On Sunday we began Holy Week, the liturgical commemoration of the historical events in the last days of the life of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. But we also entered into deep time, time that is not chronological, that speaks a truth of events that are re-enacted in our lives in an unconscious way.
The American writer William Faulkner once said: “The past is not dead, it is not even past.” Perhaps this insight is nowhere more true than in Holy Week. We do not just commemorate the historical events of Jerusalem two millennia ago, we become conscious of the ways in which we live out Holy Week in our lives every day.
On Palm Sunday we like to think that we are part of the cheering crowd, standing there waving palms and welcoming Jesus the Messiah into Jerusalem. After all, we think, we would have been among those who understood and supported Jesus from the beginning. It is easy to be caught up in the crowd’s wave of adulation, to be part of the energy of the collective, to ride the tide of excitement and fervor.
But in our monastic celebration for Palm Sunday we follow the traditional practice of reading the account of the Passion on this day. We enter into the excitement of the crowd on Palm Sunday but we look forward to the fickleness of the crowd that will shortly be crying for blood. It is interesting that when the Passion narrative is read in public the part of the crowd is read by those in the pews. Those of us who are spectators at the liturgy once again become the spectators who were there in Jerusalem. And this time we are not on the side of the angels. On this day we become part of the crowd who has turned viciously on Jesus in the space of a few days. We go from adulation to retribution, from palms to cries of blood lust. The tide has turned and we along with it. We are the crowd crying out “crucify him, crucify him!”
What has happened in these few days, what has happened to us? There was a palpable sense of hope in the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Here was the Messiah, the Savior, the one who would make everything right, who would come in triumph to inaugurate a new order. But the new order was one of humility and suffering not power and might. The way would be neither quick nor easy. Then as now we are easily disappointed, we want simple answers and we want them now. Like spoiled children with short attention spans we have no patience for anything but having our way and having it now. The anger and disappointment of the crowd wells up in us still today. We want the easy way, the way of someone else doing the hard work for us. We don’t want the way of the cross.
And so most of us sit in comfortable churches and chapels, the words speak of experiences and emotions that are distant, detached, far from our immediate experience. But perhaps the call of entering into the Passion, entering into the events of this Holy Week, is to experience them as real and present. If we enter into the reality of Holy Week we will see that we are part of both the supportive, cheering crowd and the angry mob crying for violence. We will be the ones who feel the poignant service of foot washing on Thursday. The pain of the torture of crucifixion will be ours on Friday. On Saturday the darkest despair will give way to hope as we pass over from darkness and death to light and life.
The call of this time is to be conscious, to be present, to enter into that deep time that is never past bu always present. We are called to live these stories, to know that they are not part of some long-ago, antiseptic past, but the events of Holy Week constitute the dynamic of our everyday lives. The call is to know that if we are not aware, not awake and conscious we will simply become a part of the angry mob. But if we are aware and awake we can enter into the difficult, painful, joyous and astounding reality of Holy Week as it repeated in the ordinary time of our everyday lives. We will learn to live in the present moment when the Paschal mystery is lived out in each of our lives.