At the beginning of Lent I urged feasting on Scripture and suggested reading through one of the Gospels during Lent. Regardless of whether you took my advice then, I say again, feast from the rich table of the word of God this Holy Week!
These days the main course is the liturgical readings. Palm Sunday’s Gospels, the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the breathtaking account of the passion from Matthew, give plenty to ponder. When I heard the passion proclaimed today, somehow Judas, Peter, Barabbas, Pilate, and those who mocked our crucified Lord caught my attention.
How does Judas’ betrayal differ from Peter’s denial? Judas’ sin is deliberate, premeditated, the betrayal of a friend for financial gain, betrayal with a kiss! What nevertheless makes Judas a sympathetic character is that he is not all bad. After Jesus was condemned Judas “deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Tragically, he despaired and took his life, rather than seeking forgiveness from the one who shed “his blood of the covenant… for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).
Peter who wanted to be strong and die for his Lord succumbs to human weakness at the moment of his test. Had he prayed like his Lord urged him to (Matt 26:41), he just might have passed the test. Instead out of fear he denies his Lord three times, then repents, and weeps bitterly.
Barabbas is the murderer who walks free because a just man dies in his place.
Pilate is the spineless politician who cannot wash the blood of the innocent from his hands no matter how long he washes them in water, no matter what he says.
Finally, the chief priests, scribes, and elders and then the two revolutionaries crucified with Jesus mock him with words that recall those of the tempter, “if you are the Son of God” (Matt 4:3, 6; Wis 2:18)
One of the things I like best at Mass is to sing back the words of Scripture in response to the psalm:
Today: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Thursday: “Our blessing cup is a communion in the blood of Christ.”
Friday: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
All of the lectionary readings this week are rich. Whether or not you can make it to Mass, nourish yourself on them.
On Holy Thursday the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the first reading recounts the Jewish Passover festival that Jesus fulfills. The second reading contains the earliest version we have of the Words of Institution, written by St. Paul twenty-five years after Jesus spoke them. The Gospel from John describes Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, a prophetic gesture indicating how he would humble himself to make us clean.
On Good Friday I’m lucky enough to be able to take the morning off. I’ll go to a little chapel at the DeSales Center in Brooklyn, Michigan, perhaps with one of my nieces or nephews, and read and pray. I’ll read another account of the passion, probably Mark’s (got to read Luke’s for class last week). I’ll read about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-53. Then on to Good Friday services to hear the passion in John’s Gospel proclaimed.
What a feast for the spirit—and I’ve said nothing of the readings of the Easter Vigil!