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Back in January some friends offered me the use of their cabin near Alexandria for a few days of R & R. Given everything that has gone on this past year, I jumped at the chance to spend some time by myself. And so, I rearranged a couple of meetings, let people know where I was going, and headed to Alexandria. As I was driving to Alexandria, I found my anticipation growing with each mile. Unfortunately, just past St. Cloud my car suddenly lost power. Fortunately, I was right at an exit ramp so I coasted up the ramp and pulled over to the side of the road.
Now I don’t know much about cars, but I suspected that losing power was not a good sign. I called AAA and they said a tow truck would be there within an hour. I told them I wasn’t going any where. And fortunately, while I didn’t have power, the engine was still running, so I was able to wait in a warm car while I used my phone to check the internet for a dealership in St. Cloud to which my car could be towed. When I found one, I called and told them my tale of woe. The woman I talked with said that it was probably the transmission, but they would need to check it out to be sure.
When the tow truck arrived, the driver informed me that a tow to the dealership was a little further than what AAA would pay for, and I would have to pay the difference. I thought to myself: “This is going to be expensive.” When I asked what he thought it would cost, he replied: “About 4 dollars.” (Actually it ended up being $4.30.) I told him I thought I could handle that.
When we got to the dealership, I related my tale of driving to Alexandria and suddenly losing power. The woman at the customer service desk reiterated that it was probably the transmission and then said that since it was 4:00 pm, they wouldn’t be able to look at my car until the morning. I asked if they had a car I could rent, and she said: “No, but we can give you a loaner.” The loaner turned out to be the same model as mine, but seven years newer. (My car is ten years old.) I transferred things from my car to the loaner and two hours later was back on the road to Alexandria.
With the assistance of Siri, I found my way to my friends’ cabin with no further trouble. As I settled in front of the fireplace to pray evening prayer, I reflected on my day. Certainly having my transmission go out was going to be expensive, but as I prayed I realized that there were many blessings in the experience. When it happened I was near an exit ramp and not somewhere out in hinterland, without cell phone reception. The engine kept running, so I was able to wait in a warm car. The tow into town only cost me $4.00. I got a free loaner car. And I got to my destination only two hours later than I had planned.
Now, certainly not every bad experience comes with blessings, but as I reflected on this particular experience, it struck me that it was a good lesson for me that in all the experiences of my life (both good and bad), I need to look for the blessings; rather than just whine and complain when things don’t go as I want them to.
Today as we celebrate the great Feast of Easter, let us be mindful of all the many blessings we enjoy in our lives. And let us be particularly mindful of the blessing of eternal life offered to us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And let us pray that we might always remember that even in the bad things that sometimes happen, God is with us and always offering us God’s good grace, and never ceasing to enfold us in God’s love—in ways large and small. Sometimes it can cost as little as $4.00 to be reminded of this.
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.