Tomorrow is Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, the first day of Holy Week. It's a week of reminders and sorrows, all part of the lead up to the crucifixion, Easter Sunday and resurrection. In many ways it mirrors the story of our lives.
There are all the formal and religious aspects to the week. Christian ministers of religion speak the appropriate words, the liturgical celebrations all take place. People of faith act accordingly. Those accustomed to the ritual of the week and then the outburst of celebration on Easter Sunday are somewhat miffed with how these coming days have lost their Christian meaning, replaced by profane celebrations or a deluge of commercial opportunism.
It’s interesting how many have changed the name of Holy Saturday to Easter Saturday. No doubt Easter Saturday complements the world of branding in a way that Holy Saturday never could. Whether or not we believe in the Christian mystery, no one can deny the suffering, pain and loss that Holy Week expresses is based on the story of our lives.
Maybe in the past we concentrated too much on pain and suffering. Maybe today we place too much emphasis on how we are in control of the human race, as if we had managed to eliminate all pain and suffering from the human condition.
Sometimes we can give the impression that we are on course to banish all pain and suffering.
Could there be anything further from the truth?
I have often referred in this column to my job as a hospital chaplain.
It’s been a life-changing journey, where I have seen first-hand how fragile we are. In an instant we can be changed from powerful, healthy and indomitable to a state of utter weakness, where we are completely dependent on the help of others.
This month is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the ruinous war in Syria. In the last weeks media outlets have reminded us of the unspeakable crimes that have taken place in Syria since March 15th, 2011, and the false dawn of the Arab Spring. One of those reports tells the story of a young boy with a prosthetic leg. When just a baby in his mother's arms his mother was killed by rocket fire, his father was also killed and the little boy lost his leg. He now lives with his grandmother in horrendous conditions.
The terror that is meted out to the people of Syria is echoed tomorrow in St Mark’s account of the passion (Mark 14: 1-15: 47) when Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, why have you deserted me”. It is also the prayer that is often on our lips in times of suffering and anguish.
This prayer was mentioned by blind marathon runner Dr Sinead Kane on the Tommy Tiernan show last Saturday.
Earlier this month a refuse collector who tells me he is not a believer asked me why was God allowing Covid-19 to happen. Of course God did not cause Covid, it was caused by the recklessness of human behaviour. But I did try to explain my personal experience of seeing how fragile the human condition actually is.
Like many others have done, I have learned first-hand there is an inescapable mystery to our lives. And I believe that the suffering in this valley of tears, is finally overcome by resurrection in harmony and communion with God. At least, that’s my hope and belief.
Of course that does not mean that we can ever relax or allow any form of wrongdoing or injustice to happen in our world, but to think we can create a utopia on earth is facile nonsense.
It’s important too, that we guard ourselves against all forms of pious clichés and meaningless regulations, against preferring the shadow to the substance of our faith. We realise that Holy Week is an expression of the dilemma of the pain and anguish that is part of the human condition and our journey through life. But there is more to it than that.
It ends triumphantly in resurrection.
Easter Sunday offers us the hope that perfection is found in the risen Lord, a perfection that we too believe we will share.