By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
On the days of Holy Week, in our tradition, the ritual itself really preaches the sermon. No powerful preaching now. Nothing to take us away from being there. We do it by the signs that bring it back. Beginning at Palm Sunday, we entered a different dimension. We transcended time. We entered a holy place where God talks to humans, and humans talk to God. In our tradition the ritual, the ceremonies are a way to go back in time, to be one with these events that saved us.
The reading of the Passion of Jesus places us in Jerusalem on that Passover Feast when Jesus died. We witness the trial. We remember the scourging. We hear the shouts, “Crucify him!” We see a ruthless Roman governor hand down the death sentence for another radical. They do not know what they do. His followers scatter. Everyone is afraid. We stand at the cross.
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The old hymns have it right. “Only Jesus knows the trouble I’ve seen. Only Jesus knows the pain I feel. Only Jesus knows…” Jesus pays the price for humanity’s evil. “Down at the cross where my Savior died. Down where the cleansing from sin I cried. There to my heart was the blood applied. I was washed clean in his saving blood.” No greater love than this! He said, and proved it. He gave his life that we might live! “Glory to his name!” O, yes God so loved the world – but Palm Sunday was only the beginning.
Though we read the story, we celebrated it the whole week. There was the day we remember the gift that makes it all real again. There was the day of the cross. There was the day of burial.
Then came the entrance of the divine, the seal of our redemption. A woman announced the news, “He is risen!” We cannot separate his death from his resurrection. We celebrated Easter for three days: Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday beginning with the night Vigil. This was Holy Week.
The entire week was marked with special ceremonies and unusual ritual all emphasizing healing, redemption and deliverance. Tuesday before Easter, at the Cathedral the bishop and the priests and people celebrated the Chrism Mass, the Mass to bless the oils. “There is a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin sick soul.” Once again we see Jesus present in sacred signs of healing and blessing. We speak of holy anointing. To be anointed is to be healed. To be anointed is to be cleansed. To be anointed is to be given a mission.
These oils for anointing the sick, for anointing with the Holy Spirit, for consecrating people and things to continue the work of Jesus are blessed by the bishop and sent to every parish, church and monastery all throughout our diocese. This stresses that we are in union with one another and the bishop. Then Thursday we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, the new Passover, the sign of Jesus’ presence down the ages.
Friday we stood by that “Old Rugged Cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and cherish it for what it did to me,” and sang, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” Thank you Jesus! We told the story of our deliverance once again. This time from John. We made present the events of the trial, the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. The Lamentations of Jeremiah wail in the background. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God!” Then Saturday night we gathered by the tomb. We bless the new fire, the Spirit of God alive in the world! We remember God moving in the waters. We remember creation. We remember the parting of the Red Sea.
We remember liberation. We remember the life giving waters of baptism. We remember those entering the church. “We shall gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God!” This is our night and day. This is redemption time! This is liberation time! This is the day the Lord has made! Alleluia! Alleluia! We celebrate the resurrection and glorification of Jesus the Christ! Our deliverer and Messiah! Thank you Jesus for loving us in spite of ourselves! Glory to God, glory!
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)