The weeks of Lent have now dwindled down to days and soon the time will arrive for us to participate in the mysteries of Holy Week.
These mysteries, which are revelations from God, begin with the celebration of Palm Sunday and will culminate in a solemn liturgy of such gravity and importance that it will be offered for three days. The mysteries of Holy Week are not inventions of culture, but revelations from God.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, anticipation will grow that mysteries about who Christ truly and really is will be revealed. On Thursday of Holy Week, the great liturgy of three days will begin with the revelation of the first mysteries, the gift and the meaning of the priesthood and of the Holy Eucharist.
Then on Friday of Holy Week, the great liturgy will continue with the revelation of the mystery and meaning of the cross.
Finally on Saturday, the faithful will keep quiet vigil and wait for the revelation of the radiance of the Lord’s resurrection, and then on Sunday, the Church will emerge from the cocoon of its lenten observances resplendent in the glory of the Christ, risen from the dead.
As of today, we have one week until Palm Sunday.
Since March 5th, the bishops have called us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving so as to prepare ourselves to receive the great mysteries of Holy Week.
As I mentioned at the beginning of Lent, these practices are not encouraged for therapeutic reasons, or to help us lose weight, or to teach us to be good citizens, or because in doing these things we will have our best life now.
No, we pray, fast and give alms so as to prepare ourselves for Holy Week.
Through prayer we become ever more attentive to God’s initiative in our lives. We are to listen so that we might better respond when we makes his revelation known to us. For this reason we pray.
Through fasting we discipline our bodies and wills to accept sacrifices. A small sacrifice now prepares us for a greater sacrifice later. Christ gives his followers a mission. This mission by necessity entails sacrifice. Why? Because the mission Christ gives us is love and there is no love without a sacrifice.
Through almsgiving we learn to recognize Christ’s presence in the suffering bodies of the poor. We give to the poor, not because we are civic minded, but because in alleviating the miseries of the poor we serve Christ. For this reason, our service to the poor can never simply be a matter of simply supporting an institution or program where we pay other people to do the works of mercy- we must go ourselves to do the works for it is Christ who beckons us. It is Christ who calls.
These are the practices of Lent, the means by which we prepare ourselves to receive the great mysteries of Holy Week. Time grows short and the opportunity will soon pass us by. The Lord will reveal himself in the mysteries of Holy Week. Have we prepared ourselves to meet him?
Today’s Scriptures do their part to prepare us for Holy Week. Each has as their theme the power of death. It is unseemly to speak of death in our culture. Even at a funeral we resist the reality of death by speaking only of a celebration of life, using recollections of good cheer in attempts to mask the truth.
Death is real and we are subject to death. All must one day die. Some sooner, some later, but death comes for us all- and once death comes, there is no power that we possess that can change death’s reality.
What power in the world is greater than death? We know the answer and for this reason we dread thinking about death.
The prophet Ezekiel begged the question of death before God. He saw for himself the desolation of the fall of Jerusalem in the year 587 BC and the death that came along with the destruction of the holy city by the Babylonians. “Was the power of God greater than this”? the prophet asked. And the Lord answered him, “Yes”.
How would Ezekiel know this? A sign would be shown to him. A power would arrive in the world who would call the dead to life. One day, this power would be revealed and the world would know that the Lord was even more powerful than death.
We are Christians, and we believe that this power, has arrived in the world in Christ the Lord. Christ the Lord is God, and in wonderful signs he revealed his power over death, a power manifested with dramatic intensity in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
But even these signs were but a foreshadowing of a greater wonder to come- in Christ, God would himself experience death, and in doing so, demonstrate his power over death. This is what the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is all about.
This is the sign that Ezekiel longed to see, but did not in this world see it.
The sign is given to us in the mysteries of Holy Week.
In our second reading for today, the Apostle Paul insists that because of Christ, we cannot believe that our bodies are simply our own to do whatever we please. Our bodies are meant to bring us into relationship with God. This is the purpose of our bodies.
How do we know this? Because God in Christ accepted a human body as his own and through that body lived a real, human life. In doing so he demonstrated that our bodies belong to him in an extraordinary way, and through our bodies God draws us into relationship with his divine life. God in Christ shows us how this relationship with his divine life will transform our bodies in his resurrection.
Further, this relationship with his divine life is not something that happens only in some heavenly realm somewhere beyond the stratosphere.
No. Participation in the divine life happens even now. How so? In the Sacraments of the Church.
The Sacraments of the Church are not merely human inventions, they are gifts from Christ and revelations from God. Through the Sacraments God makes our bodies ever more like the glorified body of Christ by re-making our human image into his divine image.
Through the Sacraments, God sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ. This is what St. Paul means when he speaks about having the “spirit of Christ dwelling in you”. He means that we have the divine life of Christ in our very bodies, a divine life that is given to us when we participate in the Sacraments of the Church.
It is this divine life of Christ, dwelling in us because of the Sacraments which is the power in us that takes us through death to the new kind of life, a new life whose form we see in the risen body of the Lord Jesus!
Thus the urgency of our participation in the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments are not quaint customs, but a matter of life and death! The Sacraments are not every now and then options, but the route of access through which we share in Christ’s divine life.
Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord manifest his divine power over death, through a wonderful sign- he restores life to a dead man.
As I said, this sign, foreshadows an even great revelation- God in Christ will himself die and then show forth that his power is greater than death.
Christ will have none of our pretending that death doesn’t matter or that its raw fact can be obscured through celebrations of good memories. He confronts death directly. Why? Because death has power over us, but it is not his purpose for death to be our end or for death to have the final say.
The death God in Christ will experience will be a real death that happens in a real body. Our faith in God in Christ’s power over death is not based on a symbol or a story, but on a real event that happens in a real place, at a real time and to a real body. God in Christ dies and in doing so shows us forth his power over death.
It is with this same power that Christ draws us through our own death to a new kind of life, a life revealed in the body of his resurrection.
It is only in our acceptance of the reality of Christ’s death that the mysteries of Holy Week yield up their meaning. Are we ready to receive those mysteries? Time is almost up. The mysteries of Holy Week are almost here.