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Sunday Readings for Apr. 17, 2011 (Palm)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
In 1962, President John F Kennedy met USSR's Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. Their wives were present. The US State Department warned Mrs Kennedy to avoid the prickly Mrs Khrushchev. Mrs Kennedy did not follow the advice. She gave silver plate as a gift. Mrs Khrushchev was embarrassed, for she had no gift. She searched through her large handbag. Finally she found a cross. The premier's wife of the officially Christless USSR gave the cross to Catholic Jacqueline Kennedy. Though neither spoke each other's language, the cross served as their translator.
The ideal way to spend Holy Week is to fly to Israel. Since we will not be able to do that, our parish church is the Holy Land. Within those walls, we must be creative enough to find Jerusalem, the Upper Room, Gethsemane, Calvary, and the Tomb.
The week's focus are the Christ of Alfred Lord Tennyson: "The Lord from heaven born of a village girl. Carpenter's son. Wonderful. Prince of Peace. The Mighty God."
Today the church vestibule becomes the Bethany suburb of Jerusalem. There Jesus had spent the night at the home of friends. Hopefully He had enjoyed a good night's sleep. He would need it. Bethany was the jumping off point for His procession into Jerusalem. US News & World Report says, "It was a hero's welcome for this maverick figure, an early Palestinian equivalent of a ticker tape parade." The center aisle of the church must become for us the dusty road on which our Christ rode surrounded by cheers. As you watch the Man on the donkey pass, you might think of the lines of HE Fosdick: "Genghis Khan, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon all perished from the earth as fleeting shadows from a glass and conquering down the centuries came Christ the swordless on an ass."
Monday, Tuesday, and Spy Wednesday of Holy Week were quiet days for the Nazarene. Wednesday is so called because, according to Matthew, Judas sold Jesus out that day for chump change. He spent them in the Great Temple of Jerusalem. For us, our church must become the Great Temple. There we go for daily Eucharist. Our theme are these words of an unknown poet: "I thought I would follow Him. But, when my feet drew near to Calvary at dead of night, I quailed in utter fear. Whereat a voice came whispering through darkness like a sea: 'Child, child, be not afraid. Your cross is occupied by me.'"
On Holy Thursday, our sanctuary becomes the Upper Room. Its altar becomes the long narrow table where Jesus sat. When He whispers, "This is my body" and "This is my blood," we remember TS Eliot's words: "In the juvenescence of the year comes Christ the tiger to be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk among whispers."
On Holy Thursday late, your church becomes the Garden of Gethsemane. There the Nazarene undergoes the dark night of the soul. Before Him is a cruel death. Our thoughts are those of Joseph Mary Plunkett, executed in the 1916 Irish rebellion: "I see His blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of His eyes. His body gleams amid eternal snows. His tears fall from the skies."
Good Friday is a day that will live in infamy. We shall crowd into our church for services. The side aisle becomes Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa. We will follow Christ in the Stations of the Cross. We dwell on Sydney Carter's words: "I danced on Friday when the sky turned black. It's hard to dance with the devil on your back. They buried my body and they thought I'd gone."
On Holy Saturday, we come mourning to church but full of hope. Our thought could be Francis Thompson's Lilium Regis: "Look up, O most sorrowful of daughters...for His feet are coming to thee on the waters."
Emerging from the church on Easter Sunday, we will shout the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins: "Let Him Easter in us. Be a dayspring to the dimness in us. Be a crimson cresseted East." Hopkins tells us because of Christ's empty tomb our hope in the resurrection is actualized.
You must think of the words of Frederica Mathewes-Green. "'Do you love me enough to tell them I have risen?' Christianity is rare among the world religions in containing an explicit command to tell unbelievers the Good News and to urge them to convert. It is an uncomfortable calling. This obligation to evangelize is perhaps the aspect most resented by those outside the faith and most neglected by those inside. It is an awkward calling. But it is a command of Jesus, as blunt as the calls to love our enemies and to care for the poor."