, the Sacred Triduum.
As Christ entered Jerusalem through a gate riding on an ass, so too you can enter Holy Week with some of my poor comments.
Remember context always. For months the Scribes and Pharisees became more and more hostile toward the Lord, who moved the people to belief through miracles and teaching with genuine authority. By this point, shortly before the great pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, Christ performed His greatest and last miracle before His Passion: the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:1-45). After this the leaders of the Temple “took counsel how to put him to death” (v. 53).
Following a brief stay at Ephraim and Jericho, where He taught, healed the blind and predicted His betrayal, Passion and Resurrection, Christ returned to Bethany and the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus a couple of days before His final journey to Jerusalem. No doubt news of His return and of the miracle of Lazarus had spread and people were anticipating His every move.
When Christ finally headed to Jerusalem for His final Passover, they went along the well-trodden road, so familiar because the Jews made pilgrimages year in and year out. Our Lord remained mostly silent except to teach about the inevitability of God’s loving plan. They went by way of Bethphage, whence the paschal lamb was brought to the Temple. Here He instructed the disciples to bring to Him the colt of an ass, upon which they put their cloaks for Him to ride like the Davidic Priest King Solomon, who in 1 Kings 1 rode David’s donkey into the city with a great crowd (Matthew 21:7). The people, flooding to the city for the holy days, strew the way with branches and their own cloaks. Word spread. The whole city was excited because Jesus was coming. With each turn and rise, glimpses of the city were revealed from the Mount of Olives, glimpses of the Temple, while all along people were singing the psalms of the pilgrims which the people of Jerusalem would answer on solemn festivals, “Hosia-na!… “Save us!” Hosanna… Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord.”
In recognition of the Lord as the Davidic Messiah Priest King, the people stopped singing the spring festival songs, usual at Passover, and started to sing the songs for the autumn harvest festival of Sukkoth, Tabernacles. During Sukkoth, which went on for a week, there was a ceremony of pouring water and wine out as people waved palm branches toward the altar. This ceremony looked forward to the return of God’s presence cloud to the Temple which had departed with the Ark. On that first Palm Sunday people cut branches and waved them toward Jesus, singing the psalms of Sukkoth rather than of Passover, because they thought Christ would go to the Temple to offer sacrifice as the Davidic priest and bring in a new era. The pilgrims and the greeters would have sung the familiar psalms in unison as they marched up the last rugged ascent to the very place where Jesus had looked upon the city and wept because He foresaw its destruction.
Then they went on down, into the city to the Temple Mount, eventually to return to Bethany in the evening. They counted the hours and the short days until the Preparation day of the Passover, the slaughter of the lambs and the eating of the Paschal meal. In the time that followed before the preparation of the Pascha, Our Lord would curse the fruitless fig tree, cleanse the Temple, heal the sick, speak of the tribute to Caesar, and speak with Greeks – Gentiles – first fruits of His Passion who were drawn to Him as a final sign that His time had come as foreseen in Isaiah 2. He would state the great commandment and teach in parables of the laborers in the vineyard, the King’s son and the wedding garment and then discourse to His disciples of the Last Things with the image of the wise and foolish virgins, the talents, and the final reckoning. And then Judas – driven by greed and later possessed by Satan – would sell the Lord while the Lord and Apostles prepared for the Passover meal.
But this Sunday, Christ’s final days began. Through our sacred liturgical worship and by our baptismal character these sacred mysteries are made present to us and we to them in their devout celebration. Today Our Lord comes to Jerusalem, mounted on the colt of a donkey.
The Lord had His ass colt to bear Him to His Passion and His Victory. Though the ass recalled Solomon, and other than the fact that everyone but Christ would have been walking up to the city, asses were an ordinary, everyday sight and presence. In our rites, we the baptized celebrate the triumph of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. In your Palm Sunday procession, claim part of that victory as sharers in Christ’s mission.
Do not leave that victory behind you at church when the dismissal comes at the end of Holy Mass and it is time to return to the world. We are our rites. You do not stop being sharers in Christ’s Passion and victory at the portal of the church. You must consciously carry Christ into every corner of your sphere of life and into every open heart.
First, to bear Christ to where He wants you to take Him, you must be a good donkey colt yourself, obedient, docile, patient. Don’t be a froward ass. Mary said, “Let it be done to me” and Christ humbled Himself to death. We have the examples of saints. Be a good donkey and carry Christ to where He has to go.
Next, allow yourself to be borne along by your own donkey colts, that is, the ordinary and everyday tasks and events which bear you along in your day. Our daily responsibilities, our daily troubles, even our sufferings are all our donkey colts which bear us, in turn bearing Christ into each cranny of our lives and into the lives of others. Bear them with self-control, perseverance, and good cheer. Is it possible to imagine Mary of Nazareth preparing a meal or cleaning up afterward with a grumble and a frown? She bore Christ before any donkey did, thus teaching all donkeys to bear Him. She teaches us that even in the smallest way, hardly perceptible except perhaps to those closest to us, how to bear Christ in the place where we, in our vocation, must bring Him.
Life doesn’t have to be exotic to have dramatic results. In the most ordinary things, faithfully completed, much is accomplished. And your participation in the sacred rites of Holy Week, the coming Triduum, is “the least you could do,” if you get my drift. Of course, it is the most you can do, not because of who you are or what you do in them, but because of what He makes of you as you are in them. We are our rites, and He is their Actor.
Go to confession. Go to your rites. Take others to both. It’s the least you can do.
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz