Walking Our Faith: Why do we celebrate the Passion of Christ? (column)
Holy Week is not generally considered a time of frivolity or celebration. If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” the harrowing scenes of Christ’s scourging and final moments will bring tears to your eyes.
All week I’ve felt a catch in my throat as I think of these last three days of Holy Week, also called the Paschal Triduum, consisting of Maundy Thursday, in which we share the Mass of the Last Supper, Good Friday, which recalls the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, and finally, Holy Saturday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the Easter Vigil after nightfall in a Mass that begins in a darkened church, much like the one we left on Holy Thursday, but ends with candles blazing as we celebrate the risen Christ, the Light of the World.
Walking through these three days is walking on sacred ground. They are the most holy and significant days of our faith calendar.
But if these events occurred over two thousand years ago, why does my heart still break when the altar is cleared on Thursday evening? Why does the world seem emptier after three p.m. on Good Friday? And why does my heart exult with joy when the candles are lighted during Easter Vigil?
Some of us have made the entire forty-day journey of Lent. Some of us arrived late and will only observe the last three days of Holy Week, and perhaps a greater percentage of us will hurriedly rush into the doors of church on Easter morning, just as the final notes of the welcoming hymn ring through the crowded sanctuary. It doesn’t matter, God is glad you are here.
I can tell you this was my best Lent yet because I completed my Lenten project of not giving something up, but giving away, one scarf I knitted for each week of Lent. The final three were taken by three young people at the community dinner at St. John’s, while I served chili.
It was my best Lent yet, because I spent each Wednesday evening with a small group of new friends from St. Mary’s church. We shared a simple dinner of soup, a video from Formed.org on some aspect of forgiveness, and most importantly our faith in relaxed, honest conversation.
It makes sense that Easter falls at the beginning of Spring. There are years when Lent and Easter are filled with darkness, when our spiritual winter refuses to let us believe that the Light of the World will ever return. I have shared a season or two of my own walk through this dark valley with you, in this column.
Which is why this year’s lightness comes as a surprise. This Lent was full of long warm spiritual days, where my faith has grown by leaps and bounds by no doing of my own, although I’d be happy to claim credit. It’s easy to believe in the risen Christ on these light-filled days.
Yet, this marked difference from past years got me thinking about why we celebrate this holy event that occurred over two thousand years ago, when each year’s journey to the cross is different than the last?
I believe it is God calling us to notice two important facts. First, the constancy of his love for us. Yes, there will be years when our walk with God will be easy and filled with grace. There will be other years when we walk through a valley where the presence of God feels removed because we cannot see beyond our present sorrow.
Which is exactly when we most need to be reminded that God’s love for us has never changed. “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”(Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT).
Imagine that: it gives God pleasure to love us and there is nothing we can do to earn it. We are only asked to accept God’s love, come as we are, imperfect, depressed, full of regret, shame, and anger. Bring it all and leave it at the foot of the cross. And allow ourselves to stand in the center of God’s love and be transformed.
Why do we need this annual reminder?
I believe it is a centering time. Since God’s love is constant and unwavering, God asks us to reflect on how we have changed. Our walk of faith is not the same as it was last year. We are different, we have grown closer to God or further away but it most certainly not the same as it was last year. During this week, we are called to find our center again, to hear God calling us to return to him.
Return to his love. See the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and say, yes, that love is greater than my mistakes. I am loved just as I am. Every year, every day, now and forever, I can count on that grand truth. He died as a sacrifice for my sins. But he rose to prove that his love cannot be diminished by death or sin. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. For this, we celebrate.
Suzanne Anderson writes a weekly religion column for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Breckenridge.
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