Holy Week: Now It Begins, Now It All Begins
“Now it begins, now it all begins.”
Franco Zeffirrelli closes his 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth with the arrival at Jesus’ tomb of a character not found in the biblical accounts. His name is Zerah; the name literally means Brilliance. He enters the empty crypt; sees the burial cloth lying on the empty slab from which Jesus had been raised; and then, as the movie ends, Zerah speaks those words of Great Beginning.
The same words come to my mind every year as we begin the High Holy Days of the Christian faith, the week that Christians call Holy Week.
For the Liturgy of Palm or Passion Sunday, Church begins with the proclamation of the triumphal entry of the Master into Jerusalem. The crowd’s amazingly fickle reaction calls us to self-examination. The readings are usually done in a responsive manner, inviting the faithful to proclaim the response of the crowd: to go from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him!”
It sets the framework for the tapestry of rich biblical readings designated by the Order of Service for this week called Holy. As I age, entering fully into the Liturgical celebrations of this extraordinary week becomes more and more meaningful to me. I long for them. I mark the progress of my year by reference to them.
Christians believe in a linear timeline in history. There is a beginning and an end, a fulfillment which is itself a new beginning. Time is heading somewhere. That is as true of the history of the world as it is our own personal histories.
Time and Great Events
Holy Week is an invitation to let go of inordinate self-love and embrace the Lord anew every year.
All human beings mark time by great events. Christians mark time by the great event which forever redeemed it: the saving Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Holy Week invites us to do the same. It is an invitation to let go of inordinate self-love and embrace the Lord anew every year. It speaks the message we all need to hear: that we can always begin again! How desperately our age needs to hear this Good news.
Sometimes, people see the repetitive nature of liturgical worship as confining. For me, it is liberating. For one reason, it recognizes the role of time in life, offering a unique Christian insight. Time is not a tyrant, ruling over us. In fact, for the believer, it is to become a tutor. The Liturgical year is one of its classrooms. The real question is not whether we will mark time but how we will do so?
Time is not our enemy but our friend. It is part of the redemptive loving plan of a timeless God who, in His Son Jesus, the Timeless One, came into time to transform it from within. He now gives us time as a gift. He intends it to become a field of choice and a path to holiness in this life, as well as a portal and window into life eternal.
Discovering His Plan For Our Pilgrimage
Through time the Lord offers us the privilege of discovering His plan for our own life pilgrimage. Through time He invites us to participate in His ongoing redemptive plan, through His Son Jesus Christ who has been raised, by living in the full communion of His Church. That plan will in its final fulfillment recreate the entire cosmos in Christ.
Time is the road along which this loving plan of redemption and re-creation proceeds. We who have been baptized into Jesus Christ are invited to co-operate in this continuing Divine Plan. Time’s redemptive purpose is the reason Christians mark time by the great events of the faith in a Church calendar.
At the very center of that Calendar is the great three days we celebrate this Holy Week, the Triduum (Latin for three days) of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Resurrection of the Lord. As we follow the liturgical calendar, we can experience the ever-deepening call to conversion. We can enter more deeply into the deeper mystery and meaning of life by responding to the grace of God. It is ever fresh and ever new.
Good Liturgy as Participation
Good Liturgy is not a re-enactment of something that happened over 2000 years ago. Rather, it is an encounter, an actual participation in the events themselves, by living faith. Liturgical Christians affirm that they are outside of time and made present in our Liturgical celebrations.
Holy Week invites us to participate in the timeless Paschal Mystery, the saving life, suffering, passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now it begins, now it all begins, said Zerah in the film Jesus of Nazareth. What begins? Life itself begins anew and so can we, once again. The Christian proclamation is that every man, woman and child on the face of the earth can be made new, in and through Jesus Christ. We can all begin again and again and again and again and again.
No wonder we call it Good News. No wonder we call it Holy Week.