My dear sisters and brothers; As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, we begin Holy Week. These coming days will reach the peak of their intensity with the Paschal Triduum, the Three Day celebration of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. In these liturgies we will enter into the great mystery of God’s love for us.
With the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday the sacred liturgy makes present for us Jesus’ Institution of the Eucharist so that we may become one with Him as he gives his life for us in order that we may live always with Him.
On Good Friday we will stand at the Cross of Jesus as he offers His life as a sacrifice to His Father and takes away our sins and the sins of the world.
On Holy Saturday we remain in silence with the Church as Jesus lies in the tomb. Death has claimed him.
And then at Easter, beginning with the great Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening, the Resurrection of Jesus is made present for us in the liturgies of the Church so that we may unite ourselves to Jesus, risen from the dead and so assure that we too will conquer death and live forever with God.
At the beginning of Mass today we walked with Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem, praising him as our Messiah. We hold in our hands palm branches such as those spread before Jesus as he entered his holy city. For the next year these branches will be put in a place of honour in our homes to help us remember the Son of God whose love has saved us from the power of death.
Today’s liturgy speaks of that love that God has for us: God gives up his Son. God’s Son gives up his life. All of this is done for us, so that we may not perish in death but may have eternal life. The image of this love, this sacrificial love, that the liturgy in the Second Reading sets in front of us today, is one that I personally find overwhelmingly powerful: the Son of God, Christ Jesus, “emptied himself.”
We spend much of our life trying to fill ourselves. We look for those things which give us pleasure and satisfaction, things which give us importance and power. We try to fill our lives with these things. But when we love we give away. When we love we make sacrifices. When we love we empty ourselves a little bit.
Jesus is God. God is all that is good, all that is beautiful. We can get a sense of this in the creation around us. There are times in each of our lives when we look at nature and are moved and awed with the beauty we see. To stand under a prairie sky in the dark of a summer night and look out through the universe glowing in the sky we feel the beauty, it is palpable. The psalms talk about seeing the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, and being overwhelmed by the moon and the stars. In these things we get a sense of the indescribable beauty that is God.
All of this belongs to God the Son. But God’s Son, Jesus poured all of this away; he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” A slave is nothing. A slave has no human value or worth. A slave is only to be used and then discarded when no longer useful. This is what God became for us in Jesus. Jesus then humbled himself further and submitted to the most humiliating death imaginable. If love is measured in how much one sacrifices for another, then the love of Jesus for us is deep beyond measure.
Holy week enables us not only to enter more deeply into the mystery of this love but it also provides us an opportunity to join with Jesus in his saving actions.
I would like to give you some words written by St. Gregory, the bishop of Constantinople in the 300’s : “We must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings...”
When I was small and would complain to my mother about things I didn’t like or so called pains that I felt were burdensome and unfair as children often do, she would say “Offer it up.” For a long time I thought she meant: “Put up with it and don’t bother me.” But I gradually learned that she meant what St. Gregory taught: in our Catholic way of living the Christian faith, our pains and sorrows, our difficulties and hardships can be joined to those of Jesus and become part of his sacrifice which saved the world.
Martin Luther King was a man who sacrificed for his people and who gave his life for their freedom. I would like to share with you as well something he said when he was weighed down by the difficulties of his life: “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”That is our Christian faith.
So I invite you this week to intentionally and deliberately transform your sufferings and difficulties, your pains and sorrows into a powerful creative force. Let us see them as a way of joining with Jesus in “emptying” ourselves. Let us accept them for the sake of Jesus and thus we will connect our sufferings to his Passion and so offer them as a sacrifice to God. This will then help us to truly and effectively enter into the Paschal Mystery, the Easter Mystery of our redemption and salvation.