Today we enter on Holy Week and Christ enters Jerusalem and enters into his Passion. What is it all about?
Essentially, it’s a simple story. He enters into what is ours so that we can enter into what is his. Today would normally be the Solemnity of the Annunciation: the feast of the day the Word became flesh and entered our humanity, taking on the form of a servant. As today’s 2nd reading has it, he was humbler yet, even to death, death on a cross. He enters human life, suffering and death. It’s the mystery of the Cross. All so that we can enter his divine life. It’s the mystery of the Resurrection. It’s what Mr Trump would call a ‘deal’, a good deal. It’s what the Fathers of the Church more elegantly call a ‘wonderful exchange.’ He drinks the cup of human experience, so we can drink new wine in the kingdom. He enters our ‘distance’ from God and one another, so that we can access his closeness. He ‘becomes sin’, so we can become righteousness. He shares our sadness so we can have joy. He experiences dis-grace so we can be graced. He’s stripped so we can be clothed. He’s mocked so we can be praised. He’s wounded so we can be healed. He thirsts so we can drink. This is how the New Testament and early Christians express it. He is put to death ‘in the flesh’ so we can receive the Spirit. The Incarnation leads to the Cross, the Cross to the Resurrection, the Resurrection to Pentecost. By faith and the sacraments we’re enrolled in the new world Jesus’ sufferings have opened up for us, a world that will flower in its fullness when everything is achieved and our hearts are purified.
So, one spring afternoon before the Passover, Jesus makes the two-hour walk with his disciples from the village of Bethany to the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, joining the crowds on their way to the feast. He mounts a young donkey, goes down the winding road over the valley of the Wadi Kidron, and then up again to the walls of Jerusalem, passing through the Valley Gate and so to the Temple. Then a few days later, beginning in the Upper Room, he enters on the sequence of events we have just heard from the Gospel of Mark and will hear again on Friday from the Gospel of John.
It’s the beginning of a wonderful exchange. And what else can we say?
In the Eastern (Byzantine) liturgy, on Palm Sunday Eve, the service begins with a particular icon being carried in to the church. The icon of Christ the Bridegroom. And it remains in the church for the first days of Holy Week. It’s another clue to what is happening. A Bridegroom is coming! But this Bridegroom isn’t wearing a kilt or a white suit. He’s dressed in the purple robe the soldiers mock him with. He wears the crown of thorns and he’s holding the reed they strike him with. He’s a joke, apparently. But, in fact, he’s the Bridegroom. He has come to win the heart of his Bride, who is us, his Body, the Church. He’ll give everything for her. He will be raised to embrace her. And at Easter the Church becomes a mother birthing child after child, generation after generation, from the womb of the baptismal font.
Holy Week is a wonderful exchange. Holy Week’s a marriage.
What is it all about? Let’s ask a third time. I live now opposite St Machar’s Cathedral, our city’s first Cathedral. I was coming back past it last night. Lights were on. I thought I would look in and ask the prayers of the medieval bishops buried there. Then I realized other people were entering the Cathedral. Something was on. I went in. There was someone I know. ‘What’s on tonight?’, I asked her. A concert by the Con Anima Chamber Choir. Yes, marking the start of Holy Week, called ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ ‘Would you like a free ticket?’ So there I was, caught. And the concert’s centerpiece was Bach’s 11-part Chorale, Jesu meine Freude, Jesus my Joy. It struck me I was living a parable. The generous lady with her free ticket to joy was a symbol of the inviting Church, a symbol of grace, introducing me to Christ’s death and resurrection. And Bach, the Evangelist, was setting to music words like these: ‘Jesus, my joy, the field of my heart. Jesus, my jewel…Lamb of God, my Bridegroom, nothing on earth will be dearer to me than you…Surrender, spirits of grief, for Jesus, my Joymaster, enters in…Though I suffer here, even in my sorrow, Jesus, you remain, my joy.’
What is Holy Week about? It begins with children full of joy and will end with the joy of Mary Magdalene and her friends. It is Christ – Christ the New Deal, Christ the Bridegroom, Christ the Master / the Bringer of Joy – Christ who went through all of this to do one thing: become our Joy.