Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week and Paschal Mystery: Anything But a "Spectator Sport"

This past Thursday, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, the scriptural event in which Mary is visited by an Angel and told that she would bear "Emmanuel", God-with-us. It's a curious thing, isn't it, that right in the thick of Lent the Church should call our attention back to how it all began. Yet there is much wisdom in doing so. To recall the Annunciation, especially immediately prior to Holy Week, can serve as a profound interpretive key of what it is that we are preparing to remember and celebrate during Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter Season. The Annunciation reminds us that the Incarnation of God's Son occurred not primarily as a remedy for sin but because, "God so loved the World" (John 3:16). In other words, before we consider the purpose of Jesus' birth, ministry, suffering and death in terms of expiation, or, redemption from sin, we must not forget that God came primarily to "pitch God's tent among us" and share the fullness of himself while also sharing fully in creaturely existence. The Annunciation points to the fact that salvation is not merely a matter of expiation but participation. As one early Church Father so eloquently expressed it, "God became human so that humans could become God."

Therefore, to wade into the profound depths of Holy Week and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus we would do well to remember and strive to re-enact in our own lives Jesus' particular "mode of participation" in creaturely and human existence. The mode that Jesus assumed is summed up well in Palm Sunday's Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians: "though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God, something to be grasped at; rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave." This "self-emptying" doesn't only imply that Jesus served others, but also that he put aside all ambition and vainglory and choose to align himself with the poor, marginal, good-for-nothings, abandoned and forsaken of his society. It meant that he threw caution to the wind by taking on the powerful who were oppressing the masses through imposition of a religious code that had become onerous, legalistic, and a barrier to communion with God. Ultimately, Jesus' "self-emptying" took the form of upending the status-quo and calling to radical conversion not just individual persons but cultural, social and even political norms. It is sometimes very convenient to overlook the fact that Jesus was formally condemned for the social and political charge of being a subversive. What we recall this Holy Week and strive to re-enact in our lives is what some theologians have referred to as a "dangerous memory", one that will likely bring us ridicule and scorn should we, like Jesus, upset the "apple cart" of cultural, social, and political norms that no longer foster life but have become endemic to it. In so many words, our observance of Holy Week and our "being drawn" into the deep waters of Jesus' Paschal Mystery is anything but a "spectator sport!" Pat, TOR


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