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We cross the threshold into Holy Week today with Palm Sunday. Undoubtedly this is the strangest Holy Week in our collective memories. Today we will not wave palm fronds, nor process into the Chapel to participate in a reading of the Passion narrative. The palms I ordered weeks ago are wasting away. The prayerful assembly is scattered, unable to gather to acclaim Jesus as we enter into these days we call Holy.
But perhaps we are closer than ever to the Cross as a human family, and more connected to the experience of the disciples of Jesus. As we face the threat of COVID-19, we’re all experiencing grief and loss on a massive scale, at the same time. It might look different for each of us. For some of us, that grief is deeply personal: we know folks who are sick with this illness, or have already lost someone to this deadly pandemic. For many, precious plans have had to be cancelled: weddings, birthdays, trips, graduations, family dinners, are disrupted by the threat of illness. For others, these days hold looming vulnerability and anxiety – job loss, increasing isolation, and the stress of juggling many obligations in the midst of crisis. Still others are risking their lives each day to provide essential services and care for our community. These days weigh heavy on us all, in different ways. All around the world, we are personally and collectively experiencing grief, loss, fear, vulnerability, and suffering, which means: all of us know the Cross.
The Cross of Christ is the radical symbol of God’s commitment to be with us in every human experience. Jesus, God-With-Us, who loves God’s people wholeheartedly, joins us even in this most common human experience: suffering and death. The scandal of the Cross is that it reveals what already is. In ourselves and in our families, our communities, our world. We are so used to numbing ourselves to pain and vulnerability, but the Cross demands that we see the pain, suffering, and injustice we usually can pretend doesn’t exist. It brings it all out in the light. Like the current crisis, Jesus’ Cross confronts us with our own suffering, and that of our whole world.
It is always true that at any moment in the world, God’s people are suffering. The poor and vulnerable are always being crucified by public policies, corporate practices, and social systems that dehumanize, alienate, marginalize, and do violence to our human family. While we experience this global pandemic, we can no longer pretend that this is not true. We see more clearly how our world treats some as disposable, unimportant, and forgotten. It is clearer than ever that injustice forces many into unimaginable vulnerability. This crisis exposes how easily we turn our back on the poor, all in the name of money, power, consumption, and success. These days of crisis, like the Cross, illuminate the unjust reality of our world.
The Cross calls us to recognize and acknowledge our own pain and suffering, to encounter Jesus drawing near to us in our place of utter vulnerability, and to hear him inviting us to meet our suffering neighbor in love. During this pandemic we are experiencing a collective vulnerability, grief, and loss that binds us inexorably with all other people living in these days, and with those who experience suffering throughout time. At the foot of the Cross, may we be bound anew to Christ and to our neighbor in love, and journey onwards with hearts that yearn and act for God’s reign of justice and peace.
Our present reality is different than we desired or imagined. For the disciples that followed Jesus, his triumphant entry into Jerusalem quickly turned into danger, disappointed dreams, and death. Their vision of their own life and future crumbled before them, as Jesus was taken away, condemned to death, and executed. We know that the story ends joyfully for them. God shows decisively that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. As people of faith, we know God brings presence, transformation, and the promise of resurrection to all the places of death, destruction, and pain. However, we cannot skip ahead during this crisis to the days of joyful resurrection and reunion. We are being called now to remain with the Cross that confronts us, to befriend the suffering, to let our hearts break open, and to come to experience God’s transforming love anew in these days.
I find consolation and hope in befriending the disciples: people like Peter, who proudly proclaimed his steadfast faithfulness, but quickly vehemently denied any relationship with Jesus. Like Peter, we too may want to deny the possibility of vulnerability. Like the disciples, we too may want to run away in the face of suffering. That is okay. Our greatest ancestors in faith, the closest friends of Jesus, felt the same way. And yet we know that somewhere in those days, in the shadow of the Cross, they found one another, in their vulnerability, anxiety, shame, grief, pain and fear, and were bound again to one another in love. Like them, we do not know exactly how these days of crisis will end. For now, like Peter, I allow myself to weep bitterly, acknowledging the pain of this time, for myself and for all the world. Perhaps that is enough for now, to make these days Holy.
JoAnn Lopez, Campus Minister for Liturgy and Resident Minister in Campion Hall