Holy Week begins with Passion or Palm Sunday. At this great liturgy the Church throughout the world proclaims the account of Christ’s suffering and death as detailed in the Gospels.
Listening to the proclamation of this account takes patience and some measure of courage, patience, because it describes people and events far removed from our own time and circumstances. Courage, because listening places us in the midst of that time and circumstances- we must take our place within the story and coming face to face with the terrible refusal of Christ that we hear about, we must reckon with our own refusals of Christ.
Indeed, we Christians return again and again to the Gospel accounts of Christ’s suffering and death, not because of historical interest, but to come to terms with our own refusals of Christ in what we have done and what we have failed to do.
Surely our refusals of Christ are not as dramatic as what is described in the Gospel for today and the consequences are so much less severe, but nevertheless our own refusals of Christ come from the same dark place of the soul from which the circumstances the cross originates.
We cannot hurt or harm Christ with our refusals, but we can hurt what Christ loves and inasmuch as we do this, the sorrow that Christ felt on the cross endures in this world.
If all the account of Christ’s suffering and death offered us was a reckoning with our refusals of Christ, our own refusals to love, then the story would be unbearable. But the story does not culminate with our refusal, but with the surprising grace- despite the cross, God in Christ does not refuse us. In fact, contrary to refusing us, Christ is willing to forgive us.
The forgiveness of God in Christ that is revealed on the cross should always surprise us. His gesture was one of undeserved compassion.
Hearing about the betrayal Christ suffered. The cruelty he endured and the terrifying manner in which he died, one cannot but be overcome by the injustice of it all. What the Gospel describes as happening to Christ is inexcusable. What should God render to a humanity that proved itself capable of something as horrible as the cross? What should God do to creatures capable of something like the cross? What would we demand from someone who did to someone we loved what was done to Christ?
Whatever it was that was deserved, God’s response confounds that expectation, and instead of giving us what we deserve, God in Christ offered to us what we truly and really need- his forgiveness.
God in Christ’s forgiveness is the great surprise of the Gospel of Christ’s suffering and death. It is the meaning of what Christians refer to as “amazing grace”.
It takes courage to accept this amazing grace as the gift that it is- for accepting it means to imitate it in our own lives. God forgives us but what do we offer to one another? God loves us, but are will willing to love in the manner that God loves?
Can we forgive as God in Christ forgives? Can we offer to one another the amazing grace that we have ourselves been offered?
Do we have such patience? Do we have such courage?
Can we love what Christ loves and forgive as Christ forgives?