My friends, as we returned this past week from our Witness for Peace delegation to Cuba, and reoriented ourselves to life in the United States, many thoughts, and ideas about how to help the Cuban people, many of whom we really grew to love while there, have been swirling around in our heads and have been laying heavily on our hearts as well. And into this mix, falls Holy Week, the holiest week in our Church Year. In looking over my reflections for Palm Sunday and the “holy days” of the upcoming week, from three years ago, I find that what the Spirit gave then, I couldn’t really improve on, so I will start there today and update as I go.
Now, I could give you some exegesis around the meaning of the readings today as we begin this holiest of weeks and probably, some thoughts will make their way into this homily; but I thought what might be a more meaningful way to go, would be to concentrate on what “this triumphal entry into Jerusalem” meant, ultimately, to our brother Jesus.
This final journey to Jerusalem was the culmination of his relatively short life on this earth. We can only imagine the emotion he was experiencing! If he had been a musician; we might say that this action was his grand opus—the high point of all that his combined humanity and divinity had allowed and challenged him to proclaim.
All the prophets, especially the later ones such as, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke eloquently about who Jesus, as the Messiah would be—one with humanity—with us, suffering all that we would suffer, and we might add—experiencing so much of the good that this life can bring through interactions with others, through caring and giving of himself for the least among us.
Our trip to Cuba was definitely about this; (caring for the least among us) or at least will be as we attempt in the days and weeks ahead, to speak to the needs of the Cuban people who are suffering so much due to our (the United States’) blockade of this tiny country in relationship to the size of our country, which in fact, is 28 times the size of Cuba. Our Witness for Peace delegation was probably, for the most part, of the mindset that our 60+ year blockade of Cuba is more about “revenge” than anything else. I will share more on this as time goes by.
Jesus spoke his truth to the powers present in his time, about justice for all, as we must do in our time. And we know from Isaiah’s words today in the first reading that what Jesus had to say would not be accepted by all—and that there were those who wished to silence him.
Within the time frame of a week, this triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem would end in seeming failure with his death in one of the most horrible ways that death can come to an individual. We are told by Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant, that Paul’s beautiful hymn of praise to the Philippians seems the best way for us to understand Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection—while he does not minimize it; he also doesn’t spend undo time depicting it. Rather, Paul really explains the suffering to us and tells us what it means—his state was divine, yet he did not cling to it, but humbled himself, becoming as all humans are.
Our time in Cuba called each of us to truly see life through the eyes of the Cuban people—to come to understand what their day-to-day life is because of our country’s unfair blockade of them. Many of us have probably, in the past, heard the term, “embargo” used with regard to our policies toward Cuba, which we came to realize doesn’t adequately describe our actions toward them.
The word, “embargo” seems to suggest one country refusing to trade with another due to disagreement in politics, etc., but our actions toward Cuba, we learned, are better described as a total blockade of this country, because not only do we refuse to trade with them, but we are willing to punish any and all other countries who attempt to trade with Cuba by not trading then with them for six months.
This blockade hurts not only Cubans (the least among us) but ourselves and many, many others throughout our world. It would behoove all of us in this country to pick up a good history of Cuba if we are interested in knowing the true story, something we in this country have not been given over the years. Such a book is one by Ada Ferrer.
A recent vote at the UN against the blockade of Cuba was 184-2, with only our country and Israel not in agreement to end it. We are clearly on the wrong side of this issue.
Looking back then to our brother Jesus, within a week, his beloved apostles and friends would all, save a few—John, Mary of Magdala, his mother and some faithful women, leave him in fear. Two would betray him—one would seek forgiveness, the other not, as he had missed the message that his friend, Jesus had spoken so many times before—that there is nothing we could ever do that would separate us from the love of God.
Scriptures tell us that our brother Jesus wept over Jerusalem for how they had so misunderstood his coming among them—they wanted a king—and he came as a servant. They let their humanity, their lust for power and control get in the way of his message of love and care for all. Even his closest friends—apostles who spent three years with him, hearing day after day the purpose for his coming—to basically show them, all of us, the best ways to live and to love, didn’t get it! Jesus was always about, “leading with the heart,” not the head, and those in the society he graced with his presence who were women, the poor, the ill and downtrodden got his message—not about power over, but about humility—power with and for others.
I reflect on Jesus’ “weeping over Jerusalem” just as several of us, in our delegation to Cuba wept over the injustices done to the Cuban people over the years, that were definitely about, “power over” rather than, “power with and for.”
His sadness, his sense of failure with so many whom he loved so much would engulf him for a time in his agony in the garden in the space of a week. His agony would call him to cry out to his Abba God, “Why have you forsaken me? —a prayer that comes to each of us at times, as we struggle against the powers-that-be, attempting to be our best selves.
But before that; he would spend his last days teaching in the temple, endeavoring to get the message across one last time that “what we do to others, we do to him.” We can’t say that we love God and refuse to love our neighbor—he minces no words—it’s as simple as that!
The more my friends that we can let these days come alive for us, the more his words will become real and guide our daily actions going forward. A significant ritual for many of us Catholic-Christians over the years has been, “The Stations of the Cross,” a reflection upon the steps of Jesus on the way to Calvary—a reverent reflection in itself, but probably since the Second Vatican Council, moving forward, many writers have put together modern day “Stations of the Cross” being cognizant of the fact that Jesus’ suffering continues yet today in our sisters and brothers who live on the margins of our society. There is such a service being held from 12:00-1:00 on Good Friday at Windom Park should anyone wish to attend.
We won’t be meeting on Holy Thursday, but it would behoove us to remember the gift of love that this night depicts. Jesus, knowing all that was before him, spent his last night before his death showing his closest friends, his mother and the other women, no doubt, even though the Scriptures don’t mention their presence, of how he wanted them to live going forward, once he was no longer physically with them. They should serve each other, beautifully displayed in the washing of the feet. Whenever and wherever they gathered; they should know and believe that he was with them in the breaking of the bread. And finally, his greatest prayer was that all people should be one, just as he was one with Abba God. This is why our parish is named, All Are One—our statement to ourselves, our city and all others that everyone is welcome here, no exceptions! Jesus’ priestly prayer was all about loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves—that’s it, that’s the message!
We will gather here on Good Friday afternoon in a simple and holy remembrance of a day, more than any other that speaks to the steadfastness of our God’s love for us. Jesus died a human death the way he had lived his human life—completely and wholeheartedly—always keeping in mind, especially at the end, the all-encompassing love of his Abba for him. Being human, he doubted and cried out in the agony, in the suffering, but on some level; he knew that life would follow the death and he did it all for us so that we could be steadfast in hope of new life too!
And then on Saturday afternoon, with the Easter Vigil; we will begin our alleluias in that hope. Amen? Amen!