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home : opinion : word of faith

4/6/2017 9:00:00 AM
Enter into the drama

'While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it He broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body...."' -- Mt 26:26-27

(Editor's note: With this column, Rev. Anthony Barratt joins The Evangelist as a writer for the "Word of Faith" Scripture column. He is director of the diocesan Office of Prayer and Worship and pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson/Germantown. He holds a doctorate in theology and was a professor at St. John's Seminary in England before coming to the U.S. in 2004.)

This weekend, we celebrate Palm Sunday -- or, to give it the official title, "Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord." The liturgy and the readings are very rich and deeply moving.

We have, for example, two Gospel readings from St. Matthew, who is our guide for Year A of the three-year cycle. The Gospel at the beginning of Mass (Mt 21:1-11) recounts Jesus' entrance to Jerusalem and the enthusiasm of the crowds, who cry out, "Hosanna to the Son of David." Later, the long Gospel account of Jesus' passion and crucifixion is read (Mt 26:4-27:66).

All the readings and, indeed, the whole liturgy invite us not to simply be passive spectators, just listening in on events that bring us salvation; but, as Jesus' disciples, to enter fully into this "holy drama."

We participate in the Masses and liturgies of Holy Week in a special, more dramatic way than usual: carrying palms or being the "crowd" in the reading of the Gospel. We are to be drawn into these life-changing and world-changing events.

Starting out
The introduction at the beginning of Sunday Mass puts it so well: "With all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord's entry into the city for our salvation, following in His footsteps, so that, being made by His grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in His resurrection and in His life."

Our first reading (Isaiah 50:4-7) is the third of the four "canticles of the suffering servant of God." We will hear the other canticles during Holy Week, culminating on Good Friday.

This suffering servant is, for Christians, a prophecy about Jesus. He is the suffering servant who listens to God's Word and obeys it, even to mockery, insult and death. Our psalm (Ps 22:8-9,17-18,19-20,23-24) is also like a prophecy about Jesus and His suffering. Jesus says poignantly, as He hangs on the cross: "My God, why have you abandoned me?"

Our second reading is the enigmatic Philippians hymn (Phil 2:6-11). Some scholars think this passage was actually a form of hymn used in the early Christian liturgy. It narrates a journey: Jesus, as God, empties Himself to become a slave, then accepts death on a cross, only to be raised and given "the name above every other name."

Then we enter into "the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew." There are many things in common with all three Gospel writers as they tell us about Jesus' suffering and death, but each of them also wants to bring out particular truths and reflections to help us.

Matthew's view
Matthew directs us to see Jesus as fulfilling all the prophecies about the Savior: particularly, Jesus as the new Moses, bringing about the "new covenant" by His passion, death and resurrection.

Matthew is unique in reporting the way of Jesus' betrayal (with a kiss) and the offer of wine mixed with gall. Matthew wants to show again and again how the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus.

Matthew also does not sugar-coat the terrible abandonment of Jesus by the disciples, and only Matthew has Jesus calling Judas His "friend." The malice of the religious leaders is also brought out very strongly, both during Jesus' trial and after His death. (Only Matthew mentions the posting of guards outside the tomb, for example.)

Matthew wants us to understand the total innocence of Jesus. Only Matthew reports Pontius Pilate washing his hands as a sign of this innocence. Matthew also highlights God's presence even in these terrible events. Like Luke and Mark, he reports the darkness that falls and the veil of the Temple being torn, but Matthew alone mentions the earthquake that opens the graves of the dead. It's a sign that, even in this darkest moment, the power of the resurrection is happening.

As we enter into the drama, may you have a truly wonderful and holy Holy Week!

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