This Holy Week is tough, but it is not unbearable.
It is tough because we are not in our usual Holy Week routine: coming to the church, focused on Our Lord’s Passion, participating in the unique liturgies, and building toward Easter. All in the way to which we are so accustomed (perhaps too accustomed?).
It is tough. But this Holy Week will not be unbearable. At least, not if we keep in mind what Holy Week is really all about. It is about Christ bearing our sins to death on the cross, so that we don’t bear that burden. This light, momentary burden that we bear is simply part of “the sufferings of this present time [which] are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom 8.18) And, compared to what happened in other places at other times (during plagues or gulags or lion arenas), this “burden is [truly] light.” (Mt 11.30)
That our Holy Week burden is light is not to make light of it. It is more than a mere inconvenience to be deprived of celebrating together the holiest days in the year. But as Christ the Lamb took on the sins of the world, so now, for a little while, we are asked to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6.2) by sacrificing our time together to keep others safe. Let us remember that the holy disciples had to endure those unimaginably excruciating days and hours when they believed Life had died and death had won. In a similar way, we now, for a little while, need to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Tim 2.3) But let us never forget that those “who endure to the end shall be saved.” (Mt 10.22)
Again, this year’s tougher than usual Holy Week is, as St Paul says, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” But this momentary affliction is, even now as we live through it, “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (1 Cor 4.17) Unless, of course, we’re not letting it work in us. Unless we’re so caught up in our fears and anxieties, so caught up in how this hurts me, that we’re not seeing the others who are co-sufferers or, most importantly, the others who are suffering because we have been selfish.
And now we’re back to Our Lord. He did not consider what He was missing out on. He did not pray for Himself. He did not do what He did so that He would be safe. Instead, everything He bore, everything He endured, everything He suffered was for another; for us; for me, and for you.
Consider this when you’re sitting at home, following safe practices. And think of what Our Lord endured when you think these rules are too silly, or too much, or too unbearable. “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus” who thought nothing of Himself, who made humility and humiliation His weapons, who was obedient to every plan, every directive from His Father: who did all these things, even to His own harm, in order to protect just one. And another. And more. And all.
The longest trial, the toughest times, the weeks and months of being denied family and friends and church and Eucharist—have we forgotten how it ends? How it always ends. Holy Week always culminates in Easter. The “it is finished” is always met with “He is risen.” Whether it’s last year’s Holy Week, or this one that is harder, stranger, sadder.
We will not be deprived of each other forever. We will gather again, and receive the Bread of Life. Not this week, but soon, by the prayers of the Saints and the grace of Our Lord.
And while we wait, we can continue to be the Body of Christ. To each other: by our prayers, by our phone calls, by sacrificing what we think is best, by our little mercies. We can, even now, learn from the disciples—not by fleeing into ourselves as they did, but by doing as they should have.
- By helping to bear another’s burden, as did St Simon of Cyrene.
- By providing whatever refreshment we can, as did St Veronica.
- By standing with the lonely, as did the Holy Mother.
- And by supporting the grieving, as did St John.
Too often we’re so caught up in ourselves—our own anxiety, complaints, frustrations and grumbling—that we don’t see the other who needs us. Too often we’re trying to learn from this that the lesson is to continue living as Christ and His Saints did.
And too often we’re so caught up in today that we forget tomorrow’s joy: The time, which is not that far away, when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain [because] the former things are passed away.”
The former things passing away—that includes this pandemic. As well as all the other things that frighten or weigh heavily. Or, to be most specific, the death of the killing things, and the death of death itself. These are the things that not only will pass away, but that also really should have no hold on us. For the passing away things pass away because they are within Our Lord who bore in His body to death on the cross, so that we might live in the newness of life.
Beginning now, even while we are apart, let us live this newness of life, this new normal. Let us now, during this tough Holy Week, be willing
- to sacrifice our needs for the needs of our neighbor,
- to embrace a greater sense of responsibility for our wider community,
- to develop a deepened feeling of gratitude for our many blessings
- to have a heightened concern for the elderly and vulnerable, and an increased respect for our those around us who give so much.
Then you will see: the joy will begin to build, as it has every Holy Week. And it may even build to a greater height of rejoicing and song than we’ve ever experienced.
Through the prayers of His Holy Mother and of all the Saints, may Our Lord Jesus grant us both the strength to endure and the joy that comes through such endurance; to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, world without end.