With Palm Sunday, we enter Holy week, a movement from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, to his trial, crucifixion, and death. We accompany Jesus in all of these moments. Unlike those who originally accompany him, however, we know that the incidents of Holy Week do not end with the death of Jesus, but rather with Easter and the resurrection. Thus, when we enter into the spirit of the Passion, and give to Jesus our own sufferings, sinfulness, and limits, and unite them with his suffering, our acts are essentially hopeful. Jesus’ Passion is “sandwiched” between the many successes of his healing ministry, and his Resurrection. The Christian narrative doesn’t just say that we go through periods of joy and periods of suffering over and over again, in an endless cycle, though at times it might subjectively feel this way. Rather, God’s story and desire for us is that suffering be redeemed. Our creation starts with love, and our suffering and even death ends in love, too.
Around eight years ago, when I prayed the 19th Annotated Exercises (if you would like to know more about what that is, click here.) , a consistent desire in my prayer was to comfort Jesus, and to be present to him in his suffering. At the same time, I often ended up taking on the imaginative role of Judas, Peter, or others who in some way failed or abandoned him. Sometimes, though, Jesus invited me to look at his friends—limited people like me—through his own eyes. I saw Jesus’ great compassion for Judas, whom I envisioned and experienced as being confused, afraid, and disappointed at the Last Supper. Jesus could see Judas’ limits, but rather than looking at him with condemnation, felt compassion and respect for Judas’ freedom to act however he needed to act. Likewise, although I promised Jesus (like Peter) that I would never fall away from him, ardently desiring even to die for him, I saw myself falling asleep in the garden, feeling fearful of the soldiers, or just not wanting to suffer. Yet Jesus always attended to my own neediness, even in the midst of his own suffering. While at moments I wanted to shelter or protect Jesus from his pain , in the end, I had to allow Jesus to shelter and protect me —and to surrender control and let God’s redeeming action take place.
For me, it is helpful to keep this all in mind as I enter Holy Week, to know that the focus is on Jesus and on his experience, and that while his experience included , yes, suffering, yes, betrayal by his friends, yes, even fears that led him to cry out to his own Father, “Why have your forsaken me?” (Psalm 22), it is most of all love that defines his experience. Jesus steadfastly remains “who he is,” that is, a person living out a mission of love. At the Eucharist, he celebrates joyfully, rather enjoying a last meal with his friends and giving them a gift that will last beyond his death, and even beyond his resurrection and ascension. From the Cross, he forgives those who are killing him. He gives his mother to his friend, and his friend to his mother, as they stand at the foot of the cross, so that they will not suffer their losses alone, but find strength in each other. Jesus keeps offering grace after grace to those whom he loves: that is, to everyone.
How could Jesus love like that in the midst of such powerful suffering? I believe it is because he had such a deep trust in the Father to redeem it all. Rather than seeking to control or to escape, Jesus simply kept choosing to act in love at every opportunity. He trusted in God the Father and knew that God would redeem it, somehow. While this did not remove his suffering, his fear, or even his momentary sense of abandonment, beneath this Jesus remained in trust and in love.
We are not God (or gods) ourselves and may struggle to understand how exactly suffering and death end in new life, but we can trust that they do, by uniting the difficult parts of our lives to Jesus and letting him take care of them. As we walk along with Jesus through all the movements of Holy Week, we can recall that we know that the end of the Passion story is the Resurrection, and trust in God’s ability to raise all things to new life.