March 22, 2024

Christ the Cornerstone

Holy Week: Embracing the love that leads to true joy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

This weekend, we begin the holiest week of the Church’s year with our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. Palm Sunday inaugurates our observance of Holy Week by inviting us to participate in the Lord’s passion and death—not as ends in themselves, but as the only way to truly experience the joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Holy Week runs the full gamut of human emotions, beginning with the joy occasioned by Christ’s exuberant welcome into Jerusalem and culminating with the profound sorrow caused by his excruciating passion and death on the cross.

We know, of course, that the outcome of this week of intense sorrow will be the incomparable joy of Easter, but we dare not forget what this resurrection joy cost our Lord and Savior.

His pain set us free. His intense suffering, cruel torture and humiliating death were undertaken freely for our sakes, so if we are to truly appreciate the gift of our redemption, it is essential that we walk with Jesus on the Way of the Cross and share in his passion and death.

The ancient Christian hymn that St. Paul incorporated into his Letter to the Philippians can be read as a recapitulation of the events of Holy Week. As this hymn proclaims:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue ­confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)

In the Gospel reading for the entrance procession (Mk 11:1-10), Jesus is hailed as a Messianic figure as he enters Jerusalem, but his is perhaps the humblest triumphant procession ever witnessed in the ancient world. He rides on a donkey, and everything about him displays his decision to “empty himself” and take on our humanity rather than boast of his divinity.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Mark recounts the story of Jesus’ ultimate self-emptying, his surrender to the powers of sin and death, and his “obedience to the point of death” (Phil 2:8).

Beginning with this passion narrative on Palm Sunday, the Christian community is invited to accompany Jesus on his Via Dolorosa, his journey of suffering. We share in his sorrow in order to experience the joy of his victorious resurrection and ascension into heaven.

The Philippians hymn celebrates the joyous outcome of our Lord’s self-emptying. It was because of Christ’s humiliation, and his surrender to forces that he would subsequently overcome, that he was exalted and “given the name which is above every other name”

(Phil 2:9). Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. His name (Yeshua) means “one who saves,” and by the miracle of his death and resurrection, we bend our knees and “­confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Bishop Robert E. Barron has offered the following reflection on the unity of our Lord’s divine and human natures:

The Jesus who is both divine and human is the Jesus who is evangelically compelling. If he is only divine, then he doesn’t touch us; if he is only human, he can’t save us. His splendor consists in the coming together of the two natures, without mixing, mingling, or confusion.

By choosing to empty himself of his divinity and take on our human nature, Jesus renounces his divine prerogatives and assumes the form of a slave, the lowliest human condition.

In this great act of self-sacrificing love, our Redeemer gives himself completely for our sakes. As a result, he is exalted above every creature in heaven and on Earth. Seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven, his divine and human natures reflect the glory of God.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and prepare to accompany Jesus on the Way of the Cross, let’s remember that humility and self-giving love are the only roads that lead to true joy. As Jesus says during his Last Supper, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15).

We should follow Christ’s example—by emptying ourselves and filling our minds and hearts with the self-sacrificing love that is God himself. Have a blessed Holy Week! †

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