by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
One cannot fully comprehend all that we will remember and celebrate this coming week. In theological and practical terms it is a total mystery. Here then are some “thoughts around the edges” of our High Holy Days, in the hope that they might shed a little more light on what we celebrate during these days, the culmination of the salvation history.
“Behold your king comes to you meek and riding on an ass and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” Jesus enters the Holy City for the next to last time in this entirely humble way. At the same time proud Roman occupiers are entering and leaving the city in elegant chariots pulled by beautiful steeds. The contrasts are thought-provoking.
“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany” to the home of his dear friends Martha, Mary and the risen Lazarus. Isn’t it entirely possible that the Lord was girding himself for his final and fateful approach to Jerusalem, consoled by the love of friends and frequently looking from Bethany across the Kedron Valley to that great city on the hill and reflecting on what awaited him there?
On one of those bittersweet few days at Bethany Mary was criticized for “wasting money” on aromatic oil and anointing Jesus’s feet. He defends her: “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.” Mary sensed what the end of that week would bring.
At table with his disciples Jesus washes their feet – those of all 12 – one who would shortly hand him over to the crowd in Gethsemane, another who would a little later swear an oath that he did not know Jesus, and the rest who would desert him when he was captured.
Jesus gave a kind of last will and testament at that table as well, doing so that “his joy might be in them and their joy might be complete.” Joy as he prepares to be condemned and crucified!
Now a prisoner, Jesus is dragged before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine, and then to Herod Antipas, client King of Judea. Under the questioning of both, Jesus essentially refuses to defend himself, thereby negating their power over him.
Several others appear in the stories of Jesus’s painful journey to Golgotha and his torturous death by crucifixion. They lend themselves to further reflection on that fateful event.
First there was the stranger, Simon from the town of Cyrene, forced by the Roman soldiers to help Jesus with his cross lest he die on the way.
Some women of Jerusalem were weeping by the roadside as Jesus passed and being told: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep instead for yourselves and for your children.” This echoes what old Simeon had said long ago to Jesus’s mother Mary, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” Then there is John, the only apostle to return, stand with the women and witness the death of Jesus.
Also, mention is made of the Roman army officer who witnessed the crucifixion and declared “This man was innocent beyond doubt.”
And finally, we learn of the two brave, and wealthy Jewish men, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the religious council and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who went to Pilate asking permission to bury Jesus’s body.
One wonders what the witnesses to the last week of Jesus’s life were thinking on that horrible day after. Reflecting on this offers a wonderful preparation for what the people of God celebrate Saturday night in the Pascal Vigil. Jesus died. His limp body was cut down from the cross and as all cadavers it was buried immediately before it began to decompose.
The world mourned, until …
Photo credit: Jose Delacruza, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.