By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As Holy Week commences, we relive the biblical divine drama each year when the light shines in the darkness and the passion, death and resurrection of the Son of God scatters the darkness of sin and death and all its shadows. The Gospel of Luke set the stage on the First Sunday of Lent when the tempter, the enemy, waged an all-out campaign against God’s beloved, he whose identity was revealed at his Baptism, who endured hunger and solitude for 40 days, and who confirmed his full humanity and divinity in the face of potentially ruinous temptations.
In that moment, Saint Luke alerts us to remain vigilant, because although vanquished, the tempter lurks and awaits another opportunity. The enemy returns in the encounter we know as the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane when the full force of the impending crucifixion assails Jesus. Fully human and fully divine, an inexhaustible mystery, Jesus of Nazareth sweats drops of blood and is tempted to seek another way, but in the fullness of his communion with the Father, he accepted the divine will.
From the blood splattered ground Jesus arose to walk purposely into the passion which he foretold on several occasions during his pubic ministry. He moved with the same resolve, impelled by the same Holy Spirit who drove him into his public ministry following the desert combat. For Catholics and for many Christians the divine action of salvation is compressed into the proclamation of the passion on Palm Sunday weekend. Most do not partake of the Triduum during Holy Week, but the faith-filled commemoration of the passion and death of the Lord prepares the faithful to celebrate his resurrection on Easter, and to renew the promises of Baptism.
This weekend ahead, when the passion narrative from Luke’s Gospel takes root and remains alive in our hearts and minds, and when the palm is prominent in the home as a blessed reminder of whom we adore, then Jesus Christ will be alive wherever we are.
The world needs to hear the compassionate and reconciling words of the Lord from the Cross from Luke’s passion account, poured out with his precious blood. To those who crucified Jesus we hear, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Likewise, with the repentant thief we are remembered by God, now and forever. “From this day forward, you are with me in paradise.” At the moment of death, Jesus seals his sacrifice on the Cross with these words to his beloved Father. “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Ultimate faith and hope in eternal life and renewal in forgiveness, are the way forward in Holy Week and the royal road for a lifetime.
In the Church and in society the Lord wants to pour out his reconciling love upon, the violent, the hardened of heart, the repentant, and those approaching death. This eternal love of God is evident during the passion and from the Cross, and in all of the resurrection appearances. “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high breaks upon to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1,78-79)
It is only the crucified love of the Lord that can scatter the darkness in the Church from the scandal of sexual abuse, the lust for religious power, the suffering of the victims, and the brokenness in families and Church communities. Just like the apostles huddled in fear in the Gospel of John in the vacuum between the crucifixion and resurrection, the Lord appears to us to show us his wounds, to forgive our sins, to grant us peace, to breathe into us the Holy Spirit of God, and to renew us in our mission to make disciples of all the nations.
Many are scattered in our time because of the scandals, as were the apostles of the Lord after the scandal of the Cross, mired in fear, anger, doubt, shame and grief, but the crucified and risen Lord is with us always to rebuild and restore his Church for her sacred mission so that even the gates of hell will not prevail before the divine presence. The seeds of healing and hope are already growing and flowering, and the oils of salvation are will be flowing at the Easter Vigil and throughout the year. May the precious blood and life-giving words of the Lord from the Cross, followed by his Holy Spirit, raise us up, grant us peace, and make us busy about the Lord’s work in our families, communities of faith, and in our society.
“Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest!”