Christmas and Easter are the two most important Christian Holy Days. On Christmas we celebrate the beginning of God’s salvific adventure with humankind—that in Jesus, God became human. During Holy Week and especially on Easter we celebrate how Jesus made it possible for us humans to become more like God.
In essence the mystery of salvation is this: God became human so that humans might become more like God. The way we do that is by imitating and emulating Christ. In other words, we become more like God by becoming more like Christ. Holy Week is a weeklong invitation to do just that.
Holy week begins with Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion. The image most associated with this day is Jesus entering Jerusalem, seated on a donkey with people waving palms, placing their cloaks on the road and singing hosanna. This striking scene illustrates the stark contrast between who Jesus truly is and who the people thought he was or wanted him to be. Their actions suggest they desired a worldly king while Jesus of course is anything but that. And when they figured out he was not who they thought he was they turned on him.
The great irony is that after 2000 years of Christianity it seems like many of us still don’t understand who Jesus really is. Or maybe we just don’t want to understand because like the people in Jerusalem so many years ago we don’t quite like who he really is. And rather than our becoming more like Christ we prefer Christ become more like us. The result is the world we live in today with persisting injustice, inequality, racism, bigotry, etc. After 2000 years of Christianity we might have hoped for better. Do we find ourselves in this place because we have refused to become like Christ?
So who was Jesus and who does he want us to be? Just consider the most important moments of Holy Week and remember his commandment to “do this in memory of me.” During Holy Week we see Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey; Jesus washing the feet of his disciples; Jesus instituting the Eucharist; Jesus forgiving the repentant thief; Jesus dying on the cross; Jesus descending into hell to break its bonds; Jesus rising from the dead. All these actions bespeak virtues that Jesus embodies and that must become our virtues if we truly are to be Christians.
Sitting on a humble donkey, riding into Jerusalem, Jesus teaches us that to become more like God we must embrace the virtue of humility. It is the path of humility that leads to salvation. Humility and not arrogance is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.
On Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, a servant’s task. And he instituted the Eucharist sharing his body with us, giving himself totally to us. Both of these are great acts of charity. The virtue of charity is the second virtue we are called to embrace. It is the path of charity that leads to Salvation. Charity and not selfishness is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.
In forgiving the Good Thief on Good Friday Jesus illustrates that God is merciful and we are to be merciful like God. It is the path of mercy that leads to Salvation. Mercy and not indifference or worse condemnation is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.
Bearing his cross and enduring the pain of the crucifixion Jesus witnesses to the fact that self-sacrifice is of God. It is the path of self-sacrifice that leads to Salvation. Self-sacrifice and not egotism is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.
Descending into Hell while lying in the tomb Jesus broke the bonds of sin and liberated all those bound by sin, thus bridging heaven and earth. Liberating people from heavy burdens is of God. It is the path of breaking bonds and building bridges that leads to Salvation. Setting people free and not keeping people imprisoned by poverty, inequality, injustice is a characteristic of the followers of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation by God that all these virtues are the ones that are indeed the path to salvation, the same path God has set for us. Humility, charity, mercy, sacrificial love and liberating actions are embodied by Christ and in turn are to be embraced by us. Once that happens the salvific adventure God has prepared for us will finally be accomplished. May that day come soon. And may this Holy Week be a refresher in what it truly means to be a Christian.