Sunday, April 17, 2011

Will you carry it?

Faith communities throughout the world have just begun a week-long celebration called Holy Week. Most mainline religious denominations encourage their membership to participate in rituals and religious services intended to bring to remembrance the passion, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

While that event took place in distant past, its consequence shaped history and the very world we live in. It was also responsible for the emergence of a distinct faith community that budded and bloomed and had been spawned throughout the world.

Most Christian congregations usher it in with what is known as Palm Sunday, where, with a little pageantry of waving palm leaves and a virtual procession, they call to remembrance Jesus’ Entry to Jerusalem, that time when he was showered with accolade and the words: “ ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

During the main service, they either listen to the reading of the Passion Narrative
or its dramatization and relive  the story of the Passion of Christ, his brutal suffering as impressed upon him by the Roman government at the instigation of the Jewish religious leadership of the time. By calling to remembrance the graphic account of his passion, this Sunday is also referred to as Passion Sunday.

While the story remains as a rendition of the passion, death and resurrection of the Son of God, it is also viewed as an expression of God’s unconditional love for His creation. To those who want to revisit that story, get a copy of the Holy Bible and read Matthew 26:14 – 27:54 or its parallels in the other gospels.

Having read, or as in our case here at church, heard the story, your mind must have been somewhere, perhaps in your world of imagination and wondered  how that day must have been; how the narrow streets were teeming with people and how the magnificent Temple at Jerusalem was heaving with activity. There was also that possibility of you wondering how the Garden at Gethsemane must have looked like and what attracted Jesus to it as his place for prayer.

On top of those scenes, there must have been also images of the personalities named in the story. As you switch between scenes and images of personalities, I suppose you found yourselves confronted by a daunting question like “Why did it have to happen to Jesus? How can an all-loving God allow His only begotten Son to suffer and die for the sake of a sinful creation?”

And there must have been other equally troubling questions that you dared not ask. And yet, today is that opportune time when all of us could get engaged in an additional probing of similar questions.

With a growing number of equally important, though conflicting, agenda affecting our ability to live up to our Christian expectations, some questions that might cross our mind could include: ‘What is this Passion Story telling me? Where do I see myself in the Passion Story or with which character in the story could I relate myself?” 

There are many possibilities. Perhaps, you saw yourself as among the chosen companions, the Twelve, who faithfully followed Jesus believing in the coming of the Kingdom of God but now are so confused by the turn of events. Or perhaps you saw yourself among those who were merely on the sidelines, just looking at how things were happening. I doubt that you identified yourself with Judas who betrayed a friend or even in Peter, who denied him three times? So who was it?

One of the characters in Matthew’s Passion Story who might be of interest to you is this individual named Simon of Cyrene.  As Cyrene was believed to have been in Africa, perhaps Simon was an African Jew and that would explain why he was there in Jerusalem that time.  

I could relate to Simon of Cyrene in that I could easily picture myself in him as he was mingling with the crowd, basking on the sights and sounds on the narrow streets of Jerusalem, perhaps admiring the magnificent Temple.

I also could picture myself in him as he must have wondered why he was chosen to bear Jesus’ cross. I would also have asked: "Why does it have to be me? Why not any of those people? I share in his bitterness, in his resentment. “Why me, Lord, Why did this have to happen to me? I'm here for the Passover and this could be my last. Why ruin it? I don't deserve this!!”  

Those must have been some of Simon’s thoughts as he helped Jesus moved on with the procession on to Golgotha. Little did he know that this very act will go down in history as an exemplary act, worthy of all emulation.

Thoughts of resentment are not unique to Simon or the Psalmist. We heard them uttered again on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In my assumed affinity with Simon, I could relate to such resentment as when my agenda in life don't turn out as I’ve hoped for; when I get so overwhelmed with emotions when similar events put me in the lowest ebbs of my life. Then I scream within me: “Why me? Why now? I don't deserve this! Why have you forsaken me?”

This Holy Week, this Palm Sunday, this Sunday of the Passion might be a good opportunity for us to look inside us and revisit those moments when our frustrations have enveloped us and pushed us to resentment. Let us walk with Simon and listen to the murmurings of our hearts that as we continue our holy journey in Lent we may learn to pick up Jesus’ cross, our own crosses, with the great assurance that we have not been forsaken at all.

The great Paschal Mystery will proclaim this truth come Eastertide. 

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